Oscar winner Hilary Swank is unleashing some serious star power to help rescue dogs get adopted by families who want to make a difference on Thanksgiving - or those who just want to watch terriers instead of touchdowns on TV.
"Fox's Cause for Paws: An All-Star Dog Spectacular" will air Nov. 27 and feature a slew of celebrities aiming to find thousands of needy dogs a home by Black Friday.
Hosted by Swank and "Glee" actress Jane Lynch, the two-hour program crams in dog stories, viral videos, musical tributes, a fundraiser, contests and glitterati galore.
It ranks among the many telethons to which celebrities have lent their fame to benefit everything from breast cancer research to Hurricane Katrina victims, but the program is believed to be the first televised effort to raise money for rescue dogs and get the animals adopted.
Though much more high-profile, the show comes amid a flurry of campaigns by rescues, shelters and animal welfare groups to get at-risk pets loving homes, from local adoption events to social media blitzes such as "muttbombing," digitally altered images that insert a needy dog into a photo of a celebrity.
"More than 9 million animals end up in shelters every year and only half of them make it out," said Swank, who has won Academy Awards for "Boys Don't Cry" and "Million Dollar Baby" and is a co-executive producer of the show. The program running 8-10 p.m. is partnering with Petfinder.com to help pet seekers nationwide find a dog or cat in need, she said.
Actors Scarlett Johansson, Betty White, Josh Duhamel and Kristen Bell as well as singers Fergie, Miranda Lambert, Paula Abdul, LeAnn Rimes and Kesha will be on hand to help the animals and, hopefully, turn the event into an annual affair, Swank said.
"We've seen the entertainment industry come together for so many worthwhile causes benefiting people, now it's time for them to rally for man's best friend," co-executive producer Michael Levitt said.
The show will star 35 adoptable pooches and feature a performance by the 10 flipping, twirling Olate dogs, past million-dollar winners of "America's Got Talent." There will be contests for cutest puppy, best celebrity lookalike, best licker, smartest dog and best viral dog video.
All the dogs on the show will be from rescues - animals that have been saved from shelters but still need homes, Levitt said. Until then, they are in foster care or kennels.
There will be segments devoted to spay-and-neuter awareness, the live-saving role of fostering and the joys of adopting senior or special-needs dogs.
"Rescue dogs are not broken animals," Levitt said. "They are the victims of bad circumstances, but most are loving and most grateful creatures."
If all the dogs on hand are placed, viewers will be urged to visit Petfinder.com to look at other adoptable dogs in their areas. Celebrities will also solicit donations to help support participating rescues.
Rica Powell's Smiling Dog Rescue in Tucson, Arizona, will bring a dog to the telethon. The group she founded in 2007 specializes in pit bulls, the breed that accounts for 70 percent of dogs in rescues.
Powell said the dog she's bringing is "a fabulous boy. I know we are going to get hundreds of applications for that dog."
Also up for adoption from rescues nationwide will be three-legged great Dane, a pooch that weighs just 4 pounds and a Chihuahua who uses a tiny wheelchair, among others.
The show's biggest competition on Thanksgiving will be football.
"We think we are amazing counterprogramming," Levitt said.