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Prologue

In preparing for this show, we started reaching out to Americans living in China and asking for their stories. A shocking amount of the expats came back with stories about different times they were on Chinese television.

Prologue

Ira speaks with a reality TV producer named Bill Langworthy, who has noticed that people do things in front of the camera that they would never, ever do in their actual lives.

Act Two

Chicago writer Rebecca Makkai bring us the story of a reality television producer attempting to gossip love into existence—and just how complicated that gets. This fiction story originally appeared in the journal Crazyhorse.

Act One

Allison Silverman reports on This Is Your Life, a show from the 1950s where unsuspecting—and often famous—audience members would have their biographies created on the spot for 40 million viewers. But is that really a present you'd want to receive? Allison is an Emmy Award-winning writer who has worked on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

Act Two: Taking a Big Pink Eraser to the Thin Blue Line

Michael May tells the story of Barry Cooper, a former crooked narcotics cop who has turned his interest elsewhere...to busting crooked narcotics cops. But after Cooper and a rich benefactor team up to set a trap for the police, Barry's plans are put in jeopardy—including his dream of creating a reality show called "Kop Busters." Michael May is the Culture editor at the Texas Observer.

Act Two: The Race For Second Place

Thanh Tan was a TV reporter in Boise, Idaho, when her boss passed along what seemed like a hot news tip: A sex offender was working with kids at a local ice rink, as a hockey referee. But when she looked into it, she found out the crime was more than a decade old.

Prologue

David Iserson tried to lay low in junior high, staying out of sight to keep from getting teased and bullied. But then he starred in a local TV commercial for his father's furniture store, and all of a sudden everyone knew about him...in a bad way.

Prologue

Host Ira Glass talks with Jane Espenson—who's written for the TV shows Battlestar Galactica and Gilmore Girls—and with J.J. Abrams—one of the creators of the hit shows Lost, Alias, and Felicity—about how we might be in the midst of another Golden Age of television.

Act One: 29

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.

Act Two: Turkeys In Pilgrim Clothing

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.

Act Three: Radio On The Tv

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.

Act Four: My Other Dog's A German Shepherd

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.

Prologue

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.

Act One: Gamester Of Ireland Is Fine

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.

Act Three: Girls In Need Of A Safer Time

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.

Act Three: Social Studies Lesson

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.