There is still something odd about seeing the faces of your favorite "radio stars." For musicians we all know MTV killed this years ago. But for fans of PRI and NPR many "stars" are still faceless voices that may or may not belong to living breathing human beings. And on radio there may be few bigger stars than Ira Glass.
Last night, almost as if it was just for fans of the radio format, Ira Glass and his show "This American Life" came to life on the Silver Screen live for one night only (well one night only for the second time). The show was broadcast live to over 400 movie theaters across the country (with 7 theaters in Phoenix screening the performance including the AMC Ahwatukee 24 from where I watched) and not broadcast over radio as fans of the show expect it to be.
I will have a review of the presentation itself after the break, but first I want to reflect on WHAT the presentation was. The large media companies have had a hard adapting to the new digital world. Movie studios are trying desperately to fit content into old formats and new movies into the old release schedules. Instead of creating new experiences with new technology they are trying to sue their way back into outdated models and leaving fans behind. Meanwhile a little radio show, a format that is as old as media gets, armed with little more than a few HD cameras, a few satellites and great writing, sold out hundreds of theaters on a would be dead night to create a one time only experience for fans unlike any other.
The technology to do this is obviously here, more importantly it has been here for so long it is boring. No one reading this will say to them selves "they can do that?" In of itself it's completely uninteresting. And yet the executives that work with this technology every day, or at least should be, are not doing anything with these new or improved platforms. The amount of unused potential for media is heartbreaking.
I would have never thought I wanted to pay to sit in a theater and watch one of my favorite radio shows, but last night one one of the most enjoyable times I have had consuming media or mass culture in a long time. I go to movies a fair amount and I listen to This American Life for free every week or by podcast whenever I want, but there was something special about this and I felt involved in a way that really makes no sense but everyone there would agree with.
We consumers don't know what we want, we are looking to the old guard to bring it to us and they are completely failing at what they do. We are looking for new experiences and interesting presentations and they are bringing us re-makes and sequels in 90 minute blocks.
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This is why I have always been drawn to live music. Some nights it may be just entertainment, actually most nights are just that. Then other nights, when it is real, there is something that is totally unexpected, can not be replicated, can not be quantified and can not be beat. I don't know if I have felt that in a movie theater before last night. That is what media conglomerate executives do not understand and it is the real reason they are dying. Last night was not just entertainment it was real and personal.
The on screen the presentation was very much the the incarnation of the radio format of the show and not the Showtime Television series which would be hard to pull off live. The last time TAL did a
To make the event even more special a limited silkscreen poster was made by Travis Bone. They even gave away 10 live during the showing signed by both Bone and Glass.
To those that missed the showing a radio edit of the performance will air in the coming weeks on "This American Life"'s regular time slot, and an encore re-showing of the full performance will be in theaters for one night on Thursday, May 7th (buy tickets here).