How Does a Story Get Selected for This American Life?

by Nitesh Arora


Ira glass did an IAmA on Reddit. I feel like this is the question that goes through the minds of many while listening to This American Life: How did you select this story?

Here's the answer.

In general, the story process is kind of messy. I suppose that's inevitable. At any given point, we have three or four shows we're actively preparing, and another two or three kind of burbling up slowly in the background. (There are nine of us on staff. It's a lot of people. For years, it was just four.)
If we find a story that we love that doesn't fit with any of those episodes, we invent a theme that could include it.
Then we go looking for other stories that could fill out the theme.
We do this by brainstorming what MIGHT work and then go looking for it. We do this by sending out emails to contributors and asking "have you got anything that goes with this?" We have a doc we send now and then to an email list of hundreds. Occasionally we crowdsource an idea on Facebook and our show's blog. It's messy.
What we're looking for: someone to relate to, a plot that's surprising that leads to some idea about the world that's also new or interesting or surprising. Those are the basic elements. Extra points for humor, charm or memorable details that you can't get out of your head. A great story is like a great melody: it announces its inevitable greatness and you recognize it the first time you hear it. Most stories aren't that. They do not announce their obvious greatness. 60% are in the limbo region where they might GET great or they might flop, and the only way to figure it out is to start making the story. So you launch in, hoping for that winning combination of great moments, charm, funny, and X factor.
As a result, we go through tons of stories on our way to the few that end up on the air. It's like harnessing luck as an industrial product. You want to get hit by lightning, so you have to wander around for a long time in the rain.
Here's the list of story ideas we looked into for the show we did Sept 28th. In addition to the stories that ended up on the air, we collected tape on another three stories I know of. Might be more. The knee defender story I recorded on a plane to MN. Hopefullly that'll show up in a future episode.
This is pasted in from our staff story list for that week. They are in decreasing order of likelihood of ending up on the air, which is how we always list them. Often the final lineup isn't determined till the day of the show. Often on the day we broadcast the show we have to decide: will we cut a few minutes from each story to fit in more stories, or will we kill a story?
Send a Message (Jonathan)
Dave Hill: homeless man throws pee on him 10
Great-grandmother predicts baby genders from beyond the grave Melissa Salpietra (Brian) 8-9
Sonari Glinton: Black Jesus (Jonathan) 10
Josh Bearman: Galileo sends coded messages to Kepler (Robyn) 7-10
Bill Lahey: dad’s phone calls to kids about divorce (Nancy) 12-15
Lisa: knee defender for planes
PJ Vogt: Craig Schergold gets greeting cards after tumor is removed
Brian: Thai chef punks restaurant w/ wrong name
Starlee & EG: talk to authors of coming out book (Robyn) 10-12
Andrea: getting harrassed by jealous uncle
AZ & HI emails about Obama’s birth certificate
Rob: $15 collect calls from Cook County jail
Jonathan: ABC/CBS Dancing on the Stars
Ruthie: Tourettes guy (Jonathan)
x-Matt: jr high boycotts lunch; gets salad
x-Sam: couple gets divorced to protest gay marriage laws (not until July)
x-Robyn: 13 y.o. writes essay comparing school to slavery
x- Nancy: Nazi reference in Librarian training manuals
x- Bruce: same speech for 19 years about genocide treaty (Lisa)
x- Ben: Iraq war vet flipping off Scott Walker*


Jukebox: It's Time, Imagine Dragons

by Nitesh Arora


Night Visions by Imagine Dragons is one of the albums I recently purchased. Feels a bit more mainstream, but it's fun & great for running. A variety of songs on the album, below is a Spotify link for the top hit.


Rebelmouse

by Nitesh Arora


Have you heard of Rebelmouse?

It's currently in beta. Basically, it makes a snapshot of your different social profiles in case someone would like to look at it. It shows what you're sharing online. Here's mine.

It's made by Paul Berry, formerly of Huffington Post. I think it has potential. It takes a few extra moments to jump from site to site and get a feel of your profiles. So, the profile or your profiles could be a thing in the future. 


Dear Catherine: Musings

by Nitesh Arora


Dear Catherine, 

If Scooby Dooby Doo didn't Doo then what would he do?

Barney says "I love you, you love me, let's get together & be a happy family."

