3 Questions for Ira Glass

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No offense to Terry Gross, but if any public radio personality had to make the jump to television, thank the NEA-funded gods it was Ira Glass. The host of This American Life has spent his entire career on the public airwaves, and still his voice quivers with more quirky humanity than the rest of the dial combined. He's a personality in the fullest sense--one of the reasons why he's such a fine storyteller. City Pages caught up with him via email a few weeks before the television debut of TAL, airing Thursday night on Showtime.


City Pages: You just completed a television series and a full season of weekly radio programs in the same year. Are you completely insane?

Ira Glass: Apparently yes. It was kind of tough. Like I had the best year of my life and the worst year of my life at the exact same time. To ease the burden, we scheduled more radio reruns than we normally do, which I and my co-workers weren't so keen on. If Showtime picks us up for a second season, we're going to try to avoid that.

CP: One of the best things about your radio show is the imagery it creates in the minds of your listeners. Do you worry that the visuals of the television series will supplant that?

IG: I dunno. Maybe I should. I think some people have a very romantic idea about the "theater of the mind" side of radio. And I love that, but I also think it's okay to tell a story with pictures. It just creates a different feeling. Not better, not worse, just different. Truthfully, the only thing I worry about is that once people see me, they'll carry that picture of me over to the radio show. It's way more powerful for a radio host to be just a voice, not a specific person but an idea of a person.

CP: I don't get Showtime. Showtime's expensive. Why Showtime?

IG: I know. It's sort of random, huh? Our show on Showtime. But they approached us. As public broadcasters, we were suspicious of commercial TV, but the biggest surprise of this whole experience was how easy it was to work with them. They never told us "no," never made us do anything, never asked us to dumb anything down or add more cute young people or do anything at all to make the stories more "edgy." They were incredibly sensible and let us make the show we wanted to make. So in a strange way, working for them was exactly like working in public radio. I know how crazy that sounds. They should be opposites.

This American Life's television debut, "Reality Check," airs Thursday, March 22, on Showtime. 9:30 p.m. CST. View the trailer here.


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