TAL Theme List

Just in time for the holidays, the latest call for pitches from TAL. Enjoy! -Mia

Dear This American Life friends and contributors,

It’s been a while! We’ve been sending out these Theme Lists with less frequency lately in the hopes that we don’t exhaust you and your patience with us. But please know that you’re free to pitch us stories whenever you like and you don’t need to wait for a Theme List or appropriate theme. That said, we've got a new round of themes-in-progress listed below! And we'd love your story pitches, thoughts and suggestions for these upcoming shows.

How this process works: When you send in a story idea to me, I'll respond with a generic email letting you know that I received your pitch and that I've read it. I promise. I read every pitch. (I won't send you the auto response until I've read your pitch so expect a bit of a delay getting that email.) If we think the pitch is right for us, or if we need more information from you, I'll send you another email asking for more info on the story or letting you know we'd like to commission the story. But if you don't hear back from us within two weeks, beyond the initial auto-reply email, it means the story just isn't right for us or for the needs of that particular show. The idea of doing it this way is just to get through pitches and get back to everyone quickly.

Like always, these themes are shows we're actively pursuing right now but we're always on the lookout for new stories or ideas. So if you've got a story that you think would work especially well for us but doesn't fit a specific theme listed below, please send it along anyway.

Thanks so much for your pitches. We appreciate it.

Julie Snyder
This American Life

THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS: This show is coming up soon (three weeks) and while it's holiday-related and timed, the stories for this show don't necessarily have to be about Christmas. But it'd be great if they were! We've got a few stories about gift-giving and we'd love more stories in that direction. Maybe a story about a particularly awful or weird (or wonderful!) gift? Or a gift that truly does speak more to the 'thought' behind the gift than to the actual reality of the gift? We may also just gather up a lot of different stories about notable Secret Santa gift-exchanges so if you've even got a small story for that, please let us know. Other takes on the theme could be stories where the 'thought' or intention of something is unclear or, perhaps, misguided. Or stories where the thought truly was greater than the action — something where the thought had a power of its own.

GOOD GUY: There is this thing called the "good guy discount" where basically while you're at the counter making your purchase, you ask the cashier for the good guy discount. When the cashier inevitably asks, "What's the good guy discount?" you simply say, "You know — you're a good guy, I'm a good guy … a good guy discount." A reporter for our show SWEARS this works more times than you'd think, and he often walks out with 10-20 percent off the price. But how can this work?! WHY does this work? In this show, we're hoping to explore this idea of being a 'good guy' and what that means. We'd like stories about people who have a specific notion of what it means to be a good person and where the lines get drawn between good and not-good. In another story, a soldier talks about his motivations for joining the military and his struggle with what are morally acceptable motives when you're training to kill. For some variety, stories about relationships or love would work well for this show.

STUCK IN THE MIDDLE: These are stories of people in limbo, fighting desperately to get out. We've got one story about a man who's in prison right now because of a bureaucratic mistake. But it's not the kind you normally think of because this guy was guilty. He was convicted of an armed robbery more than a decade ago, he bonded out while appealing, and then his appeals failed. But here's where the remarkable mistake happened – no one ever came back to put him back in prison. So he went on living his life. He had kids, started a business, bought a house. And then when the Department of Corrections was preparing to release him they finally realized, "Oh wait. We don't actually have this guy in custody." So now, even though he's completely reformed and has never committed another crime, he's back in prison. We have another story of women in a strict religious community who turn to some pretty extreme measures when their community says they can't divorce their husbands. We're looking for more stories like this where people find themselves in some kind of limbo they can't control. The stories we have so far are pretty serious, so suggestions or stories that are funny would be helpful. Maybe one of you has a story about being then unwilling mediator in a dumb family fight. Some story about a very common sense piece of legislation or a scientific idea that will never see the light of day because it's stuck between two sides could work too.

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: In the absence of facts, people will often make up their own truth — a story that somehow explains the world in a way that makes sense or feels logical or comforting. We are working on one story for this show about a murder investigation where it seems like the police certainly know more than they're letting on but for whatever reasons, they won't reveal anything. Now the victims' families and friends are trying to figure it out on their own but it's taking them down some weird (and scary) paths. We'd like to explore this idea with more stories about searching for truth and ending up in a place that maybe isn't quite right. Because we have one story about a murder and are working on another story about a political legend, smaller, personal and even light stories might be nice for this theme. Maybe a story about figuring out a family secret? Or a small-scale mystery? A story told from the perspective of someone who *knows* the truth but won't reveal it would be really nice, too.

DAY AT THE BEACH: It's getting cold and soon the holidays will be over and we'll be entering the dreary malaise of the I've-got-nothing-to-live-for months of mid to late winter (is this only me?) so we'd like to do a fun show in February where all of the stories either take place at the beach or, basically, just have something to do with the beach. Stories about family vacations or romances or mysteries or even environmental stories — just as long as at some point in the story, we come across sand and water. We've got one story about an octopus and another about a family reunion but even if your story involves both an octopus and a family, that's fine. We'd just love to be thinking about the beach soon!

THE LOCAL SHOW: A few years ago, a woman in Maine who runs a snowmobiling camp was fighting to keep a massive conservation project out of town, largely because the person overseeing the project is considered an "outsider." Yet when that person's son took over the project, the woman started to see things differently and after some grouse hunting and socializing with him, the woman ends up supporting the same conservation she'd been radically against. All because the son grew up in the same part of Maine and therefore he's a local. The thing is, while the son had been born there, he was also the heir to a huge fortune, had moved away and lived a very big city, non-Maine life and then carefully cultivated a "locals" image to return to Maine in order to sway the opponents. His image makeover wasn't unknown though — people in the town just didn't care. He was born there, he was a local and that's that. The idea of what makes someone a "local" or an interloper or something in between — we'd like more stories about where being a local means something. Maybe a story about being mistaken for belonging? Or a story about trying to fit in but doing a horrible job of it? A story about figuring out someone wasn't a local because of a very small 'tell' – a look, phrase, or gesture that just was obviously out of place?

Julie Snyder
Senior Producer
This American Life
(212) 624-5012

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