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Iras Looking Glass

Its a rare thing for a public radio show to make the transition to TV. But

This American Life

has done it. If you get the Showtime channel on your cable service, I recommend you watch it. The first episodeaired March 22nd. Ive seen the first four episodes and theyre very good. Visually, the program is lively and inventive. And it has the kind of insight and deft storytelling that weve come to expect from

This American Life


I interviewed This American Life creator Ira Glass and asked him whether any radio puritans resented him for going into television. And he said, for him, moving into TV has been a bit like Dylan, going electric.

Im no puritan. But as I watched Iras TV show, I did try to imagine how those stories would work on the radio. Interestingly, I couldnt do it.

Visual images are just too dictatorial. They are the Hitlers and Stalins of mass communication. When you see a picture on TV youre stuck with it. Storytelling on the radio is far more democratic. Its easy to imagine what a radio story would look like as a film or a TV show because youre free to paint your own pictures. And no matter how we receive information, were always drawn to visual images, whether theyre real or imagined.

I have many memories of listening to radio broadcasts that spoke to me in a very visual way. One of them was a rather mundane campaign story I heard on Morning Edition .

Many years ago, Senator Bob Dole was running for President and he held a press conference to respond to some political attack. In the NPR feature story, we heard Doles angry voice on a cold windy morning in Washington D.C. The emotion in his voice and the sound of the wind was arresting in the way it so often is on radio. But the thing I remember about that report is visual.

I see Bob Dole, standing in front of the U.S. Capital talking to a group of reporters. His face is grim. He looks vulnerable standing in the cold as his hair is tousled by the wind. Thats the picture I created for the event. I have no recollection of what he said or what made him upset. All I have is the picture in my mind.

As This American Life moves to television it will be a different animal. Iras not going electric and his show will continue to air on public radio. But his TV show will leave much less up to the imagination.

And by the way lest you think Iras radio show will become the poor cousin to the TV version, keep in mind that This American Life is expected to have about half the audience on TV that it has on the radio. Thats right public radio is the big dog in this show. Picture that.

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