Since Leonard Goldenson launched the very first telethon in 1950 -- for United Cerebral Palsy -- television has been one of the most potent tools for engaging and uniting Americans to tackle urgent health crises and natural disasters.
Of course, Goldenson's telethon aired before the Internet and cable, when the competition for viewers was carved out between just a few television outlets.
By 2010, the number of electronic media outlets has expanded to literally millions, from Hulu to YouTube to everyone's Facebook newsfeed. As a result, the means of engaging audiences in causes and fundraising has become at once amazingly powerful and incredibly challenging.
It would be a tragedy if the proven formula of using television to unite Americans for a cause were lost as the audience diaspora continues its dramatic flow.
Last week's Idol Gives Back and, of course, the January Haiti Earthquake benefit, demonstrated once again that Hollywood's creative geniuses aren't going to let that happen.
The Fuller/FremantleMedia team have proven that, while audiences may want more choice and control over their entertainment, they also want to share experiences with a larger community. Indeed, it's that very same principle that made Gone with the Wind the number one movie in the studio era and made American Idol the number one show in the YouTube era.
Idol Gives Back was a fun and exciting two-hour event that was also a thoughtful and inspiring call to action for millions of Americans.
The show featured segments with Jennifer Garner, Randy Jackson, Morgan Freeman and Surgeon General Regina Benjamin visiting families in Kentucky and Mississippi. The show also featured Victoria Beckham and performances from Elton John, Alicia Keys, and Carrie Underwood (who is also donating 36 cents of every ticket she sells on her tour to Save the Children's U.S. Programs). Cameos from Jonah Hill, Jim Carrey, and Russell Brand infused humor to energize the audience.
The event was a huge success for people who need help in the U.S. and in Africa. The show raised nearly $45 million so far for five organizations, including Save the Children's U.S. Programs, which fights for the 1 in 5 children living in poverty in the United States. Over the course of three Idol Gives Back shows, almost $150 million has been raised.
No matter how much mass media evolves and reinvents itself, Idol Gives Back's success proves that event television's power to create national communities of caring lives on in the age of Tweets, LOLs, Facebook Fans and micro-blogs.
By creating a cultural and media phenomenon that amplifies the call to make America an even better place, Idol Gives Back has already made America a better place. From the legacy of Goldenson to the genius of Fuller, that's an accomplishment of which the entire entertainment industry can be proud.
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