  1. Does saying this to children make him a pedophile?
  2. What if I don't love him?

You know what? Ron feels like the sidekick-best-friend in Harry Potter. HP is the lead/chosen one. Hermione is the clever one. What's Ron, then? The guy with the family that adopts Harry?

Put your right foot in, put your right foot out, do the hokey pokey & shake it all about. HOW DO I BREAK THE CURSE?

Best of wishes (except the gray one),
Nitesh


Spouses Turned Step-Siblings

by Nitesh Arora


In the "Potential new shows" category is an original show with a new (I think) concept.

Spouses turned step-siblings. Like the old story goes: couple splits up, her dad and his mom elope, they decide to be friends. Even though they used to sleep together, they're siblings after all.

I think it has potential because of the concept. Though, plenty of interesting concepts don't end up as planned when they make it to TV.

Read more at The Hollywood Reporter. 


Ugly or Pretty Has Nothing to Do with Funny

by Nitesh Arora


Elizabeth Banks responds to Nikki Finke.

It's funny, I tend to prefer female comedians to male comedians. No matter how many times someone says that 'women aren't funny' & in this case pretty women aren't funny it ends up coming across as ridiculous.  

Funny is funny. What you think is funny may not be funny at all to me. I know a lot of guys that follow mainly male comedians. As far as actors go, I often find female comedy actors very memorable.

Saying pretty women aren't funny? Well, you may think so Nikki Finke, but doesn't that rely on your definition of 'pretty'? I Love Lucy is one of my favorite comedies. And I think Lucille Ball looks great. Amy Poehler in Parks & Recreation or Mindy Kaling in The Mindy Project both have hilarious shows. I'm sure every other article about them will have a comment about their looks. Part of my perception of beauty links with personality and sure that can vary, but the amount of attention people pay to how others look can be astounding. 

 Why not just focus on their talent? 


George Allen is Running for VA Senate

by Nitesh Arora


George Allen is running against former Governor Tim Kaine in the Virginia Senate race. 

Here's a video from his previous time on the campaign trail. 

Just to break that down for you, he's calling an Indian campaign worker from the opposition 'macaca'. Slate  says to read the wikipedia entry with a pinch of salt. 

OK. But, he's still calling the Indian guy something. I don't care if it's a racial slur or it it just means 'monkey', would he have done the same to a white male? And , before people start yelling at me for using the 'race card', that's not my intention. Honestly: Would he have used the same words for a person that looks like him?


Music, the Kind You Buy

by Nitesh Arora


There's not a huge need to buy music right now. Go on Spotify and stream nearly anything for free, go on YouTube to listen to the songs that aren't on spotify, & pirate things that are good enough for you to want a copy. Wait, no, nobody actually pirates music, it's illegal! Sure. I think there's a more of a "nobody buys music, it's all free somewhere" mentality. 

One of my friends, George, has stopped buying music and using iTunes. Instead, he subscribes to Spotify. I guess it makes sense, save the money that you would use to own albums so that you can listen to whatever you want. 

I fall in the camp that does buy music. Kind of. I tend to try out music for free like on Spotify so I can try and find new music or my friends can send me suggestions. But, when I listen to something enough or is the type of music I can see myself enjoying in the future, I buy it. I tend to be careful with these purchases so I don't clutter my list. I may go months at a time without buying anything. Then, I'll find something or an artist I enjoy has an album and I buy it. Depending on the season, I'll find a few things in a row. Great for my ears, bad for my wallet.

I like a copy of the music I love so that I can have it on my devices as I like or even port it to an external drive. Spotify is a great service. I enjoy using it. When it comes to music I really know I love (or will binge listen to), I'd rather buy the album than pay for subscribe to Spotify. For now. 


Dear Catherine

by Nitesh Arora


This is what happens when you stay awake for many hours working on something. The first in what will likely be a recurring series of ramblings...as long as I train to live without sleep. I wrote these to a friend last night while working on a long paper. That's what normal people do.

Dear Catherine,

This is a letter composed of ramblings while I work. Instead of a Dear/Ask Abby kind of deal, it's Dear Catherine, to let you know what the world is like after 9:00 PM.

Dear Catherine,

Tomorrow I may come into my  class Tarzan style, swinging my laptop's power cord over my head like a lasso at first then using it to swing into class. My first words shall be "ME MAN! ME EVIL!" because men are evil according to any piece of academia. 

Dear Catherine,

I want to write part of this paper in Spanish. Or in hieroglyphics. 

