Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the directing team behind films like 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie, are bringing the wildly popular Serial podcast to television.
Together with Fox 21 Television, the studio behind Homeland, Lord and Miller have optioned the rights to the podcast from longtime This American Life contributor Sarah Koenig. They plan to tell the story of producing a podcast that basically went viral.
After the enormous success of the Peabody Award-winning first season, the big question is how on earth Serial will top itself. Multiple outlets have reported that the podcast will focus on Bowe Bergdahl as its subject for Season 2.
In choosing to tell a story about telling a story, Lord and Miller will eliminate some of the angst that might have arisen if they were simply adapting Serial for television. The chances that it will turn into a hipster procedural lower significantly.
That's an important distinction.
Part of what made the first season of Serial so addictive was the way it isolated you with your thoughts and left you free to visualize what Koenig was reporting and the conversations she had with the people in Adnan Syed's life. The fact that the audience wasn't being fed visuals — aside from the ones being provided if you went hunting for them on the Serial website — forced you to pay attention in a way that television often does not. You couldn't rely on scouring a screen for clues that a person might be lying based on facial expressions or body language.
Podcasts and television are both passive mediums, but TV is arguably more so. Did the fact that we couldn't actually see Syed sitting behind bars and dressed as an inmate make it easier for Serial's audience to humanize him?
This American Life, the radio show where Koenig honed this particular storytelling style, had its own cross-medium experiment that, by most estimations, went well. It ran for two seasons and won three Emmys. The TV series had a curated, cinematic, indie feel that complemented the overarching style of the radio show. In fact, there's a lengthy essay on the This American Life website about these very reconciliations.
"We got offers from two networks to shoot a pilot, but we turned these offers down because it wasn't clear how to make a TV show that would feel anything like our radio show," the show explained. "After months of meetings and a small test shoot, we called it quits. We figured it couldn't be done."
Public radio listeners tend to feel a sense of cult intimacy and ownership over their favorite shows that can be surprising to more casual listeners. The fact that Fox 21 TV Studios president Bert Salke has worked previously with This American Life and its host and producer Ira Glass, suggests that Serial will enjoy similarly sensitive treatment.
"From the very first week of Serial's release last fall, everyone at Fox 21 TVS was obsessed with the podcast," Salke said in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter. "One year later, thanks to the incredible passion of Chris and Phil, who flew to New York and shared their vision with Sarah, Julie (Snyder), Alissa (Shipp) and Ira for what the series could be, we're moving forward on this exciting project. What you have here is a 'once every 10 years creative storytelling phenom' with a 'once in 10 years take' with a 'once in 25 years creative team.' We are confident we'll attract a spectacular writer and look forward to pitching it to outlets very soon."