Variety Show and pointless filler. The first telethon, broadcast by NBC in April 1949, was a fundraiser for the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation. (In fact, NBC executive Sylvester Weaver coined the word "telethon" — a portmanteau of "television" and "marathon" — to describe the program, which was a radically different event that he hoped would entice people to buy TV sets.) The Foundation's first big fund-raiser, the telethon ran a then-unprecedented 16 hours with Milton Berle as its host, and raised $100,000. In all ways it was more or less indistinguishable from "modern" telethons, from the stars and celebrities who performed and urged donations, to the big on-screen bank of telephone operators taking calls.
Real life examples of Telethons:
- The most famous would be Jerry Lewis's Muscular Dystrophy Telethon.
- The most infamous might be pledge week on PBS.
- Britain has Comic Relief and Children in Need. One example of the latter had half of The BBC's news team dress up as Duran Duran and sing "Wild Boys". The most recent example involved a James Bond spoof with the entire team (and Roger Moore).
- Every October, Perth hosts the Australian Telethon (simply known as 'Telethon') to raise money for sick kids. And for the last 10 years it has exceeded the 1 million dollar mark, with the current record being 6.5mil last year.
- In Norway, this is done by the NRK, the Norwegian State Broadcaster, every October. The money goes to different good purposes each year, which is promoted weeks in advance. In addition to being a telethon, volunteers go door-to-door and ask for donations on the same day the telethon is held.
- Ever since The Seventies, Chilean public TV channels host the Chilean Telethon almost every December to donate for the "Sociedad de Ayuda al Niņo Lisiado" (roughly translated as "Crippled Children Aid Society"), raising money for crippled kids. This is said to be the inspiration for Jerry Lewis's Muscular Dystrophy Telethon; whether it was the case of not, it did doubtlessly inspire many other telethons across Latin America.
- ABC Family is required to air a CBN telethon every year the last Sunday in January; this was one of the sale conditions CBN owner Pat Robertson put in his contract to sell the network to Fox in the late 1990's, along with keeping three hours of ABC Family airtime per day.
- Once a Season the Non-Profit The Funday Pawpet Show holds a telethon/auction to raise money for creator Yappy's operating expenses and music licensing costs.
- New Zealand's South Pacific Television and its successor TVNZ hosted eleven 24-hour telethons between 1975 and 1991, raising money for various charities, with the record being $6 million in 1985note . TV3 also hosted telethons in 1993 and 2009.
- Not technically a telethon, as it's not aired on television, but LoadingReadyRun holds "Desert Bus for Hope" every year to raise money for Child's Play.
- Project for Awesome, started by the VlogBrothers which includes a 48-hour livestream on YouTube.
Fictional examples of Telethons:
- Joey is one of the people answering the phones in an episode of Friends.
- Parodied in Seto no Hanayome, when Lunar starts up a Telethon for Mikawa when everybody thinks he's dying.
- In one episode of Newhart, Michael convinces Dick to host a 72 hour telethon for the tv station that they work for — despite that it is a commercial station and not PBS.
- On Family Ties:
- Steven Keaton is working a PBS Telethon when his snowbound wife goes into labor.
- And again when Uncle Arthur tried it on with Malory. That guy had no luck with telethons.
- On an episode of The Simpsons Homer flees the country after welching on a large PBS donation he made to get them to end the telethon.
- Jerry Seinfeld works the WNET Channel 13 Telethon in the episode in which his Nana goes missing.
- The Robot Chicken telethon always tends to end with everyone dead.
- On American Dad!, the CIA loses funding for torture, so they hold a telethon to raise funds for it.
- In one rather silly G.I. Joe episode, Cobra has a telethon to gather the funding they need for their next criminal operation from other crooks.
- The Muppets has the titular characters running a telethon in an attempt to buy back their studio.
- In the film Americathon, the country had to hold a 30 day telethon to repaid its debts or risk foreclosure.
- In Phineas and Ferb, Dr. Doofenshmirtz hosts a "Telethon of Evil," which hilariously gets mistaken for satire by Lawrence Fletcher.
Dr Doofenshmirtz: "I want your money, I'm strapped for cash! I need your money, too lazy to get a job."
- To raise funds in order to buy the station, "Weird Al" Yankovic holds one at the end of UHF
- In the 1970s tv series Carter County (kind of a sitcom version of In the Heat of the Night) the staff at the police department puts on a telethon to raise money for a former chief who has become quite ill. During the telethon - but unbeknownst to them - local news breaks into the telethon feed to announce that the fomer chief has died. The Tibbs-equivalent character, who had refused to participate because of the former chief's racist views, sneaks onto the show to surrepititiously inform the current chief while he's in the middle of a musical tribute.
- The Tiny Toon Adventures episode, "Pledge Week" has the characters from the show hosting a telethon. However, nobody seems to be pledging any money, or even calling, aside from a prank caller. In the third wraparound, after telling the viewers the wonderful stuff they could get if they pledged (including the actual Plucky), they manage to raise $0.07.
- In an episode of The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3, Hip hijacks every television station in North America with a "Koopathon," not giving up until everyone sends him money. Luigi eventually cancels it by hooking him off his stage.
- SCTV had four episodes involving telethons and pledge weeks.
- Pearl held a PBS-style telethon on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 presentation of Overdrawn at the Memory Bank, in reference to that film's origin on public TV.