Thursday, September 17, 2009

TBTL Lives!

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TBTL roared back to life as a Podcast after being cancelled as a terrestrial radio show in Seattle. The show was always one of the lowest rated in Seattle, but it has fans around the world and its podcast was always extremely popular. The parent company decide to fund Too Beautiful To Live as a podcast for an unspecified period of time. This is my favorite radio show of all time.

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Tom Tangney, a Seattle movie critic, wrote the following moving tribute last week, when TBTL's cancellation was announced:

TBTL - Why it mattered
By Tom Tangney

The KIRO radio show TOO BEAUTIFUL TO LIVE has attained its own apotheosis. The show whose very title dared to foretell its demise has now completed its mission. TOO BEAUTIFUL TO LIVE has indeed died.

I am not here to bury TBTL however, but to praise it. Its 396 shows now constitute the complete "TBTL Collector's Series" of programs and, in retrospect, the most compelling question may not be "Why is it suddenly gone?" but rather "How did it last as long as it did?" I'd like to believe we live in a world in which something like TBTL could survive but the evidence points to the contrary. So instead, I'll just appreciate the fact it existed at all.

TBTL was the most original, innovative, and intelligently off-the-wall show I've ever heard on radio. Where else are you going to hear butchered impromptu readings of famous movie scenes, regular visits from a grammarian, an in-house a capella re-enactment of a modern opera, an Oscar show in which food from a nominated film is cooked and consumed live on air, a week's worth of Spanish and Latin lessons, a spontaneous dance-off to music designated as impossible to dance to, in-studio imitations of Bob Dylan singing Christmas songs, and hundreds of other wacky ideas. And who else but TBTL would organize a listeners' prom, a roller skating party, and nights out at the Opera AND a Mariners game?

Often described as the radio equivalent of the TV series SEINFELD, TBTL really was a show about nothing. And in its seemingly haphazard investigation of "nothing," it proved to be, more often than not, about "everything." The genius of TBTL was that it recognized the profundity of the mundane. We all have to live in the mundane world, of course, but articulate dissections of our mundane lives can actually produce clever and entertaining insights. The personal stories shared each night by host Luke Burbank, producer Jen Andrews, and board-op Sean De Tore were more humorous than earth-shattering but the point was they were always very human - the kind of daily victories and embarrassments that make up our everyday lives.

TBTL often hurtled headlong into the inane preoccupations of pop culture as well. Their WHY IT MATTERS segments would debate everything from the silly to the sublime (e.g. an early show took on the significance of those Karate Kid movies, a late show examined the brilliance of Quentin Tarantino.) But no matter how deep it dove into the superficial, it would always, or almost always, emerge with a smile and a wink. After all, this was a show run by smart and culturally savvy people. Burbank is an especially quick and literate host who can drop off-the-cuff references to Tenzing Norgay, Soren Kierkegaard, and Jeff Koons as readily as he can to Zooey Deschanel and Jemaine Clement and he often does so in a single conversation. And Andrews was always more apt to cull material for the show from, say, THE NEW YORKER than she was from TMZ. For me and much of the TBTListan nation, I suspect, it's that high art/low art tension that best defines the show's appeal.

TBTL always reminded me of a slice of lemon meringue pie. At its best, it was the perfect combination of sugar-spun fluff and tart flavor. When taking a bite out of TBTL, you had to make sure you tasted both the meringue and the lemon, or you'd miss the point. Too many people, I'm afraid, couldn't get past the meringue in the show to taste the lemon. But if you stuck with the show long enough, the lemon would always out.



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