This American Life began in 1995 and is one of the most popular radio shows and podcasts in the US, heard by more than 1.8 million people on radio and downloaded up to a million times a week. One of our problems from the start has been that when we try to describe This American Life in a sentence or two, it just sounds awful. For instance: each week we choose a theme and put together different kinds of stories on that theme. That doesn't sound like something we'd want to listen to on the radio, and it's our show.
So usually we just say what we're not. We're not a news show or a talk show or a call-in show. We're not really formatted like other radio shows at all. Instead, we do these stories that are like movies for radio. There are people in dramatic situations. Things happen to them. There are funny moments and emotional moments and—hopefully—moments where the people in the story say interesting, surprising things about it all. It has to be surprising. It has to be fun. Each episode has a theme, and we present several stories on that theme. Lately, we've been tackling the news, with a personal style of reporting.