I love writeups that get the most boring information out of the way...
As Ira Glass says every week, "Each week we choose a theme and invite different writers and performers to contribute items on the theme." Most shows consist of a short introduction by Glass and 3 or 4 10-15 minute stories about people you've never heard of, all of which relate in some way to that theme.
It sounds boring, but it's amazing. This American Life reminds you that every life is full of drama, passion and meaning. Take, for example, the show "Family Business." Glass explains that he had the idea for the show when he read estimates that say "40 to 60 percent of our nation's gross domestic product is created by family businesses, but talking to anyone who works for one of these companies, you end up wondering...how?"
So you have four stories. One is about a woman who discovers that her father's family was destroyed over a fight about the family business, and tries to go back to find out why a 1963 letter led to the collapse of a family. Another is done by a relatively liberal man who ends up as a campaign worker on his brother's run for office--as a Republican. A third is a story from the 80s. The storyteller worked for a family of Grecian refugees who were running an ice cream parlor in Toronto, and who turned out to have an even stranger story than the one they admitted to. The fourth piece was about a family who run "Chad's Place," a restaurant dedicated to the memory of a family member who was tragically killed just before his high school graduation.
These are stories...you have to be drawn into them, and when the twist in the story comes you twist right along with it. "Chad's Place" begins with the restaurant, and people walking around with shirts that say "Chad's Brother." "Chad's Father." The family explains that Chad is dead and that this was his dream. How did he die? Well, his best friend accidentally shot him while they were playing around with his father's gun. This is their monument to him. When you hear the father--an ordinary working-class guy--saying, "you look in the mirror and you think it will get better...but it never gets better," and you hear these guys--guys who listen to Motley Crue and hunt--talk about how they all contemplated or attempted suicide--you won't forget it.
And this happens every week. The woman whose authoritarian father was adopted as a guru by an alternative rock band. The woman who calls her adult sister and asks to speak to her stuffed animal. The Rent groupies who found out that one of their number was dying, just like in the musical. The teenage girl who decided to become Latina. The sixth-grade teacher who got his class to take over the school by force and institute a dictatorship. And they all happen.
One of the best things in any medium.