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`CHILDREN'S MIRACLE NETWORK TELETHON' IS EXCITING BEHIND THE SCENES, TOO

Tonight, the "Children's Miracle Network Telethon" takes to the air for the eighth time (7 p.m., Ch. 5). And while some viewers may wonder at the stamina of the hosts, there are others who've been hard at work on the broadcast for weeks and even months.

Salt Lake City's own Video West is responsible for all the technical aspects of the telethon, which benefits children's hospitals, and staffers have been working out the details for months."Some work goes on all year long," said associate producer Pam Phillips. "But it really kicks off in December to January."

Video West is responsible for hiring the crew - all 200 or so of them - making travel and lodging arrangements for them and planning all the technical details.

But no matter how much planning is done, there are always some unforeseen circumstances. For example, last year it suddenly started to rain at Disneyland - and while the stage is covered, all the producers, technical people and their equipment aren't.

"It was hysterical," Phillips said. "We have miles and miles of cue cards, and they're all wet. Wet cue cards tend to go limp. It was a mess."

Then there was the year the late Andy Gibb suddenly decided to leap off the stage and go out into the audience - something that was neither planned nor anticipated.

"It was impossible to keep up with him," said technical director Andy Carleton. "It was like every time he saw a tally light (the red light that indicates a camera is on) he'd run in the other direction."

The Video West crew has learned as it's gone along. In the telethon's first couple of years, they had just one technical crew for the entire broadcast.

"Usually about hour 19 the cameramen would start falling off their cameras," Phillips said.

Now they have three shifts. Crew A works eight hours, Crew B works the next eight hours, then Crew A returns for the final eight hours.

The producers, however, don't get the luxury of sleep.

"After the show is over . . . it takes quite a while to get back to normal," Phillips said. "Once I went to sleep several hours after it was over, and when I woke up I did not know if it was 8 o'clock at night or 8 o'clock in the morning."

Last year, the telethon raised more than $77 million for children's hospitals across the nation and in several foreign countries. This year's goal is $90 million.

"You get jaded in this business," Carleton said. "It's very hard to get jaded when you're working on this telethon."

"I've often seen cameramen with tears in their eyes while we're doing the stories of some of these children," Phillips said.

"We have crew people asking us if they can come work on the show," Carleton said. "It really sounds hokey and corny, but we're really emotionally involved with this."