2015 marks the end of an era with the canceling the much-beloved, long held telethon to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association,
As television critics have pointed out, the MDA Telethon was relic of a time when television was king, and that it was all but inevitable that the telethon grow along with the digital age.
And so it has, with plans to drastically cut production costs by moving all fund-raising efforts online. 2015 would have marked the milestone publicly televised 50th annual Labor Day telethon.
For decades, the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon was must-see TV watching during the Labor Day weekend when the organization staged a live televised telethon to raise funds to battle the disease.
The muscular dystropny telethon through the years
The Labor Day weekend tradition featured the much-loved actor and comedian Jerry Lewis for many years, rallying public support in the battle to combat muscular dystrophy, a crippling disease which remains with no known cure.
Lewis hosted the very first telethon in 1966. Although skeptics thought many people would not tune in during the Labor Day weekend, the telethon was a great success raising more than $1 million in call-in donations -- despite the fact that it only aired on WNEW-TV in the New York area.
Thereafter the Labor Day weekend telethon was "must-see" TV nationwide and an end-of-summer tradition starring a cast of mega-watt Hollywood stars.
Celebrities who have appeared on the telethon throughout its half-century run have included Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Johnny Carson, Ed McMahon (who co-hosted the show for many years), Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, Jerry Seinfeld, a young Jimmy Fallon, and many more.
Singers such as Ray Charles, Elton John, and Celine Dion have also taken to the telethon stage giving live performances without pay for a good cause.
In later years, Carrie Underwood, Tim McGraw, and other country superstars were audience favorites to headline the event.
In the final years as viewership dwindled, the epic 20-hour "all night" money raiser was cut back to 6 hours, and then in 2012 to only a 2-hour broadcast featuring both taped and live performances.
Jerry Lewis' departure
In a major announcement in 2011 it was revealed that after more than four decades the 85-year-old Lewis would be stepping down as the major host for the show.
In its final year in 2014, another MDA tradition came to an end as the telethon moved from its usual "Love Network" of local stations to a major network, ABC, as it aired in primetime for the first time on a single network in its its entirety nationwide.
Throughout its run, the MDA Telethon featured live performances by big name entertainment stars which later evolved into pre-taped performances. In its final year, groups and solo acts lending support included Rascal Flatts, LeAnn Rimes, Fall Out Boy, Aloe Blacc, Jordin Sparks, Jason Derulo, and a host of other celebrities.
Nationwide, the telethon created an outpouring of donations from a big-hearted American public who gave generously to help fight the disease.
In its final year, the telethon helped raise $56.9 million in pledges and contributions that went toward both service and research programs of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
More about the MDA Telethon around the Web:
A look back at Jerry Lewis telethon highlights
MDA Telethon - MDA Show of Strength - The official site featuring photos and video highlights, facts on record-breaking fund raising years, a complete list of performers since 1966, information on how your pledges help combat muscular dystrophy, related FAQ.
The Telethon Years.com - Major Jerry Lewis fan site with a complete telethon history including photos, video highlights, fun facts, related links & resources.
MDA Labor Day Telethon - Wikipedia - Extensive background and history behind the event including record donation totals, fun facts and trivia, and an extensive list of related references and resources.