Having, in large part, made a living for the past 11 years by mocking the television networks, it's only appropriate to praise them when they deserve it. And they deserve it right now.
After watching them bicker and battle and brawl with one another, it's all but amazing to see the major broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox — come together for an unprecedented event this evening. "America: A Tribute to Heroes" is a two-hour telethon designed to "to raise funds and raise the spirits of all who have been touched by the horrific tragedy which has struck America."
The Big Four networks have since been joined by the WB, UPN, PBS, PAX and a number of cable networks, including BET, Comedy Central, Court TV, Discovery, E!, Fox Family, FX, HBO, Lifetime, MTV, Showtime, the Sundance Channel, Telemundo, TLC, TNN, TNT, Univision and VH-1 — and hundreds of radio stations across the country will also carry the program.
Local broadcast stations — Channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 11, 16, 24 and 30 — had planned to tape-delay the show but will now air it live at 7 p.m. along with all those cable networks.
Among those scheduled to appear from New York and Los Angeles are Bon Jovi, Amy Brenneman, Mariah Carey, Jim Carrey, Wyclef Jean, George Clooney, Sheryl Crow, Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, the Dixie Chicks, Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, Calista Flockhart, Dennis Franz, Kelsey Grammer, Tom Hanks, Faith Hill, Billy Joel, Jane Kaczmarek, Alicia Keys, Willie Nelson, Conan O'Brien, Tom Petty, Ray Romano, Julia Roberts, Paul Simon, Will Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Sela Ward, Robin Williams, Stevie Wonder and Neil Young.
The networks are promising that every cent raised during the event will go to the relief efforts — they will absorb all the production costs, and the celebrities are donating their time.
The star-studded event is only the latest block of time the networks have turned over since the tragedy. All those hours — all those days — of news coverage cost ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox tens of millions of dollars in ad revenue. Much to their credit, they didn't make the bottom line their top priority.
The networks are in business to make money. And they didn't delay their fall schedules (which, for the most part, were supposed to begin this past Monday) a week so much because of the tragedy but because they lost a week's worth of air time to promote the new shows.
But tonight's show is indeed an act of charity and compassion. Let's applaud ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, UPN, the WB and HBO for it.
DAVE AND DAN: One of TV's most touching tributes to the victims of last week's terrorist attacks came in one of the least likely forums — CBS's "Late Show with David Letterman."
The normally snippy, sardonic Letterman spoke for all Americans when he expressed his bewilderment over the attack and his gratitude to the firefighters and police officers who gave their lives. And his extended interview with CBS News anchorman Dan Rather was nothing short of stunning when Rather broke down not once but twice in tears.
The anchorman apologized to Letterman and viewers. But, as Letterman told him, Rather needn't have bothered.
It may be rare to see a network newsman display emotion on the air, but it's not always inappropriate. It certainly wasn't on Monday.
BACK TO BUSINESS: There will be those who criticize television over the next few weeks for returning to their regular schedules — schedules loaded with comedy and lightweight fluff. But it's all part of getting back to business. And TV's business is entertainment.
Remember, Hollywood studios kept churning out movies during World War II. The government even believed that to be essential to keep up morale.
Will laughing at "Friends" or getting involved in a case on "The Practice" or wondering who the next "Survivor" will be seem trivial in comparison to recent events? Of course.
But, kept in perspective, entertainment is important. And nothing entertains Americans as much as TV.