Harry Connick Jr., Leonardo DiCaprio
Credit: Connick Jr. and DiCaprio: Jennifer Graylock/AP

NBC and its sister cable news channels will be first out of the gate with a Katrina telethon, to air Friday night at 8 p.m. New Orleans native Harry Connick Jr. (far left) organized this one, calling upon fellow area natives Wynton Marsalis and Tim McGraw. (Also on board is Leonardo DiCaprio, near left.) Proceeds will go to the Red Cross‘ hurricane relief drive.

According to Variety, the other broadcast networks have grumbled about NBC’s haste, since NBC was already in talks with CBS, ABC, Fox, UPN, and The WB for a special to be simulcast next Tuesday or Wednesday, with New Orleans-born Ellen De Generes having expressed interest in hosting. Is NBC trying to get a jump on relief efforts, or is it cynically capitalizing on its weak Friday schedule — and possibly diluting next week’s efforts in the process?

Other telethons are also in the works. MTV, VH1, CMT, and their offshoots will air a benefit concert on Sept. 10 featuring Green Day, Alicia Keys, John Mellencamp, Ludacris, Usher, Gretchen Wilson, David Banner, Rob Thomas, Chester Bennington (of Linkin Park), and Dave Matthews Band. Later today, Russell Simmons will announce the lineup for a concert to air on BET on Sept. 9.

Besides playing the MTV show, DMB have added a fourth night to their engagement at Denver’s Red Rocks, with the proceeds going to relief efforts. That’s one of several smaller-scale fundraisers planned. Bowling for Soup is playing a benefit in Shreveport, La. New Orleans rappers Master P and Juvenile have their own relief mini-drives.

Also pitching in: Jerry Lewis has pledged to redirect $1 million from his upcoming Labor Day muscular dystrophy telethon toward Katrina victims. Mississippi resident Morgan Freeman has organized an online auction. And on her website, Louisiana native Britney Spears has reported that her own family (in the affected states) is safe, while offering area residents her ”thoughts and prayers.”

addCredit(“Connick Jr. and DiCaprio: Jennifer Graylock/AP”)