Education will be taking over the top four broadcast TV networks on Friday—for about an hour, anyway.
“EIF Presents: XQ Super School Live” will air on ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC at 8 p.m. Eastern time/7 p.m. Central. (It will air on a tape-delayed basis at 8 p.m. Pacific time. Mountain time is always the forgotten sibling of these announcements, but we presume it will air there as well.)
That’s a lot of letters involved there for a show that isn’t “Sesame Street.” EIF stands for the Entertainment Industry Foundation, a 75-year-old Los Angeles-based nonprofit that channels Hollywood money and glitz into various charities. The foundation was behind a similar four-network TV special in 2015 called “Think It Up.”
The XQ Super School Project was introduced during that special two years ago, and last year it awarded more than $100 million to 10 teams to create new high schools or transform existing ones. The project is affiliated with the Emerson Collective, founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs.
XQ, the project says, represents “a certain something” between IQ (intelligence quotient) and EQ (emotional quotient).
The 2015 “Think It Up” special was actually pretty entertaining, with music and comedy bits such as the “Teaching Center” short film by Key & Peele, which envisioned an upside-down world in which teachers are drafted and get signing bonuses like sports stars.
This year’s special will also air from the Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica, Calif., airport. The star-studded lineup includes Tom Hanks, Samuel L. Jackson, Mahershala Ali, Tony Hale, Bill Hader, Christian Slater, Common, Randall Park, Rami Malek, Portia Doubleday, Thomas Mann, Anna Deavere Smith, Miranda Cosgrove, Melissa Rivers, and Kevin Frazier.
Among the musical artists scheduled are Jennifer Hudson, Andra Day, Sheryl Crow, Max Weinberg and Max Weinberg’s Jukebox, Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma, MC Hammer, Jon Boogz, and Sheila E.
The executive producers of the special are the actor Viola Davis and her husband, Julius Tannon, along with the XQ project.
Russlynn H. Ali, the executive director of the XQ Super School Project, found time in her busy schedule for a phone interview on Wednesday.
“I think of the world in 15-second increments now,” she said, referring to the precise time management involved in such a huge entertainment undertaking. “There is a lot we are trying to convey in 59 minutes.”
And I thought there was a lot to pack into 60 minutes, and the producers are dealing with a minute less than that!
More seriously, Ali is working to help the show use the platform of exposure on four major TV networks to focus attention on the XQ project’s goal of improving high school education.
“This is an opportunity to partner with some of the best minds in entertainment to bring awareness to young people about education,” said Ali, who was the U.S. Department of Education’s assistant secretary for civil rights under President Barack Obama.
“The celebrities, the writers, the producers, and the wonks are really here to bring the issues into the public consciousness in a way that Americans everywhere can understand,” she added.
Ali noted that the 2015 special had a quasi-telethon element to it, with viewers encouraged to contribute to a DonorsChoose.org effort that would help fund teacher projects. There’s no such charitable aspect to this year’s special, which may be good timing in light of all the fundraising still going on in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
“This year is all about awareness,” Ali said. “We’re taking viewers on a journey about the state of public schools today.”
If the show is like the 2015 version, there won’t be much in the way of partisanship over divisive education policy issues. Everyone can get behind improving high schools, right? And besides, there wouldn’t be much time in the hour (or 59 minutes) for that, anyway.
But if the education community (or at least one part of it) is intent on putting on a good show, it has partnered with people who know what they’re doing.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.