TAL Theme List

The lastest call for pitches from This American Life. -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. 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 anyway.

Thanks so much for your pitches. We appreciate it.


TRIBES: This show is coming up quick (two weeks away) and we'd love a couple smaller stories about a group of people bonding together or falling apart. These could also be stories about someone who finally belongs to a group or someone that's never actually belonged to anything at all. Maybe you're always trying to escape friends, family or colleagues who annoyingly assume you share the same beliefs? Right now, we're working on stories about a kid doing his best to fit in at camp, a Native American tribe that is kicking out its members, and a woman who found out she's not the only one soothed by … whispering.

I WAS JUST TRYING TO HELP: These are stories about people taking it upon themselves to help, even if they aren't actually qualified to be giving that help. Stories about people with the best intentions who get in over their heads would work well for this show. Maybe a do-gooder who messed everything up? Or a story about a person or a group who genuinely was helped but won't acknowledge it? One story we're working on now is about a mental health organization that is using more of a recovery model for treatment, where people struggling with their own mental health help people who are more acutely struggling. One goal of the program is to erase the power dynamic between practitioner and patient. It's difficult, though, for the staffers to draw on their own experiences and 'help' without actually telling someone what to do. We'd love more stories about situations where trying to make a situation better gets very complicated.

HOW I GOT INTO COLLEGE: This show is pretty literal. We're looking for fun, dramatic, surprising or unique ways that people got into college. The show is built around the story of how a very esteemed college professor and researcher essentially got into college through a bit of fraud he committed back in elementary school. (The fraud was committed in a very innocent way though — you love the guy for it.) We're also pursuing a story about a man going from prison to a university. We'd love more stories about the interesting or illuminating ways people get into college. And we'd really love to hear from stories from an admissions perspective! I heard a rumor last fall that lots of well-off Manhattan high school seniors were descending on Staten Island and the Rockaways to help with relief efforts post-Hurricane Sandy, taking many pictures of themselves doing it along the way. Are there admissions counselors that are up to their eyeballs in essays about how sorting canned goods on the Jersey shore has made the candidate a better person? Are there surprising trends on the path to college?

THE ONE THING YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO DO: A family from Mexico illegally enters the United States and, of course, the parents tell their kids, "whatever you do, don't tell ANYONE you're not a citizen." The son keeps it a secret for many years until one day a few months ago, he walks up to a Border Patrol agent and basically says, "I'm undocumented. I entered the country illegally. Arrest me." His goal — and he succeeded! — was to get locked up in the local Detention Center in order to survey other detainees about their criminal charges and their access to legal defense. We're looking for other stories about people either purposely or inadvertently doing the BIG thing you're not supposed to do. Maybe a story about spilling a family secret or making friends with the wrong person? Or a story about touching the third rail politically or professionally? Or maybe just a story about how, counter intuitively, the one wrong thing is actually the right thing?

DAYTIME DRAMA: We'd like to do a show where all of the stories could, in a different context, exist as a story you'd see on TV in the middle of the day. Either a classic Jerry Springer/Montel Williams kind of story or maybe a story where the plot seems more akin to a soap opera than to real life. But we'd like to do these stories where the focus of the story isn't just about the reveal or "your husband is the father of your sister's baby!" moments but is instead looking at what really is going on around the extraordinary circumstances. Doesn't it seem like, if someone were to scream "I don't care I'm sleeping with your husband!" at another person — doesn't it seem like there's a deeper story behind that? Or maybe there's a story about someone who got temporary amnesia and it actually wasn't that big of a deal? Stories that make you think, "I feel like this should be on Judge Judy" would definitely work well for this show.

THE VIEW FROM IN HERE: Sayed Kashua is Palestinian but an Israeli citizen. His first spoken language was Arabic but he got into a fancy boarding school as a kid and only really learned to write Hebrew. He hates the parochialism, claustrophobia, and bad municipal services of Arab areas of Israel, so now he feels like a fraud and maybe a traitor for living in the Jewish Israeli part of Jerusalem. In a series of columns he wrote for a national Israeli newspaper, he writes about his apartment being renovated and uses the changes in that small world to talk about the other small world he feels like he lives in. And explains that world to everyone else. We're looking for more stories about people who feel like they have a unique perspective on something because they're actually inside of it. Maybe trapped in it. And the insiders' perspective is at odds with what everyone else seems to think about it.

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