Dear Catherine,

Can my final paper take a philosophical approach? On the first page I would simply write "Why?" and hand it in. 

Dear Catherine, 

Floor's 1-10 of the library close at 11:00 PM. I have 1/2 an hour. Or I can go downstairs since the first lower level is open 24 hours. My class is there too. I could walk into class not having gone back to my room, hand in the paper, and say "here [students], take this paper and go to [a not very nice place]!" 

Dear Catherine,

I think I should create my own language. That way when someone asks me a question I can ask them to repeat it in my native language because I do not understand them. 

Dear Catherine, 

Deaf people in the US use American sign language. If you want to communicate with deaf people in Spain you have to learn another language!

Dear Catherine,

When you have a dramatic / important day you should communicate everything in song as if you are in a musical. The people that know you well will join in and those that do not will think that they have gone mad. 

Dear Catherine,

In English, chickens say 'cock-a-doodle-doo!' and in Spanish they say 'quiquiriquí!'. 

Dear Catherine,

On the way back to my room from the library, I passed a horse-dog. It wanted to attack me.

Dear Catherine,

If an Indian person walks into a room with a mullet, is he still Indian or just a nice 'down-home' American? 

Dear Catherine,

If a bug goes into a person's mouth, can you tease that person for having kissed a bug?

Dear Catherine,

Did you know that your life can become like a soap opera, too, if you play powerful classical music after someone says something dramatic to you? "We're out of toilet paper." [look of shock, looks at speaker, tears in eyes--cue music!]

Dear Catherine,

Would you like to be noticed by your peers? Rid your entire body of any hair. Go into public one day with a chrome costume and, preferably, matching chrome makeup. If someone talks to you, smile and say 'hello, I am from the future--it is a pleasure to meet you'.

Dear Catherine,

If you use public transport you should be a good citizen and provide entertainment for you fellow humans. Begin to whistle or hum the tunes to either "Pop goes the weasel" or "I've been working on the railroad". 

Dear Catherine,

Do you need a cool social tic to appear memorable to those around you? At one point every hour (a specific point like 23 minutes after the hour) repeat a series of names that belong to a category such as types of wine, ways to prepare eggs, or the names of different yoga poses.

Dear Catherine,

If you win millions of dollars in the powerball drawing, you should buy a private island, invite people to a party, and at the party yell out "BOW TO ME FOR I AM QUEEN!"

Dear Catherine,

What if, one day, all of the objects that you have previously named (your car and  phone) came alive? And formed an obsession with you because you were the only person to consider them  creatures?

Dear Catherine,

This weekend, you should see if being a Texan in Virginia helps with the dating. "Hey there fellas. Now, which one of y'all is gon' take me square dancin'? Back in Texas we say a lady ain't a lady less she can square dance with a gentleman suitor of her very own"

Dear Catherine,

Thinking of a new hairstyle? Cut some bangs and wear the extra hair around your neck like a pendant.

Dear Catherine, 

I have not gone to sleep yet. But, I feel like I am doing a good job with my paper. So, maybe if i never sleep again I can be good at everything?

Dear Catherine,

How do you know that something will not crawl inside your mouth while you sleep? Or that someone is not secretly watching you? What if you have a squatter that lives in the walls!

Dear Catherine,

Do you believe you can fly?

Dear Catherine,

I go back to Virginia for a couple of weeks this Saturday. What if New York stops existing while I am gone?

Dear Catherine,

New movie idea: Bollywood musical-style movie except all dancing is done by cars...kind of like drag racing and synchronized swimming.

Dear Catherine,

When meeting someone for the first time, a fun way of introducing yourself is to burst into the oompa loompa song. "Oompa Loompa oompa-de-doo..."


What's on TV? Fall 2012

by Nitesh Arora


OK, it is early to line up every single show that you're going to be watching this fall. What the hell, why not. 

TVLine is a great site for TV news. They put together a TV grid for fall that's worth a look if for nothing else but to figure out which crappy show you're going to cut out of your life. Be merciless.

Here's the grid from TVLine. Visit the site for full lists of which shows the networks will have at some time during the 2012 - 2013 season & their premiere dates.  

Now is when I get to list how much television I watch. Not live though. The internet is my ally. There are probably more shows...we're not counting non-US based shows. Or spring. Or cable. Or shows that premiere later in fall... 

Go ahead, judge me.

New shows are in bold. 

