Ken Tucker says Friday night's star telethon for the fallen was as thoughtfully produced as it was entertaining to watch
Julia Roberts, George Clooney
Credit: Clooney and Roberts: AP Photo/Berliner Studio/Wide World

Celebs come together to praise America’s heroes

Friday night’s ”America: A Tribute to Heroes” was, as celebrity-studded charity events are concerned, as thoughtfully produced as its sentiments were heartfelt. Compared to previous fundraising efforts ranging from Live Aid to the ”We Are the World” video and single, what we saw in front of the cameras during the two-hour program remained untainted by star ego or self-aggrandizement.

With no studio audience, and thus no unwarranted cheering and hooting, there was a solemnity to the event symbolized by the beautifully understated stage set of candles, massed in a series of pyramid shapes, behind the performers.

At the same time, there was a lot of passion in the performances, which ranged from Celine Dion singing ”God Bless America” to Stevie Wonder doing a familiar song — ”Love’s In Need Of Love Today” — whose lyric was suddenly, wittily appropriate, with its refrain of ”Don’t delay — send yours in right away.”

The public certainly seemed to be sending in money for the United Fund-sponsored event to benefit victims of the terrorist attacks, and it’s not improper to say that it was a hoot to see rows of phone banks staffed by stars including Jack Nicholson, Whoopi Goldberg, Meg Ryan, Brad Pitt, and Sally Field. Musical performances were interspersed with such various actors as Jim Carrey, Sarah Jessica Parker, Chris Rock, and George Clooney delivering inspirational anecdotes about the bravery of citizens caught up in the disaster.

”A Tribute To Heroes,” which took place live and on tape in undisclosed locations in New York, Los Angeles, and London, did what too many celebrity-charity events do not: It constantly deflected the shine of stardom away from the entertainers themselves, and turned the spotlight on the people, alive and dead, to whom the tribute was addressed. Even the appearance of Mariah Carey — her first public performance since she suffered a reported nervous breakdown — did little to distract from both the business (the raising of money) and the emotion (nationwide grief and celebration of countless acts of bravery) that remained at the forefront of the evening. For once, the entertainment industry handled the televised pondering of the meaning and repercussions of a tragedy even better than some of our national news broadcasts are doing.