Serial: the podcast, the phenomena, the furor
Serial podcast was released from September to December 2014. It was a reexamination of Hae Min Lee’s murder in Baltimore 1999, the investigation by police, and the subsequent conviction of Adnan Syed. It was billed as “one story, told week by week” and produced by Julie Snyder and Sarah Koenig, producers from the hugely popular NPR/podcast crossover ‘This American Life‘, which covers several stories in each weekly, themed episode in a similar style to Serial.
According to later interviews with Serial’s creators, Julie Snyder and Sarah Koenig, the podcast was somewhat experimental, and they did not expect much success. Their first episode was released and broadcast as a special episode of their parent show, ‘This American Life‘ and, before its official debut, was already ranking at number 1 on the iTunes charts. Serial broke download records, becoming the fastest podcast to reach 5 million iTunes downloads and reaching 75 million by March 2015. The team won multiple awards and Serial is widely acknowledged as the inspiration for the subsequent surge in both listening to and production of podcasts, particularly in the true-crime genre.
Serial: the podcast
Serial’s first episode was officially released on October 4th 2014. Adnan and Hae’s case was the subject of Season 1, consisting of twelve weekly episodes.
The Serial website includes a few maps and documents about the case
Fans of the show produced a set of transcripts for every episode of Serial
There are multiple other fansites and wikis which focus just on Serial, including this one which is part of a podcast themed wiki that also includes a list of true-crime themed podcasts readers might appreciate.
When Serial became the subject
As well as record breaking audience figures, the media attention on Serial was unprecedented for a podcast. Adnan, Hae and their story, as well as their families and friends, were thus catapulted into international recognition beyond just the listenership, but Koenig, Snyder and even Dana Chivvis also achieved some fame and were interviewed repeatedly including on national TV chat shows. In 2015 Snyder and Koenig even began an on-off lecture tour based on their experiences making the podcast, and featuring their piecing together of the history of Mr S’s “flashing” history and other elements of the “Leakin Park” episode.
Serial’s (then) unusual decision to make Koenig herself, and her investigative process, a main element of the show, provoked many discussions. Another distinctive storytelling choice, also widely imitated since, was the acknowledgement to listeners that investigations were still ongoing as the episodes were released. Despite valid criticisms it is clear that there were some direct impacts on the podcast’s investigation (e.g. “Porn Store” Josh and the West Side hitman, or Don’s curious revelations about prosecutor Urick yelling at him) while other subjects appeared to be a direct reaction to listener critiques and researches (e.g. The Best Buy Payphone revisited). The heated discussions and “armchair detective” work inspired by the podcast also came in for media comment and criticism, (including some criticism of listeners by the production team!).
Below we’ve picked out some of the more unusual, significant or insightful pieces written (or spoken) about Serial itself, “meta” narratives about Serial and their production or editorial choices, or their place in popular culture. Also some statements by Serial and/or the Intercept writers and interactions between them after the interviews of Jay Wilds and Kevin Urick, which reveal aspects of the production process.
While the whole wiki is of course about the same subject as Serial, and this page is about Serial itself, we do have closely related pages devoted to the news coverage of the case itself (including during Serial’s original season-run), and another for other TV, podcasts and media formats with a long form or just less newsy approach to the case, plus the Undisclosed podcast which of course picked up where Serial left off.
Podcasts Series About Serial
Serial Season 1 created the phenomena of podcasts about podcasts.
Conversations on Serial (a video series) – Hosted by Peter Rorabaugh, with Rabia Chaudry as his guest and others including Saad Chaudry, Chris Flohr, and other friends of Adnan. A discussion of “meta-narratives” and contents of each episode of Serial Season 1 as it aired.
Crime Writers On (formerly Crime Writers on Serial) – Hosted by Rebecca Lavoie, Kevin Flynn, Lara Bricker, and Toby Ball. Episodes 1-3 review Season 1 of Serial. Later episodes include updates on the Syed/Lee case.
Slate’s Serial Spoiler Special – Weekly recap of Season 1 of Serial
Serially Obsessed – Weekly recap of Season 1 of Serial by three comedians from New York
Serial Serial – Weekly recap of Serial by The Onion’s A.V. Club
Wait, Wait, Don’t Kill Me, mini-season of Secrets, Crimes and Audiotape a podcast by Wondery. 5 episodes starting on 11/15/2016. A spoof featuring Sarah Koenig’s imagined murderous past as comedy musical satire
True Crime Obsessed – Revisiting Serial Season 1 in 2018 by Patrick Hinds and Gillian Pennsavalle. Includes interviews with Rabia Chaudry and Asia McClain. Serial season requires Patreon support at $5/month level.
