Podcasting is so hot right now. Top tier talent both in front of and behind the camera are rapidly moving into the medium, buoyed by the opportunities to tell different types of stories.
Deadline has been increasing its coverage of podcasting over the last 12 months, breaking stories about the likes of Demi Moore making QCode’s Dirty Diana and Elle Fanning narrating a non-fiction series about a deadly internet diet drug that cooks people alive. We’ve covered the likes of Shonda Rhimes, Jordan Peele and Will Ferrell moving into the medium as well as the plethora of TV and film projects that are now in development based on podcast IP.
This move has undoubtedly sped up since the pandemic hit – it’s easier to produce a podcast under lockdown than film or TV – and many of the major Hollywood studios are increasingly entering the arena with the likes of NBCU’s UCP launching its own audio studio and Amazon in talks to acquire Dirty John producer Wondery.
It’s been a fantastic year for new shows as well with breakout shows such as Spotify original Wind of Change, Hollywood con queen story Chameleon, Grateful Dead murder mystery Dead and Gone, basketball cheat scandal tale Whistleblower, Gamblers from The Vapors author David Hill and quirky British crisp mystery The Walkers Switch. Then there’s new seasons of the likes of Lost Notes, which highlighted stories about the likes of John Lennon and Darby Crash from 1980, Slow Burn’s fourth season about David Duke and Reply All’s magnificent episode The Case of the Missing Hit.
This is on top of all of the fantastic shows and episodes about the pandemic itself as well as the hotly contested Presidential election.
Moving into 2021, Deadline has highlighted some of the shows and series to watch out for. These will undoubtedly be in your ears next year and many will be (or have already been) optioned for film and TV.
CHAMELEON SEASON 2 / THE LONGEST NIGHT / BURN / COLEMAN’S FINEST
Chameleon: The Hollywood Con Queen was one of the breakout non-fiction podcasts of the year, telling the story of a rampant fraud perpetrated against the highest and lowest echelons of Holllywood. Campside, the team behind it founded by Josh Dean, Vanessa Grigoriadis, Adam Hoff and Matt Shaer, is now working on a second season with an entirely new story. The sophomore season of Chameleon will focus on a money laundering scheme and the FBI in Las Vegas, that’s been described as a modern day American Hustler.
The company is also working on a slew of other shows. It is prepping The Longest Night, a show for Audible from National Magazine Award winner Sean Flynn that tells the story of the largest Coast Guard rescue in history when the world’s worst fishing boat went down in Alaska and Coleman’s Finest, hosted by This American’s Life’s Davy Rothbart and Matt Cox, a Most Wanted felon who then served 12 years for mortgage fraud in the country’s largest federal prison in Florida, where he collected wild stories behind bars. The pair will guide listeners through a series of gritty and distinctive crime stories, often joined by the criminals themselves.
The Sister-backed business, which is also experimenting with a western podcast about a renegade Texas rancher on the border, has also teamed up with Anonymous Content on scripted podcast Burn, which is based on the true story of undercover agent ‘AJ Wolfe’, as he infiltrates the California arm of a cartel. It is written by CIA case officer-turned screenwriter John Blakeslee.
DARK ART / DO YOU KNOW MORDECHAI?
UCP Audio is the podcast arm of the Universal Studio Group, one of the first Hollywood studios to set up its own audio division. The company has already debuted The Lost Kids, Josh Bloch’s story about the troubled teens industry, and has projects including LaKeith Stanfield-voiced scripted series The End Up, from Will Weggel, Danny Luber and Mr Robot producer Esmail Corp, and cult investigative series The Followers: House of Prayer lined up for 2021.
Deadline can reveal that the company is already prepping more. Dark Art (w/t) is an investigative series that explores the shadowy and staggeringly lucrative global art market with each episode throwing compelling new light on an abiding art mystery. It is fronted by UK author and art expert, Ben Lewis, who produces alongside Antica Productions’ Kathleen Goldhar and Stuart Coxe, which is behind a number of Audible series.
That company is also working with UCP Audio on a genre-bending podcast story Do You Know Mordechai?. It tells the story of Ayra, Mordechai and Kathleen. Ayra had finally fallen in love again after a tough divorce, and Mordechai was everything: quirky, fun, and attentive. Her friend Kathleen was delighted for her, although a little wary of what she thought were some red flags. Then came a fateful Sunday night when a knock on the door revealed a woman who asked, “Do you know Mordechai?”.
POWER: THE MAXWELLS
Ghislaine Maxwell has been in the news this year after she was charged by the federal government with the enticement of minors and sex trafficking of undercharge girls, helping her ‘friend’ Jeffrey Epstein. But until her association with the convicted sex offender, she was best known as the daughter of media tycoon Robert Maxwell. Seven-part series Power: The Maxwells, from Sony Music Entertainment and Faultline: Bush, Blair & Iraq producer Somethin’ Else, will explore his rise and fall and his death from the deck of his super yacht under mysterious circumstances, something his daughter believes was a murder. It is hosted by Tara Palmeri, the investigative reporter best known as ABC News’ White House correspondent.
