First Look: ‘Life 360’

Show a visual version of 'This American Life'

Although the producers of PBS’ new genre-bending series “Life 360” don’t care to pigeonhole their project, there’s an easy way to describe it. Hosted by “Nightline” correspondent Michel Martin, the Friday night at 9 show can be boiled down to a visual version of “This American Life,” NPR’s weekly collection of personal narratives.

“We have a feeling that the show will be appealing to a slightly younger audience than what is traditionally connected with PBS,” says Martin. “Of course, I’ll be the host of the show, which means if you look at the show as a dinner party, I’ll be the person who greets you at the door and tells you who the fun people are that you’re going to meet.”

The “fun people” Martin refers to are the comedians, writers, filmmakers, musicians and journalists featured in each hour of the 13-part series. Produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting and ABC News’ “Nightline,” the episodes will cover one theme — food, roots and monuments, for example — each week.

Among the quirky contributions featured in the first few outings are ones by comedian Margaret Cho; journo Robert Krulwich; Oscar-winning documentarians Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein; and musicians Los Lobos, Brian McKnight, Mary Chapin Carpenter and John Hiatt.

According to Martin, the show aims to bring the world to people who don’t have the means or leisure time to visit museums and theaters.

“The greatest thing about being on public TV is that you’re not limited by these narrow demographics and target audiences. Each segment gets the kind of length it deserves. We can include a five-minute short by a student filmmaker on a given subject, or dedicate the whole hour to a specific story that warrants the time and attention.”

For example, in an episode devoted to food, viewers will take a look at the power and politics of New York City restaurants, visit young eco radicals who survive only on discarded food, and listen to performers Carmen Pelaez’s and Margaret Cho’s views on nourishment. Now, that’s the kind of reality programming that should inspire network execs next year.