Sunday:

 

  • Once Upon a Time
  • Revenge
  • 666 Park Avenue
  • The Good Wife

 

Monday:

 

  • Castle
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • Partners
  • Terrible show/occasional guilty pleasure: 2 Broke Girls
  • New show that I may or may not watch: Revolution

 

Tuesday:

 

  • Happy Endings
  • Don't Trust the B in Apt. 23
  • Raising Hope
  • Ben & Kate
  • New Girl
  • The Mindy Project
  • Go On
  • New Ryan Murphy show that I may hate-watch...once: The New Normal

 

Wednesday:

 

  • Modern Family
  • Suburgatory
  • Animal Practice

 

Thursday:

 

  • Scandal
  • Chuck Lorre Show I watch on occassion...The Big Bang Theory
  • US version of Modern Sherlock that will suck in comparison to the British one by Steven Moffat but I will still watch an episode... Elementary
  • That old Ryan Murphy show that I may sometimes hate-watch. Glee
  • 30 Rock
  • Parks & Rec

 

Friday:

 

  • Community

I don't watch Saturday shows...if there are any. And shows on the CW. Sorry?

After going through the grid I notice that there are, indeed, other shows I watch or plan to watch. If you can guess I'll confirm (one terrible guilty pleasure is listed on the grid...please don't guess it). 


Language: He Speaks in Tongues!

by Nitesh Arora


I think of language culturally. There's a certain part of the culture of a place that's linked to a language. How the people speak and act and sometimes even think. You won't really be fluent in a language until you stop pushing to be an English speaker speaking in another lanuage and try to be a person that speaks the language. You'll screw up. A lot. But, even a native speaker of a language doesn't speak correctly--he just tries. 

People kind of ignore language until they need them or unless they have a specific interest in the field. A friend of mine is an Italian teacher--awesome. I'm putting off Italian for a while until I can learn it for fun, I mean where do they speak it other than Italy? That's my bullshit excuse for waiting to learn a language that I love. I'll get there.

So far, I know four langauges (English, Hindi, Punjabi, & Spanish). I don't want to stop learning. Next up is French! I thought about learning Chinese or Arabic next because they are extremely useful right now, but both languages require an entirely new set of skills --memorizing the arabic alphabet or every Chinese character. And, Arabic and Chinese are dialect based so just learning the traditional language isn't enough. It's much more time effective for me to learn French next. It's a romance language so I have a base set of skills and I know the alphabet. 

Travelling, learning lanuage, and being involved with a culture other than the one you know or that's around you can be fun. 

If you ever do decide to learn a new language then, great news, you can stay in front of the computer. Classes can be a good way to learn, sure, but they're not cheap.

Two great and free resources are:

The BBC! The BBC has a great language page to get a feel of anything from Basque to Urdu.  Free.

Another free site is duolingo. Smaller selection, but it helps you to learn the language from the basics. 

I'm using duolingo right now to learn some French. I like it. It doesn't feel like the other programs, it feels organic in how it teaches you. I might use the BBC's site in the future if I decide to learn Urdu. 


Tales of the Universe: Time for a Horror Movie?

by Nitesh Arora


So. The universe is trying to kill me. Again.

"Well it's just weather, it's not like it can harm anyone!" That's what he said before the tree branch came towards his windshield. Because reality is just as ridiculous as a terrible horror movie. 

Seriously--as I finally head back to my parents' house a storm brews & within minutes of their property wind & lightning start attacking. I rush inside. My parents and brother are gone for the weekend. Their house is perfect for this horror movie. Their road is built with a goal of privacy & the house? Well, it's huge. Since it's in the heart of suburbia you can actually see the stars! 

I'm alone. During a storm. In a huge house that's very dark & very empty.

So, there's only one question: Where's the killer?


Modern Magazines

by Nitesh Arora


Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper, and dissatisfaction with the modern state of magazines. 

I really agree with Marco Arment here. I bought the first magazine I have in a while, my first “grown-up” magazine I believe. It was for class, a GQ. $5. And, mostly ads. Why am I paying for something that is comprised mostly of ads?

One of my friends said that the ads vary depending on the type of magazine & some consumers like them. He subscribes to GQ & likes the fashion advertisements in the magazine. For customers such as these, I guess it makes some sense. But, not to me. Why can magazines minimize the ads? Do fashion features? I paid for what felt like a hefty magazine. Going through it, I saw around half the magazine was made of advertisements.