Sony Music Entertainment, which has been growing its podcast division, is also behind Hip Hop Raised Me, a series from DJ Semtex that highlights the hottest new rappers and the pioneering legends that paved the way. It will feature the likes of Public Enemy’s Chuck D, Busta Rhymes, French Montana, Jeezy and Sheff G.
NO PLACE LIKE HOME
A pair of red sequinned slippers worn by Judy Garland’s Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz were found in 2018, 13 years after they were stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. The culprit, however, has never been caught. This story is now the subject of No Place Like Home, an original non-fiction series from Cadence13, the company behind biker gang story Relative Unknown and the upcoming Unsolved Mysteries podcast. The show, which launches in summer 2021, will detail the theft and the return of the slippers and will also take listeners into the fraught relationship between Grand Rapids and their most famous daughter, the wacky world of Hollywood memorabilia and the conflict between Hollywood and Minnesota, small town suspicions, the tensions between the local cops and the FBI, and the market for lost and stolen art.
In the ’80s, the Chippendales were omnipresent, on daytime TV and calendars. But behind the mullets, oiled pecs and g-strings lay a darker story. Welcome To Your Fantasy tells the story of how two men – an immigrant from India, and a children’s TV producer from New Jersey – transformed a seedy strip club off the 405 freeway into a global phenomenon, and how paranoia and greed turned Chippendales into a hotbed for drugs, corruption and murder. The Spotify series, which is produced by Pineapple Street Studios and Gimlet Media, is hosted by Natalie Petrzela, an associate professor of history at The New School, who wades through over one hundred hours of archival footage, sixty-plus interviews with investigators, co-conspirators, former dancers and the women who loved them to tell the story.
DEATH AT THE WING
Succession exec producer and Vice director Adam McKay is a busy gentleman with film and television projects including Netflix sci-fi feature Don’t Look Up, Walmart limited series Kings of America and an HBO drama about the search for a COVID vaccine. But he’s also preparing a major podcast series – Death at the Wing. The narrative audio series, which is produced by Hyperobject Industries and Three Uncanny Four Productions, tells the story of a number of tragic deaths of basketball players in the 1980s and 1990s. McKay said, “It’s about a spate of tragic deaths in the ’80s and ’90s in basketball with rising young stars that were either going to make it to the NBA or had just started in the NBA. It’s a really interesting story that combines sports, politics, socio-economic stuff.”
JAMES PATTERSON’S THE COLDEST CASE
Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul and Krysten Ritter are reuniting for a new audio series that is a prequel to James Patterson’s novel The Black Book. The pair are starring, alongside Game of Thrones’ Nathalie Emmanuel, in the nine-part limited series after the best-selling author struck a deal with Amazon’s Audible. It tells the story of homicide detective Billy Harney, who sends his new partner, Kate, deep undercover in a notorious Chicago drug ring. When several members of the ring soon turn up dead, Billy abruptly pulls Kate out, blowing her cover. Kate’s informant quickly disappears. As does the ring’s black book… When Billy can’t find the informant, he wonders if Kate is secretly harboring her, since the two grew close during Kate’s weeks undercover. As Billy and Kate investigate the ring’s murders, they’ll be pulled into a dangerous web of corrupt politicians, vengeful billionaires, drugged pro-athletes, and violent, dark web conspiracies, all in search of the missing black book.
For the series, Patterson collaborated with writers and exec producers Aaron Tracy (Law & Order: SVU) and Ryan Silbert (Holy Rollers). The author also has four additional audio projects that include original storylines and will feature new characters. “I’m looking forward to building stories specifically for the listening experience—the spin of a tire wheel, the gravel in a villain’s voice, the note of triumph in a detective’s final words as he closes a case—all performed by gifted, top-tier talent,” said Patterson.
Superheroes are starting to get into the podcast space with the first original Batman series. David S. Goyer, who co-wrote the script for The Dark Knight Rises and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, is heading into Gotham with Batman Unburied. The series will explore the darker aspects of Bruce Wayne’s psychology. It comes after Warner Bros and DC Comics struck a wider deal with podcast platform Spotify earlier this summer to produce and distribute an original slate of narrative scripted podcasts. Goyer, who originated the story and exec produces, said, “I’ve been a fan of narrative podcasts for some time and was looking for the right story — returning to Batman seems like the perfect opportunity. We’ll be using the unique advantages of audio to dig into the more nightmarish members of the Dark Knight’s Rogues Gallery.”
Shonda Rhimes is becoming one of the most engaged top tier television creators in the audio medium. The Grey’s Anatomy creator launched Shondaland Audio last year and has been rolling out a number of unscripted shows. She and her team are now focusing on scripted titles to launch in 2021 including American Coup. The show comes from Law & Order: SVU writer Aaron Tracy and Royal Pains co-creator Andrew Lenchewski. It tells the story of Edith Wilson, the second wife of President Woodrow Wilson who was First Lady of the USA between 1915 and 1921. After her husband’s stroke in 1919, she managed the office of the President and was thought to have been instrumental in terms of what matters of state were brought to the bedridden Commander in Chief.
