Anchors set for cancer benefit

Stand Up cause to feature Couric, Williams, Gibson

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- It's been a busy and well-traveled couple of weeks for the Big Three network news anchors. But they have one more personal duty before they head home.

CBS' Katie Couric, NBC's Brian Williams and ABC's Charles Gibson are set to leave St. Paul almost immediately after the conclusion of the Republican National Convention and fly to Los Angeles for Friday's three-network benefit "Stand Up to Cancer." ABC, CBS and NBC will carry the simulcast beginning at 8 p.m. EDT/PDT in one of the few times the broadcast networks have banded together for a benefit.

"It's great after these two political conventions, with two very different visions, to be able to take part in a tripartisan event that will really unite the country behind a common cause," Couric said told The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday. "It's a perfect ending for me to these two weeks."

Within the past year, several in the industry -- including Couric, producer Laura Ziskin, former Paramount CEO Sherry Lansing and the Entertainment Industry Foundation's Lisa Paulsen -- began working separately on a telethon to benefit cancer research and call attention to the disease. They combined forces earlier this year to, in Ziskin's words, "make cancer entertaining."

Ziskin, who is fighting cancer herself, is producing the show. Scheduled to appear along with the anchors are Halle Berry, Lance Armstrong, Jimmy Fallon, Jennifer Aniston and more. They hope to raise millions of dollar that will go 100% to cancer research.

"For the cancer community, their interest has really piqued," Williams said. "They really know this is coming, and the 'roadblock' (simulcast) concept, it's a great idea."

Couric is mindful of the economy and the relief efforts for hurricane victims but hopes people still can give what they can. Even a $1 donation to remember a friend or loved one affected by cancer could, in the aggregate, make the difference.

"Funding for cancer research is woefully lacking. As a country we spend more checking shoes and purses at the airport than we do on cancer research," Gibson said. "So if we can do a little bit to focus people's attention on the need for more research and spread awareness of the advances being made with the funds that do exist, we'll be very happy."

Fewer than one in 10 research proposals are funded, Couric said.

"Think about that: That's nine-and-a-half great ideas that are left on the table," she said.

For the anchors, cancer has hit home. Couric's husband, Jay Monahan, died of colon cancer, and her sister Emily died of pancreatic cancer. A year before her husband's diagnosis, Couric's mother-in-law also was diagnosed. Williams' sister died of breast cancer, and Gibson's family also has been touched by the disease.

"I sometimes forget about how lucky I was before I had these experiences," Couric said. "I think about people who may say, 'Well, cancer and cancer research isn't really relevant to my life.' But the fact of the matter is that in all likelihood it will be someday, I'm sorry to say."

One in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer.

"When that day comes, I want people to have more options than Jay had or Emily had or Mrs. Monahan, my mother-in-law, had," Couric said. "I don't want them to have to be just praying there's going to be a breakthrough while they're watching someone they love getting sicker and sicker.

"There's no greater feeling of powerlessness or desperation or fear than watching someone you love being taken by this disease."