Here’s part two of our conversation with Bob Carlson about his uncompromising approach to KCRW’s UnFictional.
Have you ever asked a producer to tone down a piece before it could air?
Not “tone down” in the sense that I think a story is too “weird.” But there may be a point during the editing process, that we have to work to make sure that anything we do is in the service of telling a compelling story. That often means making sure that a story has heart, stakes and a universal truth. I don’t like stories that are mean or condescending, where the humor of the story comes from simply laughing at someone.
Also, anytime you’re trying to be unusual and inventive, there’s always a danger that you can veer into self indulgence and being “unusual” for it’s own sake. But that’s all part of the editing process, working with the structure and the elements of a story to make it great, sometimes experimenting, sometimes pulling back.
Do you give priority to work that you can debut, that's never aired?
Yes, because part of the mandate of my show is to enable new work and to provide a structure and resources for producers to turn an idea into a great radio piece. That said, there’s a lot of material out there that has been produced for podcasts or local shows that deserves another outlet, so I welcome those stories. I also broadcast a fair amount of exceptional international work that American listeners may not know about. However, If a story has already aired on a big national show, I figure that a major chunk of the audience has already heard it. In the early days of my program I did air some nationally broadcast stories, but I do that a lot less now unless it’s a collaboration with that show.
Rather than one big tough decision, I make a lot of little tough decisions all the time. Even though I shoot for high quality production values on UnFictional, I’m operating with a microscopic staff (me and a part time editor.) So I often need to make tough decisions in order to keep things efficient and make deadlines.
What’s the toughest decision about the show that you ever had to make?