Thirty years ago, Richard Curtis suspected two things: People like to laugh and they like to do good.
Red Nose Day has annually proved him right in the United Kingdom, where more than $1 billion has been raised to fight childhood poverty.
Now Curtis is bringing Red Nose Day to the United States with a star-studded three-hour TV event airing Thursday at 8 p.m. EDT on NBC. He promises it will be funny and entertaining while giving viewers the opportunity to pitch in to help kids in the U.S. and around the globe.
When he's not organizing Red Nose Day in the U.K. or prepping its American invasion, Curtis is a celebrated writer-director. His films include "Four Weddings and a Funeral," ''Notting Hill" and "Bridget Jones's Diary."
"I have two careers, at the same time," he says during a chat Monday morning at Manhattan's Hammerstein Ballroom, where the live portion of Thursday's telecast will originate.
This show will be "very, very, very different" from the typical fundraising telethon, he says.
U.S. & World
Roughly one-half will be pre-recorded sketches and other comedy pieces, allowing for slick production techniques and involvement by a wider range of stars than would be possible on show night.
Curtis mentions one intriguing spoof: a mockumentary of the rock group Coldplay as it creates a musical version of "Game of Thrones," with original songs by Coldplay frontman Chris Martin performed by the group and participation by a dozen "Game of Thrones" cast members.
Other pre-recorded bits include such names as Julia Roberts, Liam Neeson, Richard Gere and Jodie Foster.
There will also be live comedy and music in front of an audience at the Hammerstein.
Those scheduled to appear in one fashion or another include Reese Witherspoon, Benedict Cumberbatch, Emily Blunt, Martin Short, Ian McKellen, Paul Rudd, Neil Patrick Harris, Hugh Bonneville, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Jack Black, Helen Mirren, Nick Offerman, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, John Legend, Keith Urban, John Mellencamp, One Direction and "Voice" coaches Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera and Pharrell Williams.
The hope, of course, is that Red Nose Day will become an annual event for NBC and for U.S. viewers, just as it has long been a tradition for the BBC and Brits.
NBC's embrace of Red Nose Day is largely explained by the presence of Paul Telegdy, NBC's president of alternative and late night programming. Telegdy, who previously worked at the BBC, was well aware of the reach and impact of Red Nose Day.
In his current position, he believed NBCUniversal was a natural home for producing and promoting Red Nose Day on U.S. shores.
"We thought, wouldn't it be great if we could harness our workforce and its relationships with advertising clients and talent," he said recently — "and not in a way that responds to any specific cry for help, but for raising children out of poverty. And do it on an annual basis."
The money raised this first year will go to the Red Nose Day Fund for distribution to charity partners including the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the National Urban League, Save the Children and United Way, as well as other agencies such as charity: water (a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations) and OxFam America (a global organization that fights poverty and hunger).
Supplementing Thursday's broadcast are several ancillary fundraising efforts. Five million Red Noses have been purchased by customers of participating retailers. "Today Show" host Matt Lauer set off on a 230-mile bike ride from Boston to New York to spur donations.
And entertainer Nick Cannon (host of "America's Got Talent") will attempt to dance nonstop for 24 hours as a warm up to Thursday's broadcast. His day of dance at Manhattan's NBC Experience Store will stream live on NBC.com starting Wednesday around 7 p.m. EDT.
"I don't think I've ever done anything for 24 hours straight except breathe," said Cannon, who will get just a five-minute break every couple of hours and plans to power his endurance contest with the help of Skittles.
Back at the Hammerstein, Curtis, who describes himself as "quite a cheerful human," radiates optimism as he tackles countless details of the broadcast only days away.
"The challenge," he says, "is to get people to watch. I think if people watch the show, they'll enjoy it — and they'll give some money."