THE ANGELS – Have you heard any good TV shows lately?
If you’re stuck with a podcast drama with a screenplay, you may be listening to a potential television series, the result of Hollywood’s demand for small-screen material and the awareness that podcasts beyond non-fiction are a valuable resource.
Fact-based podcast dramatizations, such as Wondery’s “WeCrashed,” about the WeWork business debacle, and NBC’s Dateline crime saga “The Thing About Pam” have become television staples with prominent actors such as Jared Leto and Renée Zellweger.
But there is a new wave of fiction podcasts, some made with the express intention of judging the value of a story for a second life on screen, emerging from prominent newcomers to the world of audio. They’re taking advantage of podcasts as a more cost-effective way to test a series concept than filming a TV pilot, and more compelling than a written presentation.
“Very traditional and legacy media companies” see fiction podcasts as content that needs to be extracted, said Mark Stern, former head of studio and head of original content for the Syfy channel for a decade. Stern himself has changed gears: he is president of Echoverse, a podcast studio launched in 2020 with a focus on science fiction, fantasy and supernatural stories.
“We really started this business as an opportunity to create absolutely the best audio dramas in its class, but with a lot of eye on them serving as a proof of concept IP (intellectual property) that could launch television, movies and graphics. Novels.” said Stern.
That reflects Wolf Entertainment’s approach, whose network franchises include “Chicago,” “FBI,” and the enduring “Law & Order”. The Dick Wolf-led company is producing podcasts such as “Hunted,” starring Parker Posey and Brandon Scott, and “Dark Woods” with Corey Stoll and Monica Raymund, the latter drama in development by Universal Television.
For studio executives flooded with series proposals that often consist of a single page of description, a well-done podcast is a valuable alternative, said Elliot Wolf, executive producer of “Dark Woods.”
“You have the ability to immerse yourself in an audio series that paints the picture much better than anything you can do with the written word,” Wolf said. He joined his father’s company, then Wolf Productions, about three years ago and is part of his brand change that includes storytelling in new media.
Stern detailed the economic advantage of measuring the viability of a series based on a podcast rather than a pilot. “Let’s say a very well done season of a podcast with a script is half a million dollars. Good luck having an hour of television for $ 5 million,” he said.
Andy Bowers, a pioneer in podcast production and technology, says Hollywood was bound to succeed.
“Five years ago I was promoting this to some producers and studios, saying,‘ This is a great way to test concepts. You don’t need lighting, you don’t need location photographs, you don’t need expensive sets, ”Bowers said.
Your reaction? “‘Yes, maybe later,'” he recalled. that he had reminded them that the hit 50s TV series “I.” “Love Lucy” was inspired by a radio show.
Fiction is not new to the podcast party. “Welcome to Night Vale,” a cult hit that has become the basis for books, albums, and live concerts in the United States and internationally, is in its tenth year.
But it needed a confluence of events to raise the profile of podcasting and change attitudes: the proliferation of streaming services with a voracious need for programs, such as Apple TV + and Peacock, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mimi O’Donnell was hired as head of script programming for the podcast company Gimlet Media, owned by Spotify, after her drama “Homecoming” had a huge hit in 2018 with movie star Julia Roberts leading the Prime Video adaptation . But Hollywood has remained resilient to the value of fictional podcasts. to television, O’Donnell said.
Then the pandemic stopped screen production and “a call attack” came its way, O’Donnell said. The change was destined to happen, she said, and the pace is uninterrupted, with some producers even trying to figure out what’s in the pre-launch phase, such as studies throwing out a book before publication.
Non-fiction podcasts, driven by conversations and news, continue to be more popular with audiences, but fiction is gaining strength. Spotify’s drama “Batman Unburied” premiered in May at No. 1 on the company’s podcast charts, shifting Joe Rogan’s podcast from its usual position.
Podcasts and their incarnations on screen will differ, said O’Donnell, who was director of a theater company that came to Gimlet. She cites the example of “The Horror of Dolores Roach,” which began its life as a one-woman play written by Aaron Mark and produced for the stage by O’Donnell.
She worked with the playwright on an adaptation of the play for one of her first Gimlet podcasts and was a winner. It was purchased by Amazon Studios for an adaptation of the series, with Mark writing the pilot episode and acting as co-showrunner.
“For me, that’s the dream scenario of how a story can evolve in different media and the same creator goes with it … and finds out how the story can live” in each, O’Donnell said.
Joseph Fink, who co-created “Welcome to Night Vale” with Jeffrey Cranor, echoed that view. “What matters is how the podcast feels? What attracts people to it and can we build it from the ground up. This new way? Everyone is going to have to deal with this,” he said.
Fink and Cranor have so far resisted a television adaptation of their project, despite strong industry interest.
“As with books and plays, people are realizing that podcasts are just as valuable and rich as storytelling,” Fink said. But, he added, “it’s important for us that if we do a ‘Night Vale’ show, that it’s done in a way that we can be proud of and feel like it’s still ours.”
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Podcast dramas are transformed into television shows in the Hollywood revaluation
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