Have been hugely enjoying the Blank on Blank series currently airing on PBS radio in the US and online. Blank on Blank is a program of short spots of known and famous heads talking casually or perhaps even off-the-record, accompanied by rapid-fire black and white animations, taking shape as the narrative spools out.
The first of the PBS series has Larry King recalling an incident when he was new to radio DJ’ing, working the graveyard shift at his local station. He receives a call with a sultry voice saying “I want you…” What follows is an hilarious comedy of errors and a commentary on one man’s efforts to get laid, and keep his job.
The second features Jim Morrison talking about his weight issues at college. At one point, he tells us, he weighed 185 pounds – he guesses he is about 150 pounds at the point of the interview – due to horrible, starch-ridden college food. Yet, he rejoices in being fat; “Fat is Beautiful” he crows.
The third I have heard allows Bono to discuss the moments he spent with his dying dad. He is forced to reassess his elevation of the concept of dignity, noting that life’s two major events – birth and death – are generally characterised by being devoid of all dignity.
These pieces have the feel of chats between friends and presumably the eves-dropping feel isn’t actual and that the requisite permissions have been gained by the subject – even celebrities don’t deserve privacy abuses (ask Lord Leveson). The intimacy and subject matter undermine the gravitas we often accord to celebrity and portray normal people facing normal issues, often before they were famous at all.
Blank to Blank calls itself a not for profit multimedia with a mission to “curate and transform unexpected interviews with icons and everyday Americans”. Journos with noted publications like Wired or Rolling Stone will often chat with their subjects in relation to a feature for background and then draw a few quotes. But the bits in between, which may have no news or feature relevance are often ignored and lost. This appears to be the rich vein Blank on Blank is able to mine, remastering the recordings and capturing their essence.
While the PBS series has only a few airings so far, Blank on Blank has built an impressive and presumably growing back-list featuring names like David Sedaris, Sam Pickering, Art Blakey, Rodney King and Muhammad Ali. On this site, they are mainly audio only. Their YouTube channel has a few interviews along with the natty animations.
Note: the above image is of the Beastie Boys who’s spot has just been added to the Blank on Blank list.
Makers – Blank on Blank, Digital Studios
How to Catch it – online and PBS Radio (US-based) where available
Couch Time – Each runs for about 5 mins
High Point – Off-guard intimacy
Low Point – Gushy interviewers
Extras – No. These interviews are their own extras