American Coup is one of a number of scripted shows for Shondaland, which also includes #Matter from Raising Kanan writer Dylan Brown, which explores a case of police brutality through the lens of a reporter. Rhimes, who co-produces her shows with iHeart Media, is also behind a slew of unscripted shows including Black Girl, a documentary-style podcast from Dream Hampton and Yesha Callahan, and The Laverne Cox Show with the Orange Is The New Black star.
THE PLAYBOY INTERVIEW / SONIC LEAP
“I was only reading it for the articles,” was the regular riposte when getting caught with a copy of Playboy magazine. Now, many of those articles are being used as inspiration for a new podcast series from Audio Up, the podcast studio founded by Jared Gutstadt and Dennis Quaid. The Playboy Interview will use the magazine’s archive of 500 interviews with the likes of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lennon and Yoko Ono in audio re-enactments. Gutstadt said the hope is to get actors of the caliber of Samuel L. Jackson and Denzel Washington to narrate. “One of my favorite movies is Frost/Nixon, so think about that but on a weekly basis. Each week we unpack some of the most important conversations of the 20th century,” he said. “In success, these could be mini-Frost-Nixons, where they could turn into TV shows and films if we get the right package together.”
The company has also partnered with Lava For Good, the podcast company founded by leading record label exec and Wrongful Conviction host Jason Flom, and record label Republic Records on Sonic Leap. The show, which is being released via iHeart Media, is a ‘sci-fi, synth-pop musical with a comedy twist’ that tells the almost true story of new signings Hero The Band. It will work as both a promotional vehicle for the band and a story. Gutstadt, whose company is also making scripted country music podcast Uncle Drank with Quaid and Gary Busy, said, “What if we take the foundation of this crappy year and the fiction of the band was a band ready for success derailed by 2020 and we’re going to take them back to the future and transported to the best house party of the 80s. I want to figure out a way to get people into podcasting as a form of music discovery and keep them in the audio world longer.”
Elle Fanning is narrating a narrative documentary podcast series based on a story titled The Deadly Internet Diet Drug That Cooks People Alive. The Great star will front One Click for Cadence13, the Entercom-backed podcast company, based on The Daily Beast article from Jessica Wapner, former science editor of Newsweek that was originally commissioned by Vespucci Group, the film, TV, podcast & multimedia incubator that produces fact-based stories. It tells the story of the controversial diet pill and bodybuilding aid DNP that was originally used in WWI-era artillery shells with the show also exploring issues of body image and mental health. “Through Jessica’s investigation into DNP, a drug I had never heard of before, we hope to uncover and expose those preying on the vulnerable,” said Fanning. “This isn’t a chemistry story—it’s the story of 21-year-olds who burned alive from the inside trying to reach an intangible goal of what society’s beauty standards are today.”
THERE BE MONSTERS
iHeartMedia will be hoping that Star Wars fans will be drawn to scripted podcast There Be Monsters, which stars John Boyega. The Small Axe star voices the show alongside Hollywood star Darren Criss. It tells the story of Jack Locke, voiced by Boyega, a mysterious hero with a vendetta who infiltrates a Silicon Valley body-hacking startup run by an enigmatic CEO Max Fuller, voiced by Criss, whose highly secretive creations promise to enhance human biology in incredible ways – but every drug has a side effect. Mary Shelton, Clark Gregg and Sahr Ngaujah also star. The sci-fi thriller launches in January.
Conal Byrne, president of the iHeartPodcast Network, told Deadline, “Fiction hasn’t had its Serial moment, but it’s one of the next big genres in podcasting.” Also launching for iHeart in January is Meeting Tom Cruise, hosted by Black-ish’s Jeff Meacham and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Joel Johnstone, as they bring on celebrity guests who share stories about the Mission Impossible star. Elsewhere, the company also have big shows coming from President Bill Clinton and Michael Bolton.
CUPID & THE REAPER / TOMORROW
The market for the ears of kids and young adults is seen as one of the next growth areas for the podcast business. As such, watch out for a few shows from Generation Z Media (GZM), the company behind the podcast that turned into Disney+ series The Big Fib. Its slate includes Cupid and The Reaper, a follow up to Becoming Mother Nature, which co-founder Benjamin Strouse describes as a “tween Avengers”. The show tells the origin story of middle-schoolers and mismatched heroes Marcus Duffy and Mondo Ramirez, aka Cupid and the Grim Reaper. The company is also preparing Tomorrow, which tells the story of billionaire entrepreneur Oliver Warbucks, who as America recovered from a pandemic and the second Great Depression that followed, adopts a young orphan named Annie, who is plunged into a mystery on the fifth anniversary of her ‘Gotcha Day’.
From 1974 to 1975, a serial killer terrorized San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ community. Police coined a name for him: The Doodler. But the investigation went cold and the killer walked away free. A podcast, from the San Franscisco Chronicle, Ugly Duckling Films and Sony Music aims to change that. The podcast will tell the story of the ongoing hunt for the notorious serial killer, who is suspected to have murdered up to 14 people. It is hosted by Pulitzer Prize-nominated Chronicle reporter Kevin Fagan and the paper’s longtime investigative reporter Michael Taylor, with contributions from King Kaufman.