Thoughts on This American Life TV Show


I’ve thought about this for several days, not wanting to write about it.

I’m going to do it anyway.

I was disappointed with the first TV episode of This American Life on Showtime. It was well done, as I expected. Tall, skinny, nasal-voiced Ira Glass is a great TV host.

But I already saw the shows and the first time I saw them they were much richer, expansive and intimate. The show, about the cloned bull Second Chance, I saw on a sunny summer afternoon while leveling gray stones in white sand on our fieldstone patio. In my mind the bull was huge. On our 42″ screen he was just big. When the scene of Second Chance attacking owner Ralph Fischer played on my silver boom box, it was horrifying. On TV it seemed nonexistent. When the Fischer’s injuries were described on the radio show I created some pretty gruesome images. When the TV camera focused on the farmer in the hospital bed, he didn’t look too bad.

It was an educational moment for me. I’ve always promoted the power of the spoken word and the “theater of the mind.” Now, watching the TV show, I was actually experiencing the power of words shrink as they partner with visual images. When we are given images, the theater of the mind closes down.

The show had its great moments, ie. the woman showing Chance’s hide, complete with empty head. The scene was touching, grotesque and hilarious. Or Glass, sitting at a desk, totally businesslike, on an open highway.

I saw Ira Glass perform a few years ago in Ithaca, NY. His only props were recording equipment. He sat at the console. There was one spotlight. The rest was left to our imagination.

I’ll continue to watch TAM on TV because Ira has one of the most original minds in the business.

I also continue to watch This American Life on radio.

That’s where the big screen is.

I know Director Tom is a big TAM fan and I’d be curious to hear his reaction, and anyone else who has an opinion.

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One response to “Thoughts on This American Life TV Show

  1. I love visuals. As a filmmaker, visuals are my lifeblood.

    But there’s something to be said for using your mind and imagination when we’re not given all the information.

    First of all, I love the show. From a filmmaking perspective, TAM is pretty flawless. The documentary crew was small, the shots and framing were meticulous, the stories were obviously interesting.

    But something was missing. Or everything was handed to us. Not sure which. Perhaps we were told too much…

    Maybe there were too many words for such a visual medium. Perhaps if there was more time spent just watching scenes play out, rather than having so much voice-over, it would have played out differently.

    In any case, I’m a fan of Ira and TAM. I’m in.

    And I’m excited to see more documentaries air on television.

    For me, that’s the bigger story.

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