Other Media About Serial
White reporter privilege, Jay Caspian King, The Awl, 11/13/14
Behind the scenes of ‘Serial’: An interview with co-creator Julie Snyder, Melissa Maerz, Entertainment Weekly, 11/20/14
Is It Wrong to Be Hooked on Serial? Adrienne LaFrance, The Atlantic, 11/8/2014
A Psychological Explanation for Why ‘Serial’ Drives Some People Crazy
Jesse Singal, The Cut, 12/05/14
The backlash against ‘Serial’ and why it’s wrong, Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, 12/3/14 [A response to ‘White reporter privilege’]
Our jury is in on ‘Serial,’ Eli Hager, The Marshall Project, 12/10/14
I started ‘Serial’ but it didn’t end the way I had hoped, Rabia Chaudry, Time, 12/18/14
Funny or Die, The Final Episode of Serial, 12/18/14
Saturday Night Live, Serial: The Christmas Surprise, 12/21/14
Surreal listening, a wrongfully convicted man’s take on ‘Serial,’ Ryan Ferguson, Signature, 1/9/15
Natasha Vargas-Cooper’s response to Serial’s complaints via Twitter, @natashavc, 1/8/15
Serial’s response to inquiry from The Intercept via Twitter, @serial, 1/8/15
‘The Intercept’ Reporters: Our ‘Serial’ Article is “Being Held Hostage,” Lorena O’Neil, The Hollywood Reporter, 1/9/15
The Intercept’s ‘Serial’ trolling is just mind boggling, Martin Austermuhle, Medium, 1/10/15
Natasha Vargas-Cooper’s Tweets about the publication of part 2 of Kevin Urick Interview, Natasha Vargas-Cooper, Twitter, 1/14/15
Natasha Vargas-Cooper’s Tumblr post about the publication of part 2 of Kevin Urick Interview, Natasha Vargas-Cooper, Tumblr, 1/14/15
‘Serial’ truthers are now doxxing women, Emily Shire and Ben Collins, The Daily Beast, 2/20/15
Dana Chivvis of Serial podcast: ‘We were at the centre of a whirlwind and we just hunkered down’ Miranda Sawyer, The Guardian, 3/22/15
Serial podcast rehabilitated a schoolgirl’s murder, so where’s the feminist outrage? Ann Brocklehurst, AnnRBrocklehurst.com, 4/21/15
‘Serial’ becomes first podcast to win a Peabody award, Christopher Rosen, Entertainment Weekly, 4/20/15
Rabia Chaudry responds to my feminist take on Serial podcast, and I respond back to Rabia, Ann Brocklehurst, AnnRBrocklehurst.com, 5/17/15
The one perspective on Serial you haven’t heard: What prisoners think, Kendra Hovey, Medium, 5/24/15
Serial brings to light work of Innocence Project, Eric Williamson and Mary Wood, UVA Lawyer, Spring 2015
Voices: Serial adviser, Illinois Bar Journal, August 2015 [interview with Gina De Vito, legal adviser to Serial, prosecutor, and sister-in-law of Serial producer Julie Snyder]
Dead certainty, Kathryn Schulz, The New Yorker, 1/25/16
‘Making a Murderer,’ ‘biased’ journalism, & necessary outrage, Amelia McDonnell-Parry, The Frisky, 1/25/16
Serial, redux: The rhetorical triangle shifts, Brian Baron, Brianbaron.org. via archive.org, 2/6/16
‘Serial’ takes the stand: How a podcast became a character in its own narrative
Monica Hesse, Washington Post, 2/8/16
Why Sarah Koenig’s ‘Serial’ season 1 updates from Adnan’s trial are so frustrating, Katy Waldman, Slate, 2/9/16
Sarah Koenig, Sarah Koenig, Transom.org, 6/21/16 [“manifesto” describing how Koenig prepared/produced the “Leakin Park” episode of Serial]
The Producers of SERIAL: Sarah Koenig, Julie Snyder and Dana Chivvis Columbia Journalism School, On Assignment Podcast 9/13/16 [Recording of a panel discussion with the Serial producers]
American Vandal Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda. Netflix 15/09/17 [A mockumentary series set in an American High School, parodying the resurgent true crime genre and Serial in particular.]
“American Vandal” Is Like “Serial,” But with Dick Jokes, Jia Tolentino, New Yorker, 10/06/17