No cold cases left to reheat

There are a lot of true crime podcasts, aren’t there? That feels like a very obvious thing to say, but knowing it in abstract is not the same thing as searching those two words in a directory and seeing thousands and thousands of results spill down the screen.

They existed before the first series of Serial in 2014, of course, but the media storm that show caused resulted in endless imitations. It’s hard to believe now that there are any cold cases left to reheat, or any innocent people still serving time for murders they didn’t commit. The whole genre is still so ubiquitous that it’s subject of snarky viral tweets:

mike sacks@michaelbsacks

If you liked "Making a Murderer" and "Serial" then you will LOVE that I just killed someone and am now denying it

March 29, 2018
Is there any space left within the parameters of a true crime podcast for originality, though? So much of what gets released in this space features the same narrative structure, the same sound design, the same production techniques — because it’s popular, even if it is often boring or sensationalist or unethical or some combination of all three. New true crime shows top the charts all the time. But if you are interested in innovating while also attracting that same audience, what can you do?

I put this question to Pat Kelly, co-founder of the Kelly&Kelly creative studio in Vancouver, Canada, and creator of a new podcast called This Sounds Serious. “Originally our instinct was to really go after the parody of the whole thing,” he said. “You know, really attack the tropes that are quite prevalent in all of the true crime podcasts.”

Then, during the planning process, the Onion’s A Very Fatal Murder podcast was released, and he and his team decided to shift away from direct satire. “We said to ourselves: let’s really challenge ourselves to create a tale, but at the same time use it as a backdrop and infuse it with our sensibility, which is this deadpan brand of humour.” Kelly is the co-host of CBC Radio’s This is That, a radio show with a long track record of funny skits and surreal segments.

With This Sounds Serious, Kelly said, they were keen to experiment with a successful long form story, while also sending up true crime. “We’re focusing on creating a story and hopefully the audience will be attached to the story and keep listening because they’re intrigued. . . But at the same time they’re getting a laugh.”

This first series focuses on fictional, ridiculous calls to the emergency services, spinning a tale out of the bizarre sequence of events that follows one call in particular. It “tells the untrue story of Daniel Bronstadt and the most confounding 9-1-1 call ever made”. Everything about it sounds right: the obsessive female investigator/narrator, the improbable interviewees, the spooky music. Except it’s all very silly (or “full of nonsense” , as Kelly put it later on in our conversation).

“We’re able to fulfil our parody itch by the types of media that we throw in there,” Kelly said. “So whether it’s fake music or fake television shows or fake interview shows that exist within a story that's how we’re fulfilling the need to do straight up parody.”

Kelly told me that he is fascinated by true crime podcasts and why people like them so much. “I think we go to these podcasts because there’s a story and there’s something fulfilling about it because you know there’s going to be a mystery. And at the same time you also are dying to know what happened,” he said. “And yet the funny thing about a lot of the true crime podcasts that I find is that they’re never ever resolved.”

These true crime stories work particularly well as podcasts, he said, both because people like being told a tale and the fact that podcasting is such an intimate experience”. “Maybe goes back to our fundamental desire from when we were kids just to be told a story. True crime and mystery inherently have that story is built in.”

The audience response for This Sounds Serious so far has been intriguing, he says — there are two episodes of the first series out at the time of writing. They’ve had people get in touch who are just enjoying the send-up of the genre, as well as “lots of very dedicated true crime fans who have said ‘I love true crime and I love this because it’s a nice little departure’” and people who come at it primarily as a comedy podcast (Kelly&Kelly also make the hit show Stop Podcasting Yourself).

Will there be another cold case for This Sounds Serious? “If we go on to a season two, it doesn’t necessarily need to be about a murder,’ Kelly said. “We could do a fake sports story or the story of the downfall of a corporation or whatever it may be.” He’d like to think of the show as more of a storytelling brand, he explains, than just a short-lived true crime send up. “If you look at the documentary menu on Netflix, it’s like any one of those stories we could turn into this series. . . I think it's just a really nice casing to say ‘this sounds serious — but it’s not’.”

You can listen to This Sounds Serious in all podcatchers now and find out more at thissoundsserious.com


The podcast recommend

Peta B writes:

“Listening to the overwhelming excitement of the presenters on BBC Radio 4’s Best of Natural History Radio being shown a special birds’ nest, or frog spawn in a unique area of a forest is just so thrilling and makes me feel so much better about the world. Their excitement is contagious, their voices are lovely to listen to (an important aspect of podcasts I feel), and the content is both informative and relaxing.”

If you make or listen to a podcast that I and the rest of the PodMail readership should know about, tell me about it in this handy submission form.


The podcast links

  1. Why podcast advertising is about to become so lucrativeTechworld

  2. When I Lost My Sight, I Found PodcastsBello Collective

  3. Trader Joe’s podcast is weirdly popular on Apple right nowFast Company

  4. How to set up a guest interview for your podcastWe Edit Podcasts

  5. The Best Podcasts of 2018 (So Far)Vulture (SO HAPPY to see my long time favourite Wooden Overcoats make this prestigious American list — read my interview with one of the writers here — and sad that they’re the only British and/or independent show on there).


That’s everything for today. Thanks for reading! Don’t forget that you can subscribe to get two extra emails about podcasting from me every week: I do commentary on industry news on Thursdays, and playlists of great shows to listen to on Sundays.

Coming up this week — why I don’t think video podcasts will ever take off and a playlist of my favourite self-improvement shows.