MTV's CEO tells PEOPLE she thought the surprise call from George Clooney was a prank at first

By Liza Hamm
January 20, 2010 03:50 PM
Credit: EP/WUF/Splash News Online

Nobody helps a charity event come together quicker than George Clooney.

Two days after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, Judy McGrath, the CEO of MTV Networks, was starting to plan a benefit for the devastated nation when her phone rang. “My assistant said, ‘George Clooney is on the phone,’ ” she tells PEOPLE. Her reaction? “That’s just Brad Grey [CEO of Paramount Pictures] fooling around.

But the call wasn’t a prank. Clooney was on the line offering his help. “He jumped in with such incredible commitment,” says McGrath. “And he had already spoken to Bono, Wyclef, Sting and Bruce [Springsteen].” The result? Hope for Haiti Now – a star-studded two-hour telethon airing Friday that will feature musical performances from Los Angeles, New York City and London, plus live reporting from CNN’s Anderson Cooper in Haiti.

“We’ve all seen that music plays a role in horrible times,” says McGrath. “It’s healing and mobilizing. If we bring the music and George brings his incredible advocacy and all his relationships, we’ll have something really strong.”

For the last few days, the group has been working around the clock to put together a great show with special performances by Springsteen, Shakira, Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Hudson and Taylor Swift among others.
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Proceeds from the telethon will be split evenly between The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, United Nations World Food Programme, Oxfam America, Partners in Health, The Red Cross, UNICEF and the Yele Haiti Foundation.

“I won’t feel right about this unless we raise tons and tons of money,” says McGrath.

The show will be the most widely distributed telethon in history and will air on more than 25 networks.