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Public Radio Talent Quest: Let's Try Some Shit.

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The Public Radio Talent Quest

A friend recently made a comment to me that I thought exposed one of the biggest problems in public media. We were talking about TSOYA's run on WNYC, and he said, "What I don't understand is why, when they're building new programming, public radio never, ever starts with talent."

He's exactly correct, of course.

Start with talent, and you get The Daily Show. Start with a "target audience," and you get The 1/2 Hour News Hour. Start with talent, and you get Saturday Night Live. Start with a "target audience," and you get Mad TV.

New programming in public media is largely driven by pre-existing funding, which turns the development process backwards. Instead of having a great idea, or a great host, or a great producer and feeding it resources, we find a need or niche we decide to fill, then look for money, then actually build the creative elements. It's anti-entrepreneurial and rewards sameness

The best case scenario in this kind of system is to develop a show like Day to Day or Weekend America. Day to Day is basically the same as All Things Considered and Morning Edition. The tone is about 10% different, but it was created because we knew there was money for a show that was like ATC and ME that ran mid-day. Weekend America is like Weekend All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, with a tone that's maybe 15% different and a bit more focus on "fly-over states."

Television is the same, but given the enormous cost of television production, the problem is much worse. The best shows on public TV (Nova, Sesame Street, The Newshour) were created twenty and thirty years ago. So were public TV's big stars -- like Bob Vila, Jim Lehrer, Big Bird, Bill Moyers. I mean Ken Burns seems recent, and when was The Civil War? 1990?

I blogged last month about why "This American Life" is going to be on Showtime and not PBS. In Ira Glass' words, "Public television is terrible." He points out that if he'd wanted to bring the show to PBS, he'd have had to spend two or three years raising money before they'd even consider airing it. This with one of public media's biggest hits.

And I won't let public radio off the hook, either. The barrier of entry in public radio is exceptionally low -- I mean, I produce a weekly show with one person and a monthly budget of about $300. But consider again the case of TAL -- they went to NPR after Glass had worked there for twenty years, the show had been on for a year, was fully funded, and had won a PEABODY AWARD. Because it was different, NPR demurred. Today, This American Life is the biggest hit on public radio in the past fifteen years, and it weren't for Public Radio International, it wouldn't even be national.

So, what to do?

How about this for a prescription: try some shit.

This is what every other succesful media organization does.

Television networks air dozens of new shows every season, and only keep a few. The whole internet is a boiling vat of talent and ideas, where great things bubble up every day. With digital technology, it's very easy to produce video or audio at quality levels that are acceptable to at the least internet audiences. I'd say public TV stations could teach a group of 10 people how to produce video 52 weekends a year. Put some stuff up on the internet. See what works. Reach out to people who are already doing interesting stuff. Network. Join the conversation.

The upshot:

Much to their credit, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting announced a big grant last year to help find new talent for public radio. Again to their credit, they did it in a surprisingly entrepreneurial way -- a contest. They asked any group to outline their plan for finding talent, and offered a big check to the groups with the best plans. Recently, the winners were announced.

One of the two winners was PRX, aka The Public Radio Exchange. It's basically a website for distributing public radio content. Amazingly, before they launched, there was no mechanism for this. Now, any station can buy in to their system and get programming from independent producers and other stations around the country which has been peer reviewed and formatted for their automated systems.

PRX's plan for finding talent is, well, another contest. American Idol-style. On the internet.

It's called The Public Radio Talent Quest, and it's open to anyone. They're asking people to submit short tapes of ANYTHING they would want to hear on public radio. A few elimination rounds later, and they'll have given away $70K.

Will it work? Fuck if I know. But at least they're DOING SOMETHING. Seventy thousand dollars is a lot of money, but it's really only one person's salary. Why not give it a shot?

So, Sound of Young America listeners, I say ENTER! And here is my promise: for each round ANY TSOYA listener advances, I will add FIVE DOLLARS to the prize. And that's five dollars AMERICAN.

Do this thing!

The Public Radio Talent Quest

This American Life Contest!

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Showtime was nice enough to give us a big beautiful poster for their new television version of This American Life.... and as if that wasn't enough, it's autographed by the Ira Glass.

So: we're giving it away.

Here's the contest: call our listener hotline at 206-984-4FUN and tell us a story. Like This Life, we have a theme: debuts. Keep it pithy and punchy, if you please. Interpret the theme broadly. Leave your name and phone number.

The TV TAL debuts on Showtime March 22nd, and our contest ends at the end of the month.

This American Life Contest!

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Showtime was nice enough to give us a big beautiful poster for their new television version of This American Life.... and as if that wasn't enough, it's autographed by the Ira Glass.

So: we're giving it away.

