It almost seems like a trend right now. First, Garrison Keillor[wiki] took A Prairie Home Companion and turned it into a movie[imdb]. Now it’s This American Life, probably one of my most favorite programs in the world of public radio that I hardly listen to. But hey, it’s a podcast now, so I think I’ll have to subscribe.
That’s just one of the many odd discussions that took place in the process of transforming a radio program into a television series. The show is This American Life. The host is Ira Glass. The TV series will debut in March on the Showtime cable channel.
There’s a certain simplicity to the art of radio. At its heart, it’s all about storytelling. And This American Life is a radio show that revels in storytelling — quirky stories, sad stories, scary stories.
This American Life seems so wedded to the medium of radio that when the Showtime cable network first approached Glass about turning it into a TV show, he couldn’t imagine it.
“We basically said ‘no’ for a year and half,” Glass recalls. “And we kept saying we have no idea how to… be filmmakers. You have to hook us up with people who could design something that got across the feeling of the radio show.” [npr]
I’m not too sure how I feel about it. The beauty of radio is the theatre of the mind and how it comes across the airwaves. Being an audio junkie, you would think that my gut reaction would be to hate the whole concept, but I take comfort in the idea of Showtime(or potentially in Canada, Showcase) being the network to throw this on the tube.
Photo credit: transomradio on Flickr
I’ve had the brief, but not the most up close, pleasure of working with Ira Glass[wiki] during my days in public radio. In fact, it was just a one day sort of thing, but he really is a fascinating guy. Not in the omnipresent, starstruck sort of way, but he is a person that knows what he’s trying to do and how that should be done. Based on that, I know that he wouldn’t make a venture into television without making sure that the end result was going to be good.
I’ll say what I have always said about television. It’s five times as expensive and takes just as much time to produce worthwhile content. That’s not to say that working solely with audio is easy. Both mediums are their respective art forms, but you should never compare the two. If you don’t believe me now, then start listening to the This American Life podcast now and see how it compares to the TV program when it comes out. The effect will simply not be the same. We have yet to see if we can call it good or not.