Tony Black on whether podcasts are TV’s next goldmine…
The fascinating announcement this week that Gale Ann Hurd, longtime producing partner of James Cameron and most recently one of the spearheading forces of the massively successful The Walking Dead franchise, is intending to produce a live-action anthology series out of Lore, one of the most successful podcasts on the web, could be a game changer. I listen to Lore, as do two million other people when Aaron Mahnke releases fortnightly his twenty minute or so explorations into the myth and legend of Americana and the paranormal. Yet this, to my knowledge, is the first example of a direct translation of a free-to-air, semi-professional piece of non-fiction audio into a potential dramatic TV series. It could be a revolutionary move that, if successful, sees the TV and maybe even the movie industry tap into an entirely new goldmine of creative possibility: the podcast.
I’m a podcaster. Far be it for me to use this article for my own shameless self-promotion (if you really must know more, go here…), but my shows are primarily relaxed, conversational discussions of movies or TV or music. Those admittedly are the easiest, cheapest kind of shows to produce. Series such as Lore, which are carefully written and no doubt researched, using crisp radio-quality technology, take more time and craft to get right and make an impact. It would account for why it’s been such a success, tracking alongside the major heavy hitter shows which have put podcasting in the public eye over the last couple of years. Serial is of course the main one, produced by This American Life, and in many ways is directly responsible for the growing proliferation of ‘true crime’ TV shows such as the wildly successful Making a Murderer on Netflix. FX recently aired the first season of American Crime Story’s take on the OJ Simpson trial and, while not based on a podcast, it too has taken viewers by storm. A genre which originated in broad strokes on a massively successful podcast has now directly influenced TV production. Lore, however, takes it to the next level – if Hurd gets the show produced, it could sit somewhere as a mesh of the American Horror Story’s anthology approach and shows like Tales From the Crypt or even Alfred Hitchcock Presents, with a dash of The Twilight Zone. ‘True myth’ for want of a better term and, if successful, it could not just open up a whole new sub-genre but also blow the doors open to the potential translation of podcasts into visual form.
Why though hasn’t this happened before? A major reason is that podcasts haven’t quite gone global and household name yet. They’re close, particularly in America where the absence of quality broadcast radio has made the podcast a more appealing option (unlike in the UK where it’s a slower grower, given entities such as the BBC which have existed for decades). The appeal of the podcast – whether conversational like those I myself produce – or informative, researched and dramatic, are that in the first instance they’re completely free to download on iTunes or other podcast applications. Many also enjoy the ad hoc, slightly ramshackle nature of it; they’ve become a hobby anyone with a good internet connection, headphones and a half-decent cheap microphone can take part in. Hundreds of thousands of podcasts now exist, some better than others and more than anyone could realistically follow religiously, but the audience reach is enormous. Lore proves it, Serial proves it, and there are plenty more well-produced podcast series tapping into other niches. The one TV networks or movie studios might be most interested in, of course, are the dramatic podcast series; shows such as Limetown or The Message tap into curious mysteries and spin out scripted storylines, framed by a narrator communicating directly to us, for effectively a short seasons content. In theory they could be adapted, bulked out and filmed as mini-series or concepts for straight run event shows or, if you’re working to the increasingly antiquated studio model, a pilot. There could be a veritable trove of untapped narrative potential in podcasting that would be much less expensive for creatives to mine.
Think about it. When a TV production company or movie studio want to adapt a book or a comic, anything that has been published and makes income for the creators, they need to purchase the rights. This can be often enormously expensive, especially if the property is popular. Would the same rule apply to free-airing podcasts? They would of course in most instances still be copyright and the rights would need to be purchased but would they be nearly as expensive? Maybe not, at least right now. Equally you may find podcast producers such as Aaron Mahnke would be extremely keen to see their property, often developed as a hobby by an individual or team of individuals, be developed into a visual medium. Maybe this is what Gale Ann Hurd has figured out, ahead of the curve. It feels like, potentially, an entirely new world being explored by would-be Columbus Hurd, that everyone else haven’t quite figured out is there yet, like the penny hasn’t quite dropped.
Should Lore be successfully produced and land as a hit, the age of the podcast adapted for television could truly begin in earnest.
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Twitter.