Here's the contest: call our listener hotline at 206-984-4FUN and tell us a story. Like This Life, we have a theme: debuts. Keep it pithy and punchy, if you please. Interpret the theme broadly. Leave your name and phone number.

The TV TAL debuts on Showtime March 22nd, and our contest ends at the end of the month.

I Ran Iran

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Loyal readers may recall my pal Tyler, who won TV's The Amazing Race last year. He's in Iran, now, working on a project called I Ran Iran, basically running the length of Iran to foster fellowship between the people of that country and the US of A.

Now, I think this is a little ridiculous, but on the other hand, if I were going to send one emissary from the United States pretty much anywhere, it would be Tyler. He might be a little embarassing, but lord knows he's pretty much the most generous spirited and fun loving guy on earth.

His friend Bobak is running with him, and you can find a blog of the run here. Tyler tells me that the Iranian government, bent on making them poster children for nuclear power in Iran, gave him a shirt that reads, "Naclear enerjy is ou obvious racht."

Two years ago, he walked the length of Japan, in an attempt to both impress his (Japanese) girlfriend and find the birthplace of his father, whose parents were missionaries traveling the country in the middle of the 20th century.

You can watch the whole film for free here. I really loved it.

Oh, and despite his silly outfits and pleasant demeanor, he's not a hippie.

Here's the official site of the film.

Here's a more recent post on the topic.

Tyler Macniven's "I Ran Iran"

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My pal Tyler MacNiven has done some really great stuff since we graduated from school. I've regularly plugged his first feature-length documentary, Kintaro Walks Japan, on this blog. His dad and I even talked with him on his way across that country. It's Tyler that Julie Snyder brought up (to my surprise) in our discussion of This American Life story ideas.

A year or two ago, Tyler and his friend BJ won "The Amazing Race," and with it, a million dollars. Tyler's used his part of the money to finance his interest in film-making, creating a new film called "I Ran Iran."

Tyler and his friend Bobak went to Iran to run its length. They figured that their apolitical trip might foster better relations between the two countries, especially since Bobak's family is Persian.

What they didn't expect was what really happened: a political and beaurocratic nightmare that began with the pair being celebrated as Iranian national heroes, and ended with them being expelled from the country.

Our friend Hadley Robinson put together a nice piece on the film for the excellent Gelf Magazine. Expect the finished version in June... in the meantime, click here to watch Kintaro for free.

(Note to Amazing Race fans: Tyler is not a hippie, but he is completely, almost alarmingly genuine.)

Podcast: Jordan, Jesse Go! Ep. 15: Growing Up

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In this week's Jordan Jesse GO!, our far-ranging interests are indulged.

Introduction
Jesse and Jordan are in the middle of a bar fight. Also: they briefly discuss dogs, Ninten- and otherwise.
Phony Ethnicities
Jesse and Jordan complain about people who claim ethnic identities in order to get drunk on St. Patrick's Day. Just get drunk, don't be an asshole.

Jordan Sings
Jordan sings.

Grown Up

We discuss what it means to be a grown up, with help from a number of way-cool listeners.

Pesca

Our friend Mike Pesca of NPR's Day-to-Day runs down his opinion of the Djimoun Honsou v. Chiwetel Ojieyofor debate. (Did I spell that right? Probably not.)

Outro


Mostly just the action items, I guess.

ACTION ITEMS
* What drink would taste better carbonated?
* Contest: call our hotline and tell us the story of a premiere or debut. You could win a This American Life poster autographed by Ira Glass!
* The High Five Contest ends March 31st!

CONTINUING ACTION ITEMS:

* Review the show on iTunes.
* Do you have a dispute Judge John Hodgman can solve on a future broadcast? Email it to us! Put Judge John in the subject line.
* Have personal questions for Jesse and Jordan? Call 206-984-4FUN and tell us what they are!
* Would you like to play Would You Rather with us on a future episode? Email us or give us a call at 206-984-4FUN.

Call 206-984-4FUN to share your thoughts on these ACTION ITEMS.

Subscribe in iTunes
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Discuss the show on the forum
Download Episode Fifteen

Hear Episode Fifteen


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"Box Office Poison"

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This was the funniest thing I've ever seen on television, or at least on a talk show. I don't think I thought or talked about anything other than this for three solid weeks after I saw it. God bless Norm Macdonald, and God bless Conan O'Brien for going with it.

"Viral Marketing" at its worst.

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I just got an email from Heavy.com, an online video fartfest for young men. I presume they contacted me because I've posted about Sacha Baron Cohen and Borat before -- they're running a "viral" ad campaign (disguised as content) for the DVD release of Borat.

