And the media saturation paid off, as 89 million viewers tuned in for at least some portion of the star-studded telethon, and the benefit raised more than $150 million for relief and recovery from the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.
Organizers said that as of Monday morning, the event had topped $150 million in pledges. Although phone lines were open through the weekend and the official Website, www.tributetoheroes.org, is still accepting donations, most of the money came on Friday. Immediately after the telethon ended at 11 p.m. ET, NYPD Blue star Dennis Franz told CNN that preliminary numbers exceeded $110 million. Phone volunteers at one call center in Dallas reported raising more than $1 million in the first hour alone, and a telethon spokesperson reported that there were 300,000 calls in the first 15 minutes.
All proceeds from A Tribute to Heroes will go to the United Way's September 11 Fund.
As audiences go, Friday's telethon averaged 59.3 million viewers during the entire two-hour event, according to Nielsen Media Research. The numbers are based on audience totals from ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox, as well as UPN, the WB, E!, PAX, PBS, BET, Comedy Central, Court TV, Discovery, F/X, Fox Family Channel, Hallmark, HBO, Lifetime, MTV, SciFi, Showtime, The Learning Channel, TNN, TNT, TVLand, USA Network, VH1, Telemundo, Univision and Galavision.
The telethon also was simulcast on more than 8,000 radio stations and on the Web via Yahoo!. (It was also seen in more than 200 countries, but those numbers aren't tracked by Nielsen.)
All told, the telethon pulled in seven million more viewers than President Bush's 45-minute address to Congress Thursday night, which drew 82.1 million viewers at any one point. Thursday's and Friday's events go down as the second and third most-watched broadcasts of the year, behind only Super Bowl XXXV, which averaged 84.3 million viewers.
From a historical standpoint, the telethon's 38.3 household rating and 65 share fell short of any all-time lists. The top network telecast of all time still remains the 1983 finale of M*A*S*H, which pulled a mammoth 60.2 rating and 77 share.
With stirring performances by everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Billy Joel, and monologues from A-listers like Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise, Friday's telethon drew mostly critical praise for its solemn tone and smooth production--especially given its frantic one-week turnaround time.
Produced by Joel Gallen, A Tribute to Heroes also featured performances from artists such as Neil Young, Alicia Keys, Eddie Vedder, Celine Dion and Mariah Carey, who reemerged after her recent emotional breakdown to sing "Hero." And those who weren't singing spent their time manning the telethon's Celebrity Phone Bank, where stars like Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino and Brad Pitt answered calls.
(originally publised at 9:35 a.m. PT)