For as much as he did for the cause of Muscular Dystrophy prevention, and telethons in general, you’d think Jerry Lewis would have been treated a little better than he was this year when he was yanked from the annual telecast just over a month before its airing Sunday.

Lewis had been talking last spring about retiring after this year’s event. But there was nothing about his removal from the program prematurely this year that seemed voluntary.

Still, the show, whittled down from a 21-hour Labor Day Weekend event to a mere 6-hour Sunday night special, began with its wanly annoying replacement team of hosts talking about Lewis’ “retirement.”

Six hours of Nancy O’Dell, Jann Carl, Nigel Lythgoe and Alison Sweeney hosting is nobody’s idea of entertainment. And the singers and dancers who took to the stage were generally a more lackluster crew, some of whom, like Celine Dion, had pre-recorded their bits and gone home.

This year’s event was spectacularly badly-directed for a show sent out to so many stations. There were moments when cameras bounced from one host to the next, to a confused would-be Jerry’s Kid, to a corporate spokesperson wondering what was going to happen next, as a director yelled out lines off camera.

O’Dell would exhort “Live television!” as if that excused the gaffes. But had Lewis been around and this happened (and it happened a lot when he was around), he’d find a way to make light of it, send up those to blame and generally make what is not generally entertainment (talking about a disease and trying to raise money) into something that’s somehow fun to watch.

Lewis may have been a little too freewheeling for his corporate-loving overlords at the MDA though. He’d go off script or make the corporate heads handing over checks nervous as to what he’d do. The MDA probably wondered, too, how efficient Lewis really was at raising money, since the George Clooney-organized cancer benefits raised far more dough in much less time – hour long specials carried by all the broadcast networks.

Without Lewis, though, the show fell to some extent to the would-be Jerry’s Kids who now turned hosts – reading their lines unexpertly or flubbing introductions (and why shouldn’t they? They’re kids, not professionals). Worse, the camera would go to the corporate fathers saying how their fine company raised so much money for the MDA obviously as a way to bolster their corporate image. Any money raised (from customers largely) were a good way to get free good PR. That Lewis wasn’t around meant they could make their spiels without fear of interruption.

The big question of couse is whether the no-Jerry telethon raised more money than the ones with the comedian. (the numbers won’t be issued until the show is over in Hawaii).

But should it fall short, no doubt they’ll blame the economy in general and not their own poor layoff.