Star-studded telethon outdraws Bush’s speech

Los Angeles Times

HOLLYWOOD — A telethon by the ambassadors of pop culture drew more viewers than President Bush’s speech to Congress during which he declared war on terrorism. An estimated 89 million viewers tuned in at some point to Friday night’s "America: A Tribute to Heroes" — 7 million more than tuned into Bush’s address the night before and nearly 5 million more than watched the 2001 Super Bowl.

Telethon organizers said they will not release estimates of the money raised until Monday, but actor Dennis Franz of ABC’s "NYPD Blue" appeared on CNN late Friday night after participating in the event and said preliminary estimates exceeded $110 million.

The effort to tally contributions is complicated by the fact that phone banks — staffed by as many as 20,000 volunteer operators — were spread across a half-dozen locations around the country. Other pledges came in, and continue to come in, from the Internet site www.tributetoheroes.org. Some contributions have been mailed as well and may not arrive for days.

Phone lines were jammed early in the evening, with some viewers reporting that they waited up to two hours — as long as the show itself — to get through. The spokeswoman for "America: A Tribute to Heroes" said she heard there were 300,000 phone calls in the first 15 minutes.

The commercial-free, two-hour event broadcast from London, New York and Los Angeles was carried on 30 national broadcast and cable television networks and 8,000 radio stations. It aired live to Eastern, Central and Mountain time zones and was on a tape delay from 9-11 p.m. in the Pacific time zone.

Television wasn’t the only way to experience the unique event.

"Around 400,000 people watched the Webcast around the world," said Jackson Holtz, spokesman for Yahoo.com, which provided the back-end support for the site’s Webcast.

The evening’s star power was blinding, but the tone was restrained. Major celebrities such as Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise, Will Smith and Muhammad Ali stood in front of tiers of candles and spoke directly to the cameras; there was no audience present. Singers who performed without introduction included Neil Young, Sting, U2, Bruce Springsteen, The Dixie Chicks and Enrique Iglesias.

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