The ''Stand Up to Cancer'' fund-raiser -- Celebs like Rob Lowe, Christina Applegate, and more will appear on the hour long special

By Vanessa Juarez
August 29, 2008 at 04:00 AM EDT

Rotary phones, Brylcreemed hosts, tacky sets — for many, telethons are as old-school as it gets. So it’s a bit of a surprise that NBC, CBS, and ABC chose to simulcast the hour-long, commercial-free fund-raiser Stand Up to Cancer on Sept. 5. This is the first time in over a decade the networks have banded together for an on-air benefit that wasn’t precipitated by a national disaster. ”It’s brave,” says former Paramount chair Sherry Lansing, who designed SU2C with a team of insiders including Spider-Man producer Laura Ziskin and Katie Couric. ”The networks’ heads put aside their rivalry and came together.” Adds Ziskin, ”This disease is a disaster. Cancer affects everyone.”

Because only a PBS junkie will sit through an old-style telethon these days, SU2C will take place at L.A.’s ritzy Kodak Theatre, also home to Fox’s Idol Gives Back this year. (Fox sat this one out, claiming its philanthropic efforts remain focused on the annual Idol ballyhoo.) You’ll still see dozens of celebs — such as Rob Lowe, Brad Garrett, and Christina Applegate — taking pledges by phone, but the show will also feature musical performances and comedy. Melissa Etheridge will sing a new version of ”I Run for Life,” which she wrote after her own diagnosis in 2004. Garrett may push the limits with his skit about a prostate exam. Lowe isn’t sure what he’ll be doing, but the Brothers & Sisters star (who lost his great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother to breast cancer) does ask, ”Can I pay money not to see [Garrett’s exam]?” Kidding aside, Ziskin just hopes her team will raise enough money to spur actual change. ”We went to the moon,” she says. ”We split the atom. This is a disease. If we come together, we can fix it.”