I once saw Heavy's co-founder, Simon Asaad, speak at a podcasting convention. It was a formative experience for me in the way that I view media, and particularly media on the internet. He took the dais and let it rip - berating the podcasters in attendance for working for free, and specifically for allowing their personal interests and passions to determine the nature of their work.

Then he ran down his company's achievements -- it's sort of a lowest-common-denominator video site -- taking particular note of the huge check Burger King had given them to host a "viral video" contest in which young men did various outrageous things while wearing Burger King masks. If I could pick one word to describe the tone of his speach, it would be "taunting." His main message: if you're not completely outrageous, your work is worthless. If you're paying for content, or paying content creators, you're worthless. There isn't, and shouldn't be, a line between advertising and content. The talk shocked and sickened me.

I'm certainly not against commercialization -- witness the advertisement to the right of this post. In fact, I was at the panel to learn about monetizing content -- which many of the non-offensive panelists on either side of Assad had also done. I'm not even against outrageousness -- Ze Frank is outrageous, it's one of the reasons he's so succesful. What I am against is duplicity. I don't like tricking people into advertising for you, or taking huge checks to blur the line between content and brand marketing. What happened to morality?

So imagine my dismay when I got this email:

Dear Jesse:

So we have the privilege of hosting the official Borat’s Videotime Contest — a Borat impersonation video contest — here on Heavy until March 30. I was hoping that the Sound of Young America would give this momentous event a shout out as Fox doesn’t seem to be doing much in the way of spreading the word. This promotion is part of a larger campaign for the DVD release of Borat (the movie) and the winner will be awarded a $3,500 cash prize. We’re hoping that this promotion will help resurrect some of the Borat-mania we’ve all enjoyed over the past couple months... After all, Borat’s exploits — and Sacha Baron Cohen’s multiple acts at large – unmask some interesting aspects of Americana and I wouldn’t want so see any such opportunities wasted.

The rules and regulations, along with the video submission upload page, can be found at http://XXXX.heavy.com .

I sure hope this is newsworthy to you and to your readership! Please let me know what you think.

With kind regards,
XXX XXX
Heavy.com, etc etc etc

I wrote back:

You mention that "Fox doesn't seem to be spreading the word." I should presume that Heavy is not being paid by Fox to host the contest?

Jesse
The Sound of Young America

The Heavy.com rep wrote back:

Fox is sponsoring this but we’re responsible for all the organization and prizing etc. Again, this is part of a larger campaign we’re running for them in conjunction with the DVD release of Borat. Your thoughts?

Here are my thoughts: Borat, the film, was succesful because it was outrageously good. It "went viral," becoming a popular topic of public discourse, for the same reason. I even participated in it, posting about the film, character, and even discussing it on a national radio show.

I don't have a problem with lots of people making lots of money off of this -- in fact, I think it's a great idea. Larry Charles, the film's director, just signed a big-money Hollywood deal to develop TV shows. Sacha Baron Cohen has gone from cult star to star star. Fox is basically printing money with the DVD release. There's a sequel in the works.

But do you really have to lie about it? Is misinformation the best way to spread a great idea?

I wrote to the heavy.com person:

My thoughts are that this kind of marketing is duplicitous, manipulative and really unfortunate. It's a crass commercialization of young people's creativity.

I would feel better about it if you weren't misrepresenting it as some sort of grassroots struggle. I'm not against advertisements, or contests, but I would never run something like this on my website, represent it as "of the people," and disguise the fact that it's a bought-and-paid-for commercial enterprise.

It's my hope that as this kind of marketing grows in popularity, so will our defenses against it. I hope great ideas will spread, and bought-and-paid-for ones will not. We can ask the Simon Assaads of the world to stop, but their greed won't let them. When we face this kind of deception, we need to take responsibility for standing up and being counted: this bullshit has to stop.

Podcast: Dan Harmon of Acceptable.tv

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Show: 
Bullseye

Dan Harmon is the executive producer of Acceptable.tv. It's a new multi-platform show from VH1 that builds on the success of Channel 101 and Channel 102, cult comedy phenomena in New York and Los Angeles.

Each episode of the television program will feature five short "shows," each about three minutes in length. The shows will also be posted on the website, where viewers will vote on which shows will return for a new episode the next week, and which will be "cancelled." In addition to shows produced by the staff of Acceptable.tv, the program and website will highlight user-created series.

Before co-creating Channel 101, Dan Harmon and his writing partner Rob Schrab co-created the cult television pilot Heat Vision & Jack, a parody of Knight Rider which starred Jack Black as a "super-intelligent renegade astronaut" and Owen Wilson as his talking motorcycle. Their antagonist was character actor Ron Silver, who played himself.

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New Sincerity V. Old Irony: Party Starters Edition

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Old Irony

The New Sincerity

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