NBC special seeks to aid tsunami victims


Much as it did after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, television is using its airwaves to not only cover the Asian tsunami but also to raise money for victims.

In Baltimore, WBAL (Channel 11) will carry a one-hour, commercial-free special tonight at 7 produced by WNBC in New York, in conjuction with UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund. WBAL anchors Rod Daniels and Marianne Banister will open and close the hour via local cut-ins. The national portion of the show will include Sarah Jessica Parker, Tea Leoni, Clay Aiken and Debra Messing, among other celebrities.

The program was initially intended only for NBC's 14 owned and operated stations, but dozens of NBC affiliates like WBAL (owned by Hearst Argyle) have also signed on, broadening the audience.

"This is a story that is being brought home by television," said Bill Fine, general manager of WBAL. "I don't know how anyone can watch those pictures and not be impassioned to assist."

On a national level, NBC Universal plans to pre-empt an hour of prime-time programming on all of its broadcast networks and cable channels at 8 p.m. Jan. 15. The program, which NBC Universal says will include "music and celebrities," will be carried on MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo, Trio, SciFi and the USA Network, as well as NBC.

In September 2001, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and more than 35 other cable channels and broadcast networks pre-empted two hours of prime-time programming to raise money after terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Other telethons and on-air benefits are in the works, station managers said yesterday. Meanwhile, most stations have been offering information on the air and online telling viewers how they can contribute to relief efforts.

"We're seeing literally thousands of people going to our Web site linking to that information," said Jay Newman, general manager of WJZ (Channel 13).

- David Zurawik

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