Jerry Lewis and the Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon have been a part of Labor Day ever since I can remember. Fire Department volunteers and Boy Scouts would be at intersections to collect cash, you would see collection boxes everywhere..and most importantly, the annual telethon criss-crossed the country. I got married (that marriage ended many years ago) on a Labor Day weekend; I always said that if I saw Jerry Lewis on TV It ether was my anniversary or I had just missed it. I worked for an MDA Telethon affilliate one year, running video for the local breakins in the remote truck outside the Tippecanoe Mall in Lafayette, Indiana, collecting some overtime and, getting fed pretty well as I recall.

The national telethon was choreographed in a way to guarantee ringing phones. The major act grabbed attention, a heartwrenching story kept your attention, then an intentionally boring corporate sponsor segment let viewers head to the phones without missing anything important.

Then came 2011…after the 2010 Telethon, it was announced that the telethon would be cut from 21 1/2 hours to 6 (local affiliates often filled the half hour after Jerry wrapped up). First, a tribute to Jerry Lewis would occur, then, Jerry wouldn’t be there at all. A final insult to injury occurred all mentions of Jerry Lewis were removed from the MDA site..including the history. Like a corporate employee whose belongings are put in a white box while asecurity officer escorts them out the door, the telethon disavowed all connections to the man who raised millions of dollars in donations, and was the brand behind the telethon.

I suspect it’s the old bugaboo…aging demographics…that caused the younger generation at MDA to toss Jerry Lewis aside. I don’t doubt that a facelift could be in order. The telethon often came off as a 1970’s Las Vegas reunion, and most in what marketers consider the “sales demographics” have no recollection of the likes of Norm Crosby, and only know Charro from appearances on a reality show that’s so memorable, I don’t remember it.

I would urge you, if you normally support the MDA, not to withhold your support this year. The ousting of Jerry Lewis will go down in history as one of the biggest PR disasters. How will they recover? You tell me.

In the meanwhile, enjoy some of these highlights of past telethons.

Frank Sinatra surprises Jerry with an appearance by Dean Martin, Lewis’ former screen partner.

Gene Simmons from Kiss stops by

An intruder is whisked off the stage by security, right behind Jerry.

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