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Development Deal: Radiolab

If there’s one thing that a quick look at the current state of television and movies will tell you, it’s that there’s not much need for original ideas when there’s so much out there ready and waiting to be adapted, updated or just outright ripped off. That’s why we’ve decided to help in that process with a series which offers up some of the things we’d like to see being brought to big screen or small. This week’s suggestion? WNYC’s Radiolab.

What Is It?
Radiolab is an unbelievably good radio show that airs on public radio around the United States and is also available as a podcast for everyone who doesn’t do radio listening as such (The podcast feed also includes mini-episodes between the “real” episodes, and is highly recommended for those who haven’t discovered it yet), with each episode taking a particular theme and exploring it. Exploring it in what way, you ask? Well, the official site for the show puts it best:

Radiolab believes your ears are a portal to another world. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience. Big questions are investigated, tinkered with, and encouraged to grow. Bring your curiosity, and we’ll feed it with possibility.

Imagine it as a science show with a particularly human attitude that is happy to be sidetracked in its investigations and isn’t afraid to be funny, silly or tragic as the subject dictates. Listening to Radiolab makes you smarter not just by explaining the way that the world works, but by doing it in such a way that makes everything seem so weird and wonderful that you want to go and find out more for yourself afterwards. It’s genuinely inspirational, and that’s even before you get to the fact that it manages to reinvent radio journalism with an approach that’s like The American Life with added sound effects, music and technical know-how. Very little in the world is like Radiolab, and what is pales in comparison with the real thing. This is pretty much the kind of smart, educational programming you’ve always wanted, but didn’t think would ever exist.

What Could It Be?
It feels almost heretical to suggest Radiolab: The Television Show – in large part because what makes Radiolab work is that it is so specifically about the medium of radio; look at the title, after all – but if This American Life could make the leap to television (And, seriously, those two seasons on Showtime were really great), then I can’t help but think that there’s some hope for a television version of the show. The TAL television series even provides some guides for how to translate Radiolab into a whole new medium: In addition to “traditional” TV, imagine using animation from the likes of Chris Ware to illustrate some of the more outré sequences, or getting various experimental directors to provide short films similar to some of the podcast extras that have already appeared (Seriously, I love this and this). As those films show, Radiolab already has a visual component – and, with the show currently on a live tour, it feels as if its already stretching outside of whatever restraints remain in its incarnation as a radio show.

The desire for a Radiolab TV show is selfish, I’ll admit; I want intelligent television programs about the world that don’t pander like Mythbusters or bore like Nova (Sorry, Nova, but it’s true). I want something that pushes at its form and medium the way that Radiolab does for aural-only programming, and something that’s as playful and idealistic about science as something like The Daily Show or The Colbert Report is about politics. Even if Radiolab itself doesn’t end up on television – and, ultimately, I suspect that it won’t – I at least want television documentarians to look at it (listen to it) and think “Yeah, if I could work out a way to do that, but on television…” and get inspired.

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Comments

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=610991984 Jason Tippitt

    This is, frankly, a brilliant idea. And yeah, Chris Ware’s animation would be ideal for some of the more esoteric concepts. (Some of the Science Friday videos have a more lo-fi animation ascetic that could also work, but for the more human stuff … those Ware sequences on TAL were superb, and it would work well here as well.)

  • sandwich eater

    I like this idea, but it’ll never happen.  There are no science shows left on TV (except public television).  Maybe if the show includes crackpots talking about how aliens built the pyramids or guys buying and selling crap the History Channel or Discovery Channel would air it.  

    I love Nova, and I was going to dispute your assertion that it’s boring, but I often watch Nova and let the narrator’s soothing voice lull me to sleep when I’m having trouble sleeping.

  • Steely Dan

    I love “RadioLab” but really have no desire to see it translated to television. Maybe I’m in the minority, but the “This American Life” TV, while perfectly fine, never captured the same magic that the radio show did.

    Speaking of good public radio shows, I also heartily recommend “WireTap” on CBC Radio in Canada (and on Sirius here in the U.S.), a show which I just discovered. I think this show actually could be turned into an interesting television show along the lines of “Louie.”