Credit where it's due
EmptyYes, there really is more to Fox's reality TV ratings champ "American Idol" than chart-topping hit records and ubiquitous product placement. In April, the show threw its pop culture muscle into a landmark effort to raise awareness about the number of children and young people living in extreme poverty around the globe with a two-day fundraiser called "American Idol: Idol Gives Back."
The event featured performances from the likes of Bono, Celine Dion, Il Divo, Annie Lennox and, of course, former "Idol" champs -- and viewers across the country called in more than $75 million in donations to benefit the Charity Projects Entertainment Fund (CPEF).
It was a remarkable undertaking and one of only two programs to receive the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' highest honor, the Governors' Award, this year. "We are delighted," says Nigel Lythgoe, president of 19 Television and executive producer of both "American Idol" and its sister program, "So You Think You Can Dance." "Between 'Idol' and 'So You Think You Can Dance,' we go into homes two days a week for nine months out of the year. We thought, 'Why not use the juggernaut of "American Idol"?'"
"Idol" judge Simon Cowell and writer-producer Richard Curtis first set the idea for the philanthropic effort into motion last year. (Curtis is the founder of Comic Relief, the organization behind the U.K.'s Red Nose Day, an annual event when shops offer red foam noses in exchange for a donation, culminating in a star-packed televised comic benefit.)
"The speed with which we put this together was ridiculous, but everyone was gung ho about it," Lythgoe says. "Richard Curtis is a real talent magnet, and we literally didn't get turned down by anybody."
While "Idol Gives Back" capitalized on its huge mainstream appeal, HBO decided to explore alternative avenues, namely digital services, to help spread the word about its "The Addiction Project," which premiered in March and also will receive the Governors' Award. Featuring directors such as Susan Froemke, Barbara Kopple and Albert Maysles, "Addiction Project" focuses on the notion that addiction is neither a moral failure nor a prison sentence, so long as an addict receives proper treatment.
HBO produced a companion Web site, a book titled "Addiction: Why Can't They Just Stop?" and podcasts to help promote the series, in addition to rolling out a community outreach program in 30 major U.S. cities.
"Due to HBO's excellent marketing efforts and the well-executed outreach campaign designed by our partners, we were able to let everyone in America know that this important and extremely helpful information was available and easily accessible," says "Addiction Project" producer John Hoffman.
Although the cabler previously has produced series on cancer, HIV and environmental concerns, "Addiction Project" was its largest public health campaign to date. "We had the remarkable privilege to spend three years to dedicate on this project," Hoffman says. "We were fortunate to have the strong support of HBO documentary films president Sheila Nevins and her understanding that (since) addiction was a complicated disease that this would take a while."
"These shows exemplify the mission of the Governors' Award, and we are proud to recognize both of these remarkable programs with this esteemed award," says ATAS chairman Dick Askin. "We salute them for harnessing the power of television to educate and inform viewers about two very significant issues that touch us all."