Clowning Around For A Critical Cause

"What can we do that others can’t?" asks Paul Telegdy, repeating a question that comes up often in the offices of Comcast NBCUniversal.
May 23, 2016 11:00 AM ET

"The truth is, we’re unique," says Paul, President of Alternative and Late Night Programming at NBC Entertainment. "We’re on 24 hours a day and have a storytelling platform that reaches millions of people on a weekly basis. We can use our platform to entertain, connect, and mobilize our viewers for extraordinary causes."

That’s exactly what we did in late May when we broadcast the inaugural Red Nose Day charity event in the United States, which used the power of media and entertainment to raise more than $23 million to help lift children and young people out of poverty in the U.S. and some of the poorest communities in the world. Inspired by the enormously popular U.K. version, the event brought together some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, including entertainers like Jimmy Fallon, Pharrell, Blake Shelton, Julia Roberts, Michelle Rodriguez, Gwyneth Paltrow, Neil Patrick Harris, Jack Black, Coldplay, Reese Witherspoon, and many more.

And Paul, a former BBC executive, was in the middle of it all. In fact, it was his resolve that helped bring the event to the United States in the first place — with help from NBCUniversal leadership and partners.

Created by writer/director Richard Curtis, the original Red Nose Day event has been a U.K. mainstay for nearly 30 years — a partnership between Comic Relief U.K. and the BBC. The premise is simple: Use mass media, star power, and humor to inspire viewers to give. However, creating a U.S. version meant facing an issue of scale. With 320 million people and multiple time zones, it would take a powerful broadcast partner and unwavering commitment to make the fundraising event succeed.

"Activism is not only meaningful for us, but it’s intrinsic to NBCUniversal’s role as a broadcaster," Paul says. "There’s strong recognition from the top that we can do so much more than entertain. So when the idea came up, our leadership simply asked, ‘What do we need to pull this off?’"

Our partnerships were key. We worked closely with Comic Relief, Inc., to organize the broadcast. By spotlighting A-list celebrities and leveraging our partnerships with retailers and nonprofits such as Walgreens, Mars, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we brought "red noses" into the American consciousness and inspired everyone to join in on the action.

The $23 million raised went to 12 charities that focus on children’s education, healthcare, and safety, including Oxfam and Save the Children, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, United Way, National Council of La Raza, and National Urban League. Funds were dedicated to projects in the U.S., Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

With the force of NBCUniversal behind it, Red Nose Day became the most-talked-about charity special of the 2014/15 TV season on social media, with 149,000 tweets. Celebrity sketches like "Game of Thrones: The Musical" and emotional documentary segments helped Red Nose Day reach a broadcast audience of more than 4 million.

"The success of this event goes to show that when we can utilize the full power of our organization and use every ounce of muscle to focus public sentiments on important issues, we can create incredible change," Paul says.

Tune in to NBC for the Red Nose Day Special on Thursday, May 26  from 9 to 11 p.m. ET. This story originally appeared in the 2016 Comcast NBCUniversal Corporate Social Responsibility Report.