Formats Unpacked

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2021

From Storythings, a weekly newsletter called Formats Unpacked that takes a close look at different ways to tell stories and package content. Over the past year and a half, they have covered formats like Hot Ones:

The special magic ingredient — the spice in the sauce, if you will — is the way that each 20+ minute interview is guaranteed to become more compelling as it goes along. How many interview shows can you say that about?

The questions posed by the host, Sean Evans, are well researched softballs. The guests would all be having a comfortable enough time if they weren’t having to endure increasing levels of physical pain.

Army training prepares you for this sort of thing, media training not so much. By the time you reach Da Bomb — the scorching hot and apparently not-even-that-tasty 8th sauce — it’s hard not to let your personality show through.

The Show with Ze Frank:

Ze’s ideas were too small for TV, but perfectly in size and shape for the internet. He was probably too weird for TV too, which made him the perfect host for a daily internet video show in the era of MySpace, Bebo and early Youtube, when the web was still weird and unformed. Slate described him as a ‘Laptop Celebrity’ at the time, because the idea of YouTuber didn’t even exist yet.

Humans of New York:

Each story consists of nothing more than a single picture with a single quote, but it’s just enough to make the viewer feel as though the protagonist is speaking directly to them. We’re spared any unnecessary story arcs, dramatic backdrops, or interviewer intrusions. What we get is a story that someone had to get off their chest that day. Even if it means telling it to a stranger — in this instance Brandon Stanton, a six-foot-four photographer and blogger. Perhaps this tells us something about our desire for human connection, especially in big cities, where despite being surrounded by millions of people, it’s easy to feel alone or disconnected.

And the singles chart:

Every week, the chart created new stories — acts that were making their debut, roaring up the charts, being replaced by hotter new acts, or reaching the glorious summit of number one. The charts were an ongoing soap opera for pop fans, a mythic world in which their gods fought each other for supremacy.

You can check out the archive and subscribe here.