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Laura Ziskin hopes to pull off the 'Stand Up to Cancer' broadcast, with a little A-list help

September 10, 2010 |  5:26 pm

Laura Laura Ziskin is zipping around the Sony Pictures lot in a go-cart. It’s a big day for her.

On one soundstage the rehearsals for the “Stand Up to Cancer” special which she co-founded are underway and on another soundstage she’s producing tests for the highly anticipated next installment of “Spider-Man.”

“How tired do I look, I’m a little weary today,” she jokes while taking a break between both productions.

But Ziskin knows how to put that tiredness aside, especially when it comes to the telecast. As a cancer survivor herself, she wants the show, which airs live and commercial-free, to both go off without a hitch, and to make an impact.

“It’s a big thing, but it’s like anything else you’ve done before. We’ve done it before so we’ve learned from our mistakes. We’re going to show images of the people in the crew who have lost loved ones to cancer and that tells you the whole story right there as to why everybody is working so hard,” Ziskin said. “Live television is a trippy thing to do. I’m doing some tests for ‘Spider-Man’ and it takes hours for lighting and it’s a much more energized process. I joke about how do you make cancer entertaining enough to make good television.”

And while the numbers behind the disease are sobering: 1,500 Americans die every single day from the disease, according to Ziskin; she doesn’t want the special, which brings together a mix of music, film and television stars making their own pleas for donations to cancer research, to be dull.

“Look, I’m not a scientist, but I’m in this business where we’re storytellers and we can gather together and try to tell the story,” she said.

Ziskin, who along with work on the “Spider-Man” movies also produced “Pretty Woman” and is the first woman to produce the Academy Awards telecast alone, doesn’t want cancer to be as taboo as it once was. She said show’s like Showtime’s new hit, “The Big C,” prove that we are willing to deal with the disease more openly.

“I think the show is wonderful [‘The Big C’s’ star Laura Linney will appear on the telecast]. You know Dave Stewart wrote the [theme] song “Stand Up to Cancer” and he called me and told me he was going to put the word ‘cancer’ in the lyric,” she said. “Everyone is affected by it. It’s a part of life. The more we focus on it, the more people will say, ‘Maybe we gotta do something.”

Joining Linney in appearances from the TV world are recent Emmy winner Jim Parsons of "The Big Bang Theory," "Modern Family's" Sofia Vergara, "CSI's" Marg Helgenberger and "The Simpsons." George Clooney, Will Smith, Renée Zellweger and Denzel Washington are also slated to appear as well as performances from Herbie Hancock, Neil Diamond, Dave Stewart, Stevie Wonder with Queen Latifah, Martina McBride, Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, The Edge, Jacob Dylan, Lady Antebellum and Leona Lewis.

Juggling a telecast – and a new movie – of the magnitude of both projects isn't easy, but Ziskin isn’t looking for any sympathy.

“It’s hard. I’m racing back and forth,” she said. “But look, I’m happy I’m alive and I’m working and I’ll keep doing it and hopefully the cures will come.”

More information can be found at and the show airs live Friday at 8 p.m. on numerous major networks and streams online on YouTube.

Read about how Neil Diamond and Herbie Hancock came together for their special performance over at our music blog, Pop & Hiss.

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy

Photo: Producer and cancer survivor Laura Ziskin attends a news conference to announce the City of Los Angeles declaring Sept. 10 as "Stand Up to Cancer Day" on Sept. 8, 2010, in Los Angeles. Credit: David Livingston / Getty Images.