Editor’s Note: Have you been listening to Serial? The first season of the This American Life-affiliated podcast hosted by Sarah Koenig quietly became a sensation since it began in October, and wrapped up with its final episode last Thursday.
A few of us at AKHIA were hooked, and we couldn’t stop talking about it. What follows are a few takes from around the office.
Jessica Forrester: What Slate pointed out, and what really resonated for me, was that the most powerful element of Serial wasn’t what was there—it’s all the things that weren’t. Think about how many roads Sarah and her producers went down (and down and down and down again) that simply didn’t pan out or come to fruition—but were left in anyway.
Reaching out to Hae’s family. The did-it-or-did-it-not-exist Best Buy payphone. And that damn Nisha call.
We don’t know the truth about any of these things. And we probably never will. (Cue Sarah’s trademark sigh…)
But here’s the thing: In traditional pieces of storytelling and content (and I’m using that phrase loosely, because at the moment, I’m thinking beyond podcasts), some of these details are probably never mentioned. Because they don’t tie up nicely. They don’t help to solve the equation.
But… those details are the things that pulled me in. That frustrated me. Those untied loose ends… those are the things that I’m still turning over in my head, even after all is said and done.
So what’s the lesson to be learned here? To me, it’s that difference is in the details. When crafting anything, from a podcast to a marketing plan to a product video, don’t overlook—or exclude—the details… no matter how untidy they are.
Lukas Treu: For many, Serial was their introduction to podcasts. I have been listening to podcasts for several years now, but even for me, Serial was something new. Most of my other choices in podcasts have been educational in nature—Stuff You Should Know, Stuff You Missed In History Class, Radiolab, Freakonomics, You Are Not So Smart, to name a few. Serial is the first podcast I listened to for entertainment purposes, and I never could have guessed I would finally have that hip feeling of being up on the latest pop culture phenomenon thanks to podcasting.
And Serial is, by all accounts, a cultural phenomenon. It felt like a throwback to the 1950s this morning as people streamed into offices asking, “Did you listen last night?!” It wasn’t the conclusion to a popular TV show or movie that everyone discussed, but freely available audio. Which, in my mind, is pretty cool.
So, what does this mean? For one thing, many more people are now turned on to podcasts than they were before, and I have to imagine that companies are taking note. Whether this means we’ll see more investment in podcasting as a form of content marketing, sponsorship opportunity or mass entertainment, I am not sure… but I think a case could be made for any or all of it. And, personally, I am as excited to see how the repercussions of Serial’s success will play out as I am to see where next season takes us.
Bill Delaney: How did you expect it to end?
Because the week leading up to the final episode of Serial this past Thursday felt a bit like a hyper-compressed hype cycle reminiscent of those final weeks before the end of AMC’s Breaking Bad. There was a whole lot of wondering about how it would end—as if host Sarah Koenig had total control of how to wrap this story up with nice bow.
Because, as it inevitably turned out, there is no real “ending” to blurt. Adnan Sayid remains in prison; he has an appeal in January. Serial is real-life, non-fiction, journalism—not scripted television. But it gained momentum like it: the word of mouth, the online fervor, speculation, and of course, the need to know how it’d end. How those expectations came to life is an interesting point to ponder: Was it Sarah Koenig, spinning dry true crime into an irresistible whodunit? Was it how we, the listeners, have been conditioned to consume most forms of entertainment?
Because it’s sobering to remember that this is a true story: Real people continue to be affected by a horrible crime. And as a long-form investigation of the hows and whys, Serial succeeded, even if there’s no need for spoiler alerts.