This American Life Mini-Theme List

From the good folks at TAL. Pitch away! -mia

Dear This American Life friends and contributors,
This is Brian Reed writing, a producer here at TAL. Thanks so much for your responses to the last theme list. We're working on another show for early October, and we'd love to hear any pitches and ideas you have for it. Right now we're considering two themes for this show, and it could go either way depending on the stories we get. Even though the themes are similar, they might spark different kinds of ideas so I wanted to send out both for your consideration. Here they are:

Why do bad things always seem to happen all at once? And good things too? In either case, how are you supposed to deal with it all? We have one piece for this show where a comedian who's just had a string of horrible things happen to her — including getting diagnosed with cancer — goes on stage in front of a live audience and cracks jokes about all of it. We have another story about a guy who has a lot of misfortune befall him and then gets caught in a very strange and cathartic situation…in an actual rainstorm. We're looking for more stories about people who come up with inventive and surprising ways to deal with a barrage of misfortune. Or fortune. In fact, we're particularly interested in stories about lots of good things happening to someone, since we already have stories about negative things. And it doesn't only need to be about individual people — it could be a story about an organization or a town or a school. Maybe a place that had so many good things happen to it at once, people were overwhelmed and didn't really deal with it so gracefully. A story about someone with a strange superstition that seems to affect his or her fortune could work in this show too.

This show would be about people who've made it through incredibly trying and even life-threatening situations and emerged with an interesting or surprising take on what happened to them. The saying goes "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger," but it seems like a lot of times if something doesn't kill you, you end up not necessarily stronger, but different, having come to some understanding about yourself that you didn't have before. We have one story for this show about a woman with a severe mental illness that gave her compulsions to ingest things — like nails and screws — that put her life in danger. She's well now, and talks about why it felt so satisfying to do things that were so damaging to her. Another story we're considering is about a guy who was shot in Chicago, who then made amends with his shooter and refused to rat on him to police. But stories for this show don't need to be about actual life-threatening situations. Relative hardship would work too — like a story about a kid who was picked on a lot, or someone who faced repeated rejection. These could even be funny stories. Or maybe there's a story about a person who's trying desperately to get rid of someone or something, but with every tactic they try the person or thing only seems to get stronger and more impossible to get rid of.

For these two themes only, please send your pitches directly to me at

Also, we wanted to make one last request for anecdotes for our upcoming RED/BLUE show, which we included in our last theme list: We’re interested in your best examples of just how ridiculously toxic our political discourse has become – particularly in cases where friends and family members are at odds. Are there people who you (or your friends) no longer spend time with because of their political views? Plans that have been cancelled or friendships put on hold? In general, we’d welcome any stories that illustrate the inanity of the red/blue war through the toll it’s taken on personal relationships.

Please send pitches for RED/BLUE to TAL producer Lisa Pollak at

As always, many thanks for your pitches. We're very appreciative!

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