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Tom Hanks
Credit: Tom Hanks: Fitzroy Barrett/Globe Photos

TV HELPLINE The big four broadcast TV networks are working out the logistics for an unprecedented simulcast of a celebrity benefit to aid the families of victims of last week’s terror attacks. The show would air live this Friday from 9 to 11 p.m. (EDT) on ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC, as well as on any other broadcast, cable, and radio outlets producers can convince to carry it. Tom Hanks, Jim Carrey, and George Clooney have confirmed their willingness to participate. Other stars producers have approached include Tom Cruise, Oprah Winfrey, Bruce Springsteen, Clint Eastwood, and Billy Joel. Veteran event producer Joel Gallen (”The MTV Movie Awards”) is serving as executive producer. It’s not clear how the show will go about raising money, since it’s not going to be a telethon, but it does represent a first in terms of cooperation among the big four networks on an entertainment special.

HUMOR ON HOLD David Letterman was the first of the late-night talk show hosts to return to the airwaves Monday night. ”Late Show” executive producer Rob Burnett told Reuters he was following New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani‘s call for New Yorkers to return to their normal routines. Letterman showed his sensitivity to the New Yorkers in his live audience and to viewers at home by staging a subdued show, dropping his top-10 list and opening the program with a somber monologue from behind his desk, struggling to make sense of the attacks and offering words of praise for the mayor and emergency workers. His two guests were Regis Philbin and Dan Rather, who choked up when he talked about the attacks and aftermath he covered for 15 hours a day for 4 days last week.

Craig Kilborn followed Letterman on his ”Late Late Show” and also skipped his comic monologue and parodic ”In the News” segment. His guests included Patricia Heaton, ”Loveline”’s Dr. Drew Pinsky and ”The West Wing” writer-producer Lawrence O’Donnell.

Bill Maher opened last night’s ”Politically Incorrect” without jokes, saying, ”It’s going to be a little more serious. I think that’s OK. It’s OK with you?” to an approving audience. He left one of the four guest chairs empty, in memory of pundit Barbara Olson, who was aboard the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. Maher declared himself ”mad at my own government” for failing to protect Americans, and said ”ridicule, sarcasm, belittlement” would still have a place on his show. ”Those things make us laugh. It doesn’t make us bad people.”

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