This American Life THEME LIST

The latest from TAL!

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. You don’t need to wait for a Theme List or
appropriate theme. I know the Theme List can help generate ideas or
remind you about a story you heard about a while ago so, below, we've
got a new round of themes-in-progress listed. Please send us your
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.


RED / BLUE : We’re thinking about doing a show this fall on the
impossible divide between right and left, how we’re two separate camps
with two completely different perspectives on what’s happening in this
country. Of course there are many stories where the two camps are in
collision. That’s basically all the news, every day. For this
episode we’re looking for something more specific: we want stories
about the people who have to confront that chasm in their everyday
lives. For instance, we have one story about a guy who lives in a red
small town in a red state but he himself is secretly blue. He is a
central figure in the community – even holds elected office – but he
hides his political and social views from everyone in town. We’re
looking for others like him; we’re especially looking for Republicans
who are living in the blue world. We’re also looking for stories of
people trying to cross from one side to the other. Or trying to drag
someone from the other side to their side. Or maybe just trying to
collaborate and bridge a divide. Another story along those lines is
one we’ve maybe sent out on this list before: stories about previously
moderate people getting more extreme, egged on by watching Fox or
MSNBC. This seems to be an affliction common among older people (your
parents?) but we’re looking for any age. And finally, our ultimate
dream story: Romeo and Juliet. Or, like, kind of. A story about a
relationship that is actually affected by the political divide (one
family is blue, the other red! The couple is forbidden to be
together!) would be awesome. But we don’t necessarily need a couple –
it could be a story about good friends who get driven apart or a
divide in a group of friends or co-workers. Or send us your examples
that don’t fit in any of these categories. We’re still at the early
stages, thinking through the possibilities.

SUPERLATIVES: The Best Show Ever! Also known as the Superlative
show. We’d like to do a show where all the stories revolve around the
idea of an extreme of some kind. The biggest, the oldest, the most,
the least, the noisiest, the smallest … you get the idea. As usual,
we’re looking for plot-driven stories in which the characters are
facing a conflict, and ideally, we’d like a superlative quality to be
central to that conflict.

LOOPHOLES: We have a fairly long story in the works for this show so
we’re now looking for a couple smaller stories to help fill out the
show. The long-ish story is about an estate planner who has found a
way to exploit the fine print in health insurance policies, allowing
hospice patients to make some quick money while he makes something of
a fortune for himself. It’s not illegal and, at times, the insurance
companies themselves have actually encouraged the practice. It’s a
great story but pretty straight-forward in terms of the “finding a
loophole” kind of story. We’re now looking for other takes on the
theme: maybe a story where some person or group finds themselves the
accidental beneficiary of someone else’s sloppy lawmaking? Or maybe
someone misinterprets a rule or policy to right a wrong in some way?
Basically, we’d like stories about clever or unexpected workarounds.

BACK TO SCHOOL: This show is timed for early September and we have a
couple of stories already about education policy type things and a
piece about what makes students succeed and fail so what we’d really
like for this show is maybe something kind of fun. Or, at least, not
related to policy or curriculum. But just stories about the fun,
weird, unexpected, exciting or even depressing aspects of starting a
new school year. We’d love a story about “back to school” shopping.
Is there someone who has to take a truculent teen shopping for
appropriate clothes? Or maybe a simple story about dropping an
anxious kid off for her first day of school? A kid who has decided to
come back to school as a whole new person? Or maybe a place that
approaches the new school year in an interesting way?

DOPPELGANGERS: It’s common that children and teens who grow up in
high-violence neighborhoods will show the same kind of post-traumatic
stress disorders seen in veterans returning from combat. For this
show, we’re putting together one story where a former gang member and
a former soldier tell surprisingly similar stories about their
experiences living in a place with an ever-constant threat of
violence. Their stories begin in very different worlds but end up
coming together and, at times, they almost seem to take turns telling
the same story. We’re now looking for more stories about people who
seem to be “doubles.” Maybe a story about two people who are commonly
mistaken for one another? Or a story about doubles who are in very
different phases or places in their lives? The stories don’t
necessarily need to be about people, though. Maybe two businesses?
Or similar events that eerily repeat?

HIMBY: or, rather, “Hot In My Backyard.” Basically, we’d like to do
a show about the weather. And probably that means the show will end
up being about climate change, too. We’ve actually been trying to do
a show about climate change for several years but we always lose steam
once we start delving into stories that take place in the Arctic. Or
talk about the quickly-disappearing habitats of various species. The
difficulty with climate change stories is that many times you’re
speculating about what is likely to happen in the future. But you
can’t interview the future. So we end up sort of feeling stuck.
Until now. Because now it’s beginning to feel like it’s happening,
right? In America! So we’d like to do a show about the weather and
it’s effects on us Americans. It’d be great to find weird stories
about how extreme weather is being reflected in every day things.
Changing businesses? Changing the way common animals interact with
humans? Maybe stories about engineers who are coming up with strange
or frightening designs for things, in light of extreme weather? We’d
also like to assemble a ‘Gong Show’ type panel consisting of people
who aren’t climate change deniers or anything, they’re just people who
have a hard time totally caring enough to make a call for action. Are
you one of these people? We’d like to run various stories and
anecdotes past these weather agnostics and see what kinds of facts,
stories or happenings sway them to want to take action. All of that
stuff is on the climate change front, though. We’re also open to any
stories that are weather-related, too. Stories where the weather has
a big effect on the plot of the story or acts almost like a character
in the story.

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