Self-help for quarantine? Oprah, Julia Roberts, spiritual gurus will give advice live

Stephen Battaglio
Julia Roberts will read a children's story on "The Call to Unite."  (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Television variety has made something of a comeback during the coronavirus pandemic, with the "One World: Together at Home Concert" and "Living Room Concert for America," featuring musical superstars performing from their homes, drawing tens of millions of captive viewers.

Tomorrow the genre will be kicked up a few notches as some of the best-known names in spiritualism and self-help team with major Hollywood names, athletes and artists for "The Call to Unite." The livestreamed event — made up of 200 segments delivered by Zoom feeds — starts Friday at 5 p.m. Pacific on the site unite.us, Roku, Twitch, Twitter, LinkedIn and SiriusXM satellite radio. Spotify will present segments on demand the day after it concludes.

"The Call to Unite" is the brainchild of Tim Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics International Board, who has been planning to form a new nonprofit collective called Unite with the aim of nurturing uplifting projects that span political labels, religious differences and geographic divides.

The shelter-at-home orders aimed at curbing the COVID-19 pandemic put his plans on a fast track, as he sensed there was an appetite among those in isolation for some uplifting advice and self-reflection.

"Tim was planning to launch Unite in the fall," said Jon Klein, senior executive producer for the livestream. "He realized the very first project should be a coming-together moment for the world."

Shriver got friend Oprah Winfrey to sign on — she will open the program with a 25-minute talk with Bishop T.D. Jakes — and other big-name participants fell in line quickly.

Julia Roberts will read a children's story. Daniel Dae Kim will present a video depicting his battle with coronavirus and how he donated blood after he recovered. NBA stars will instruct kids on how to exercise indoors. Performers include Jewel, Questlove, Josh Groban, Yo-Yo Ma, Amy Grand, 98 Degrees, Common, Lil Buck and BeBe Winans.

Oprah Winfrey will lead off the livestream of "A Time to Unite."  (Weight Watchers International)

But the bulk of the program will be akin to a spiritual version of "The Ed Sullivan Show," with rabbis, imams, gurus and pastors offering advice on achieving happiness and satisfaction, yoga lessons and even instruction on breathing.

Author and meditation expert Byron Katie, life coach Martha Beck, motivational speaker Jay Shetty and Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence founding director Mark Brackett also will appear.

The advice dispensed during the live feed will be compiled for a book to be published by Viking Press. The proceeds will go to Give Directly, which delivers cash payments to impoverished people around the world. Viewers also will be told how they can donate to Give Directly and the volunteerism organization Points of Light during the livestream.

Half of the segments — which range from 30 seconds to 25 minutes — will be on tape, with the rest coming in live, posing a production challenge for Klein, a former president of CNN who is currently the chairman of an over-the-top streaming video business called Tapp.

"The technology has become so sophisticated that the idea of pulling in 200 or more Zoom feeds and combining them into a seamless, high-quality production is straightforward," Klein said. "The trickier thing was the conceptual piece of it — what should a global spiritual inspirational gathering feel and look like? How do you appeal to the entire world, because that’s our audience.”

Friday night, he will find out.