TAL Theme List

For you TAL fans – here's the latest call for pitches. Good luck!


Dear This American Life friends and contributors,

We've got a new round of themes-in-progress and we're coming to you
for story pitches, thoughts and suggestions for our 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

Thanks so much for your pitches. We appreciate it.


ADVENTURE: This is our next show up – airing October 7th – so we’re
just looking for quick turn-around stories now, most likely an
interview. We’ve currently got a story about a new model’s experiences
in New York City, a young man’s time in a Chinese Detention Center and
a series of super-short adventure stories from a variety of authors.
But we’re still looking for more stories about wild, unexpected,
one-of-a-kind experiences. Stories that begin in sort of mundane
places would work particularly well for this show. Maybe a trip to the
grocery store, walking to work, a quick flight – that ends up taking
extreme twists and turns? Maybe a shortsighted plan that turned into a
super adventure? Right now we’re working with a couple different
ideas of what adventure means: something you’re glad you did once but
wouldn’t ever want to do again; an experience where a very familiar
place becomes wildly unfamiliar; a place or situation where instinct
drives your abilities to navigate and understand rather than
intellect. Any other ideas of what “adventure” can mean?

THE MIDDLE: There is a lot of “middle” dread in life: middle school,
being the middle child, middle age, middle brow. There is also a
fetishization of the middle: the middle class, the political middle,
etc. We’re looking for stories about being in the middle or that very
specifically take place in the “middle” – either literally or
figuratively. Maybe a story about being caught in the middle of a
funny (or frightening) situation and struggling to get out of it. .
Or a literal interpretation of “middle” – a story that takes place in
the middle seat of an airplane, for example, or someone acting as the
middleman in a crime scheme. Maybe a story about the exact
mathematical middle of something? And we’re particularly interested
in stories that would take us inside the chaos and craziness of middle

WHAT KIND OF COUNTRY?: It seems like so many political stories lately
just come down to people arguing over how much to cut federal and
state budgets. But we don’t hear much discussion of the bigger
question: do we want to live in a country with lower taxes and less
government services? Or do we prefer the opposite? Higher taxes like
they’ve been in the past, and the bigger services that go with that?
In this show we’d take up that debate. We need stories in locations
where communities have either made the choice for lower taxes or for
higher ones. If you know a place that consciously chose one of these
paths or another, with interesting results, let us know. Or if you
know of a place in transition from one to another, where we can
observe what that change means. Your suggestions on how to get at
this would be helpful.

BREAKTHROUGH: We were working on this show several months ago and then
it got put on hold but now it’s back. With a vengeance. And we mean
it this time. We have one pretty long story for this show about two
people working on a very unlikely and oddly beautiful cure for cancer.
 So we’re kind of covered on the scientific breakthrough front and
we’re hoping to find smaller, more personal breakthrough moments.
It’d be really fantastic if we could capture that breakthrough on
tape. Know of any people conquering a fear or phobia who are about to
try something for the first time? Maybe someone who’s about to step
out on the dance floor for the first time after surgery or finally ask
out the crush they’ve been pining over for months? Any story where
someone is taking a risk where they could potentially discover
something new about themselves would be nice. Or maybe a sports story
about someone close to breaking some personal record that really
matters to them, or a local political story where politicians come to
an agreement over a seemingly intractable issue.

POULTRY SLAM 2011: We’ve been doing versions of this show for ages,
as is demonstrated by the theme title. “Poultry Slam” is actually a
play on “poetry slam.” Remember poetry slams?! Back in the day? Ask
your older sister. Anyway, we always run the show some time between
Thanksgiving and Christmas, when poultry consumption is at its highest
of the year. Stories about poultry! A few years ago we thought the
well had run dry on poultry stories but now we’ve got a few new ideas
and so we think this is the year to make a run at more fun, weird,
narrative stories that somehow feature chickens, turkeys, ducks,
geese. And, really, we’ll cheat on this one and pretty much open it
up to birds of any kind. We’ve got one really funny story about
neighbors banding together to build a chicken coop and how that
totally doesn’t work out. Another story about misadventures in making
foie gras (kind of gross but also kind of cool). We’d love a pigeon
story because we’ve never done that before. Maybe a story about the
weird prevalence of wild turkeys? A story about cooking a bird? A
pet? A warning, though: we’ve done a lot of stories about slaughtering
birds. So we may want to steer clear of those. Short fiction would
also be nice for this show so please let us know if you’ve got a
favorite short story that also has a bird in it.

