Image Credit: Craig Sjodin/NBC Stand Up To Cancer aired on all the major channels and streamed on the Web last night, but the view at Stage 30 of Sony Studios was all the more dramatic in person. Patrick Swayze’s widow, Lisa Niemi, prefacing a tape of her late husband’s address to Stand Up To Cancer with an in-person speech, took the air out of the place, as did a few seconds of Michael Douglas’ opening taped message – the latest A-lister to battle the illness.

“This is my 10-year cancer free [anniversary], so for me, I look at other people with survivor shirts, and it’s like we all can talk, like therapy,” actress Marissa Jaret Winokur told EW on the red carpet of Stand Up To Cancer. “The fact that the networks are getting together is showing this isn’t about ratings, this is about the epidemic.”

Indeed, as ABC news head David Westin announced earlier in the week that he was packing his bags and leaving a fragmented news-entertainment TV climate, the networks united for an hour to all broadcast this event. “We’re flanked by our competitors, and we’re going to pause during the broadcast and point them out doing their newscasts, and just say that obviously people can only watch one channel at a time,” NBC news anchor Brian Wiliams said before the event of co-hosting with CBS’ Katie Couric and ABC’s Diane Sawyer. “We’re fierce competitors by day, but tonight we are called together by this.”

During the 90-minute show — an hourlong presentation followed by 30 minutes of music performances like “Barracuda” from Heart and an all-star jam of Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” — stars manned telephones on both sides of the stage. The show’s brisk pace didn’t bog down, as another celebrity was usually ready to go. When recent cancer survivors Michael C. Hall and Christina Applegate (above) emerged onstage hand in hand, the full drama didn’t have time to linger before Gwyneth Paltrow came on.

The full scope of celebrities directly or indirectly affected by cancer – from Seth Rogen to Neil Diamond to Cindy Crawford to Jennifer Grey to Emily Deschanel – was impressive and illustrated the disease’s widespread impact. Survivor’s Ethan Zohn joked with Alison Sweeney, Cat Deeley, and Renee Zellweger off-camera, and Winokur took pictures from onstage (against announced instructions) with her phone. Ken Jeong, whose wife, Tran Ho, is two years removed from cancer, clapped along to the music. Denzel Washington told the lulled crowd to “wake up!” before cameras panned to him, getting some laughs.

And there was the fashion statement of the night: shaved heads, or slowly growing back hair. “I really had no choice,” Zohn told EW about his recovering coif. “It’s coming back. I used to have a big afro. Now, I have a really short afro.”