WIBW STUDIOS -- Jerry Lewis probably watched from home as tributes rolled in for the retired National Chairman of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Millions more watched and donated, as the 2011 MDA Telethon wrapped up by the stroke of midnight of Labor Day.
Rising costs of producing a program of this kind forced the cutback in the hours. The shorter telethon also hastened the departure of Lewis, who resigned two months ago. The sudden change forced MDA to have its telethon hosted by younger hosts waiting in the wings for their chances to shine: Allison Sweeney, Jann Carl and Nancy O'Dell, alongside "American Idol's" Nigel Lythgow.
Melissa Brunner and Ralph Hipp handled the local duties again this year from the new WIBW studios, finishing with local donations and phone bank pledges totalling $218,824 in just six hours of airtime.
"The 6-hour format was an exciting challenge and filled with lots of energy," said Michelle Jones of the MDA Regional Offices in Kansas and Missouri.
MDA's national office announced Monday that its 2011 Telethon raised $61,491,393, up from the $58,919,838 achieved during 2010’s 21.5-hour Telethon. MDA says it's the largest amount raised since 2008, when the global recession began.
“We’re so grateful to everyone who made this amazing outcome possible,” said MDA President & CEO Gerald C. Weinberg. “Kudos must go to our four outstanding Telethon co-hosts, to the entertainment icons performing and making persuasive appeals, to our incredible cause-marketing partners, to more than 150 television stations comprising the ‘Love Network,’ and to generous Americans in every community. Together, we’ve confirmed that primetime is where our Telethon can achieve the most for the families we serve.”
MDA did not announce the final total at the end of the broadcast because the show had not finished airing in all television markets. As part of the move to the six-hour format, the telethon aired from 6 pm to midnight in all time zones. The broadcast, which originated from the South Point Casino in Las Vegas, was seen live on the east coast, and delayed subsequently for each time zone.
The change put the show completely in prime time for the first time ever. It opened with inspiring remarks about Jerry Lewis by the Telethon’s four co-hosts. Later in the first hour, Celine Dion, also saluted her “dear friend Jerry Lewis,” and then sang “Open Arms.”
In northeast Kansas, this year's effort also marked Beverly Bernardi Post topping the half-million dollar mark in her years of work benefitting the Muscular Dystrophy Association through her dance studio and its dancers. Hipp tripped a quick swing dance with Post to get more calls in the final minutes, as well as a square dancing twirl with Virginia Yerta in the last hour of the broadcast.
Pledges can always be made year-round on the organization's website, www.mda.org.