WHERE DID ALL THE PEOPLE GO?: We’re thinking about doing a show about
what’s happened to people who have had to move out of their houses,
because they’ve either been foreclosed on or simply had to sell
because they couldn’t afford the payments. We know stories like this
have already been done since the housing crash, and that sometimes the
answers to where the people went aren’t all that surprising (they’re
now simply renting a fine apartment, for instance). But we thought
we’d try to it differently. Ideally we’d like to start with one place
– a housing development, co-op, condo, block, street – somewhere where
a bunch of people have had to leave, and then try to find out what’s
happened to them. So we’re looking for ideas for places. Or, if you
know of someone who’s experienced the housing crash in an unusual way
– maybe they had to move back in with a parent they can’t stand, and
something interesting has ensued – we’d love to hear about that too.

AMERICANS IN CHINA: It’s sort of a cliché to talk about the new “gold
rush” to China but it is the place so many Americans are now looking
with an eye to the future. Is it the new land of opportunity? Or a
place to fear? Is getting into bed with China like sleeping with the
enemy? Ideally we’d like stories from Americans who either are living
in China or have spent considerable time there and hear about what it
means to be an American in China – do you stick out or are you simply
absorbed by all the people? What are the surprising similarities and
differences between America and China? What do you learn about
America being in China? And, simply, what is it like to live and work
there? Business and economic stories that can illustrate the benefits
and drawbacks to doing business in China would be great for this show.
 We’re also interested in stories from Chinese Americans who have
moved to China, too.

MORTAL OR VENIAL: In a religious sense, what separates the mortal from
venial sins is both the seriousness of the offense and also the
intention. Gossiping, for instance, isn’t that serious of a sin so
generally it’s considered venial – bad, yes, but not unforgivable. If
the gossiper’s intention, though, was to damage someone's reputation,
then it’s a mortal sin, risking eternal damnation. In a secular world
it’s sometimes hard, though, to assess those things. Maybe the victim
thinks it’s a huge sin but others don’t. Maybe the sinner thinks he
meant no harm. And, after a while, don’t a bunch of venial sins just
add up to a mortal sin? At some point, doesn’t carelessness or
cluelessness become aggressive and purposeful? We’d like to do a
show about determining just how bad something is and then struggling
with forgiveness, punishment or, perhaps, eternal damnation. At the
very least, cutting someone or something off. Maybe stories about the
consequences of what seems to be a small transgression? Or forgiving
something that seems unforgivable? Or not forgiving something that
seems very minor?

MAKES US STRONGER: Poland – like a lot of countries – has long had a
social and political divide that very generally lays out as the urban
elite versus the rural working class. Poland A and Poland B, though,
came together last year following the Polish president’s death in a
plane crash. For weeks, Poles grieved together at a cross placed in
front of the Presidential palace. The tragedy seemed to bring out the
best in people. Until the flowers started to wilt and the stuffed
animals started to mold, and the new president made the move to take
the cross down. Then all hell broke loose. We’d like to do a show
about what happens after a tragedy or a crisis or just a tough time.
In many cases, people really do pull together and achieve amazing
things. Many times they don’t. Maybe a story about former enemies
banding together to fight a tormentor? Or, conversely, friends or
family who turn on each other when the going gets tough? Stories that
are just about the struggle would work well for this show too.

Julie Snyder
Senior Producer
This American Life
153 W. 27th Street, #1104
New York, NY 10001
(212) 624-5012

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