This American Life THEME LIST

Always a popular post – the call for pitches from TAL. Plus a nice explanation of their process at the top. Good luck!
PS: I get these calls for pitches because I'm a member of AIR – a fantastic organization for public media folks of all stripes. Happy to provide more info if you're interested. (And no, I don't work for them, I just like them a lot.)


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.


PLAY THE PART:  We’ve sent this theme out before and the show is
coming up pretty soon (mid February) so we’re somewhat set on big
stories.  But we’re still searching for smaller or more interview or
essay-ish type stories to fill this one out.  The idea of the show is
that throughout our lives, there are moments where we take on roles
and do our best to play them convincingly.  Sometimes it’s a conscious
choice and sometimes we realize we’re representing something that is
unintentional or not totally true.  Now for the show, we’d love a
story that’s about playing a role in a relationship – maybe something
about finding yourself being the kind of
daughter/son/girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse/employee that another person
wants you to be, and getting into trouble because it’s actually very
different from who you are.  Funny would be good for this show, but
not required.

WHAT I DID FOR LOVE: We're hoping to put together a Valentine's Day
show this year about the extremes we go to for love.  Falling in love,
chasing it down, trying to make relationships work – all of these
stages of love have the potential to make us do insane, over-the-top
things.  We’re interested in any story where passion and love make
people do things they’d never consider otherwise.  We’re also toying
with the idea of a love show that examines the cliché idea that if you
love something, you should set it free.  Because the cliché doesn’t
even make sense, right?  Doesn’t it seem sort of crazy?  If you have
any stories of people wrestling with this question and deciding either
way, we’re interested in hearing those, too.  And while it is
Valentine’s Day, we’re not necessarily limiting the show to romantic
love.  We’ll consider stories about familial love or being obsessed,

HIDDEN TREASURE:  For this show, we’re looking for both literal
treasure hunt-type stories along with more metaphorical stories about
finding unexpected treasures or things of value.  Right now we’re
working on a story about a treasure hunt several years ago that began
with clues placed in a children’s book and ended with deceit, a sex
scandal and the treasure being lost in a pile of dirt.  We’re not sure
if this story is going to work out, though, so more stories about
actual treasure hunts or buried treasures would be great.  We’ve also
got a story about finding an unexpected treasure that really begs a
question as to whether “finders, keepers” should be true.  We’d love
stories that get at a “one man’s treasure…” idea, something where the
value of the object is in question.  And then even just stories about
finding something that has long been lost or hidden.  A family secret
maybe?  Or stories about trying to keep something hidden – keeping a
person hidden or a powerful secret hidden.  Maybe a story about hiding
money from a company or a spouse or kids?

SHOW ME THE WAY:  This is a show about “guides” of all sorts.  Stories
about  the people, books, companies we hire or turn to in the hopes of
them helping us navigate an unfamiliar place or experience or world.
We have one really incredible story about an elderly man who
essentially guides a young boy through his illness and death.  We have
another story about an unbelievably bad seeing-eye dog.    And a story
about a flight instructor who teaches people to get over their fear of
flying, only to die in a plane crash himself.  We’d like more stories
about people having to show faith, give up control and trust someone
else to successfully get through a particular experience.  Stories
about travel would obviously be good for this show but we’d also love
business or political stories, too.  Maybe a story about a consultant
with especially arcane knowledge?  Or a guide who takes on more than
she or he can handle?  Stories about a mentorship or Big Brother/Big
Sister type program?  Are there guides for things that seem like
they’d be obvious or easy but are, in fact, close to impossible to
achieve?  Suggestions for short fiction would be great for this show,

SEND A MESSAGE: Two years ago conservative legislators in Arizona
decided to make a point in sort of a tongue-in-cheek way.  They formed
a fund called the “I Didn’t Pay Enough in Taxes” fund to point out
that no one in Arizona was willing to pay more in taxes so they should
stop complaining about new tax cuts.  Surprisingly, though, a lot of
people contributed to the fund.  One of the contributors was a fairly
well-off former Republican who says he’d had a bit of a political
conversion and, by paying extra taxes, decided to send a message
himself: that by drastically reducing its tax base, Arizona was
shooting itself in the foot and destroying all the things that make
the state a great one.  Now the former Republican is meeting with the
author of the gimmicky fund, hoping their “messages” can now reach
each other and find some middle ground.  We’d like to find more
stories about people or groups or efforts that go to great lengths to
“send a message.”  The Occupy Wall Street movement has probably been
the biggest message-sender this past year and there are still Occupy
encampments in smaller, more unlikely towns across the country.  Maybe
there’s an interesting story at Occupy Poughkeepsie?  Or Occupy
Lancaster?  We’re looking for stories that aren’t necessarily
political, too.  Maybe a story about taking sort of an arbitrary stand
or drawing a seemingly weird line in the sand?  Stories about making
an example of something?  A story about a message received in an
unintended way would be great for this show, too.

The following isn’t for radio but rather for a special project we’re
working on for Spring:

THINGS YOU CAN’T DO ON THE RADIO:  Hi all – Ira writing this one.  A
little while back I saw this dance troupe do this piece that I found
totally charming and funny and completely in the sensibility of our
radio show and I thought "we have to put this on the air," but of
course, that makes no sense at all because there's no way to do dance
on the radio.  Very soon after that, I saw this comedian I love do
this story onstage that we recorded for the radio show, and I was
struck with the fact that seeing her deadpan delivery made it so much
funnier than just hearing it.  All of which led me to this thought: we
have to do another cinema event, one of those things where we go into
a theater and set up cameras and beam the show into movie theaters all
around the country.  That way people can see, and not just hear, these
two pieces.

Our theme will be Things You Can't Do on the Radio.

So now I'm turning to you.  The dance and the comedy bit total about
25 minutes.  That leaves a lot of space.  We've got a whole show to
fill!  We need your help!  We're looking for stories that are
particularly visual that we can report on.  We'll either shoot video
or take stills or have artists render the visuals.  Maybe the story is
about something spectacular in nature, or some amazing scene or
happening that we can film and witness.  Maybe the story is about the
sort of subject that always presents a problem for radio: someone who
can't speak, or a small child, or animals, or a group of people
interacting and what's interesting is watching them interact.  Maybe
you’ve seen an interesting short film or animated film that you think
we should take a look at?  A magician or some other kind of visual
performer doing something that's not, um, unbearably corny.  I'd love
a magician but it would have to be someone doing something pretty
unusual, and maybe very story-based, telling some story or making some
bigger point as he or she does his tricks, to make sense in the
context of one of our shows.  And we especially need at least one
story with some emotional heft to it.  Both the things we have already
are fantastic, but they're on the fun/funny side of things.  We need
to balance that out.  Stories that would work particularly well would
be stories that actually are about the idea of seeing/not seeing or
hearing/not hearing.

I know all this is kind of a broad request, but we're thinking big
here, trying something we haven't tried before.  The show will be in
May, which is closer than it seems, so write soon!  Put in the subject
line of your email: Things You Can't Do On the Radio.  And thanks, as
always, for your help.


2 thoughts on “This American Life THEME LIST”

  1. Search “This American Life” and go with the most recent post. If there are no recent posts it means I haven’t heard from the show in awhile. You’d have to contact them directly for more details.

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