The podcast “Serial” blew up in 2014 with its debut season as it followed the story of Adnan Syed and the murder of his teenage girlfriend. Reaching nearly 4 million downloads per episode, the series was the most popular podcast ever made.
However, the idea to tell a tale week by week in serialized form has been around since the beginning of storytelling. Now, “Serial” producer Julie Synder and host Sarah Koenig are doing a series of events to talk about why this kind of storytelling can be so compelling in the new age of broadcast.
So, what makes Serial so binge-worthy?
“Serialized storytelling has gone on for quite a while,” said Snyder. But the right story needs turns, complications and contradictions. In season one, Snyder said that complexity was what separated their story from the many exploitative murder dramas in the media.
“Those stories don’t feel like people are three dimensional,” she said. “You don’t see ambiguity, nuance and humanity. I don’t think they reflect life in the way we all inherently know.”
While the first season centered around the small community of Woodlawn High School in Baltimore (Snyder said they spoke with almost everyone involved in the story), season two is tackling a much bigger world.
It tells the story of Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier who was held for five years by the Taliban, and then arrested for desertion.
“This story about Bowe Berghdal and his captivity, his decision to walk off the base, what he was trying to say about the war in Afghanistan, the impact it had on fellow soldiers, how it affected national policy, what it explains about the war and peace process and what we’re doing as a county… the world of this, we could go on forever.”
The world is so big that Snyder and Koenig announced in January the show would change to a bi-weekly schedule.
“There are so many people that were involved in it and affected by it,” she said. “We needed to do more reporting, more interviews and get more people involved.”
A binge-worthy story does not, however, need an element of murder, abduction or torture to gain such a large listener-base, believes Snyder.
“We’re basically just trying to explain somebody’s experience and point of view. That’s the guiding principle for all the stories we do, no matter what the subject is.”