"We'll schedule six to seven seconds of music as a palate cleanser, just to let them reset mentally. Usually, they can reset in four-and-a-half seconds. Rarely do they need more than nine."
And he offers this insight into what he says is the greater intimacy created by radio:
"Every `shot' in a radio show is a close-up," he says. "Part of the intimacy is that someone is whispering in your ear. You can build up to that moment of intimacy in television, but eventually you've got to go outside and smoke a cigarette."
Starting Jan. 21, 2006, Glass and everyone else on the staff had to throw away all of their acquired wisdom. They had to learn how to stop thinking for the ear and to start thinking for the eye.
Lesson No. 1: Television lives and dies on what the camera can photograph. That means selecting only stories occurring right now.
"At first, the staff proposed a lot of stories that happened in the past," says Adam Beckman, the director of photography for the television show.
"It was hard to convince them that we didn't have all the budget in the world to use animation to illustrate them."
Lesson No. 2: The camera is not the handmaiden of the words.
For instance, one episode is about a photographer who was snapping stills as a tragedy developed.
"Chris Wilcha, the director, had an idea to illustrate this story, which I thought was brilliant," Beckman says.
"He said: `This guy was talking about being a cog in a machine, so why don't we film the equipment he uses to make his photographs? It becomes a metaphor for the problem.'
"When Ira and his staff saw the footage, someone said, and this is an exact quote, `What's with the machinery porn?'
"They didn't understand that what we did wasn't literal, but it fit the larger purpose of what the episode was about."
Still, Beckman says, if Showtime agrees to a second season of This American Life, he'd jump at the chance to work on the show again.
He loves the aesthetic of the series, which, he says "isn't critical or snarky, unlike the rest of television. I really like the way the interviewers engage with their subjects. They are gentle and insightful, without doing taxidermy. The documentarian in me wants to see if the camera can play that role, too."
Lesson No. 3: Something's gotta give. And in this case, what gave was the radio show.
"We've been doing 30 new [radio] episodes a year," Glass says. "This last season, we did 17. I'm not so down with that."
Their original contract with Showtime called for 30 episodes to be broadcast over four years, though the cable network reserves the right to cancel after the first season. If This American Life is renewed by Showtime, Glass will ask to hire more radio producers.
"Showtime would like it if we would consider doing more episodes," he says. "We asked them if we could do fewer. That put them into shock. They said: `We don't hear that very often.'"
Partly, it's simple math: The radio show has 1.7 million listeners each week. If the television show draws half that amount, Showtime will be ecstatic.
"When we agreed to do the series, I didn't quite realize that some TV networks are much bigger than others," Glass says.
"So every week that we do the television series and not the radio show, we're walking away from almost a million people.
"The trade-off is that we get complete creative freedom from Showtime. They have been very respectful of the choices we made. No one ever once asked us to be `edgy' in some corny way."
"All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up."
The best part of the television deal for Glass is that it's allowing him and the staff to try something new.
"It was fun," he says. "We learned on the job. We were just starting to get comfortable, and then we had to stop. We'd love to do a second season."
At least, that's what he's saying today.
March 3, 1959, in Baltimore
Bachelor's degree in semiotics (the study of symbols) from Brown University
Founder and host of This American Life, a public radio show and now, a Showtime television program
This American Life won a Peabody Award in 1996
He is the first cousin, once removed, of minimalist composer Philip Glass