This American Life contributor David Rakoff, who swore off TV in college, returns to it in dramatic fashion: He attempts to watch the same amount of television as the average American—29 hours in one week. David is author, most recently, of the book Don't Get Too Comfortable.
Sarah Vowell examines what happens when TV takes on a subject it really has no business exploring at all, but seems fairly obsessed with nonetheless: The Pilgrims. Sarah's most recent book is Assassination Vacation.
Ira says a few words about what he learned from working on a television show himself and about what it's like to hear your name mentioned casually by a fictional character on a prime time drama.
Regular This American Life contributor Dan Savage, a syndicated sex columnist with possibly the filthiest mouth of anyone you could ever meet, finds a TV program so dirty, so weird, and so perverted that he won't let his son watch it—even though it's a kids' show, made for kids, and broadcast on a network for kids.
Ira talks with Bob Harris, a former Jeopardy champion, about how he prepared to go on the program. He turned his living room into a replica of the real-life Jeopardy studio, taped a poster of Alex Trebek, the host of Jeopardy, in the exact spot where the real Alex Trebek stands, and even made a fake buzzer out of a ball point pen and masking tape.
Roger Dowds won several hundred thousand pounds on the Irish version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, which is why Ronan Kelly, the host an Irish public radio program, first went to interview him. During their talk together, it became clear that Roger was a very unlikely game show champion.
Robin Epstein talks about her old job, as producer and chief question writer on a game show for teen-age girls called Plugged In. It was one of the first shows to air on the Oxygen network, the TV channel for women created by Oprah Winfrey. Robin had hoped that the show could serve as a role model for young women, showing smart teen girls answering tough questions.
We compare Fox TV talk show host Bill O'Reilly's ideas about the hurricane's aftermath with those of Ashley Nelson, an 18-year-old who lives in the Lafitte Housing projects in New Orleans, in one of the flooded neighborhoods. Among other things, she explains what it feels like to go without food and water for two days.
Marian Fontana's husband was a Brooklyn firefighter who was killed on September 11, 2001. Afterwards, she started an organization, fighting to keep her husband's fire station open, and to help victims' families.
David Wilcox tells the story of how his mother, who was dying of lung cancer, made a short videotape for his sister, who is severely developmentally disabled. She hoped the tape would become a daily part of her daughter's life, like the other music and movies she liked to play, that she would watch it and remember her mother.
Charlie Brill and Mitzi McCall were a comedy duo back in the mid-1960s, playing clubs around Los Angeles, when their agent called to tell them he'd landed them the gig of a lifetime: They were going to be on The Ed Sullivan Show. The only problem was that their performance was a total fiasco, for a bunch of reasons, including one they never saw coming.
When Burt Covit was programming his VCR one day, he accidentally tuned in to a channel showing the lobby of a building. He started to watch, and couldn't stop.
Producer Alex Blumberg tells the true story of Jerry Springer's life before he was a talk show host. It's the story of an idealistic and serious Jerry Springer, a progressive politician, and the most popular mayor ever of a certain American city.
For four hours in August 2001, KCAL-9, an all-news channel in Los Angeles, broadcast a very unusual police pursuit. The suspect drove under the speed limit, obeyed all traffic laws, signaled every time he wanted to turn.
Host Ira Glass reminds the audience about the old TV series MacGyver, about the guy who stops bad guys without a gun. He uses science and sheer ingenuity to invent solutions.
Very few Palestinians speak Hebrew, and very few Israelis speak Arabic, even though most Palestinians and Israelis live a short drive from one another. Nancy Updike has this story about Nasser Laham, a Palestinian TV journalist in Bethlehem who has a nightly show where he translates Israeli broadcasts into Arabic.
Host Ira Glass talks to Anthony Swofford, a former marine sniper and author of the Gulf War memoir Jarhead. He explains what he's seeing when he watches this new war with Iraq on television.
Host Ira Glass talks to Jorge Just, who thought he'd started over successfully. He'd moved to New York, found an apartment that everyone told him was a great deal, things were looking good.
After 25 years at the same company, a man starts a new life with a new venture: a cable channel that shows nothing but puppies.
Host Ira Glass explains how you can get away with anything if you claim you did it for love.
Host Ira Glass talks with Starlee Kine, who loves TV reruns more than first-run shows. She explains that even if it's a show she hates—Caroline in the City for example—she'll watch the rerun.
Starlee Kine tells the story of a man more obsessed with reruns than even she is. Director Trent Harris made a movie called The Beaver Trilogy.
The TV show America's Funniest Home Videos has an archive of over half-a-million video clips. Ira talks with Todd Thicke, the show's co-executive producer, and Trace Beaulieu and Mike Palleschi, two of the show's writers, about what all that footage tells them about Americans that the rest of us don't know.
The story of two amateurs meeting the pros. One is a teenager in New Jersey; the other, our reporter.