public radio

This American Life Preview

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Above: a segment from the new television version of This American Life, which premiers on Showtime March 22nd. The animator, as I'm sure you can recognize, is Chris Ware.

In case you missed it, here's our interview with Julie Snyder, This American Life's senior producer. Julie talks about the process of adjusting to a new medium.

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.

Ira Glass on Storytelling.

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Filmmakers, documentarians, journalists, podcast producers, writers... watch and learn. Four parts are below, watch from top to bottom.

This American Life the TV Show

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The TV version of This American Life premiers March 22nd. I am so fucking excited. Looks like they've torn a few pages out of the Errol Morris book, and I can't complain.

Bonus points to anyone who catches a glimpse of Improv Everywhere.

Previously on TSOYA:
This American Life senior producer Julie Snyder

Podcast: Julie Snyder of This American Life

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Show: 
Bullseye

Julie Synder is the Senior Producer of This American Life, the peerless public radio storytelling program. Julie talks with us about how the show is put together, her nearly ten years with the show and about the upcoming television version, which will air on Showtime starting next month.

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Listen to This Week's Show


Podcast: Jonathans

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Show: 
Bullseye

This week on The Sound of Young America, we visit with two great Jonathans -- Katz and Goldstein.

Our first talk is with Jonathan Goldstein. Goldstein is the author of the novel "Lenny Bruce is Dead," which is story of a young man, his romances, and the death of his mother. The story is told non-sequentially in brief vignettes, often no more than three or four sentences in length.

Jonathan is also a contributing editor for This American Life, and the producer of the CBC's Wiretap. The latter is a show composed entirely of telephon conversations -- some real, many semi-fictional.

We also talk this week with Jonathan Katz, comedian and creator of "Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist," which is out on DVD May 9th. We talk with him about making the show, and interestingly, about his long-standing relationship with David Mamet. We also hear a segment from his semi-fictional radio show, "We're Back."

Download this week's show (MP3 Audio)

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Music This Week

Intersititial Music Provided by DJW

Hey! Buy some stuff! (The show gets a portion of the money)

Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist Season 1
Jonathan Goldstein's Lenny Bruce is Dead
David Mamet's House of Games
David Mamet's Things Change
Jonathan Katz's "To-Do Lists of the Dead"

Previously on The Sound of Young America Blog

"You're On The Air with Jonathan Katz"

See Also
This American Life - "Spies Like Us" (features Jonathan Goldstein's lobbycam story)
Unofficial Wiretap MP3 Archive

SkyMaul on Marketplace

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Reporter Jeremy Richards covers Kasper Hauser's SkyMaul on today's Marketplace.

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