Discovery Is Fast-Tracking Its Own Spin on Serial

Pulpy podcast is being readied for crime network ID

With the runaway success of WBEZ Chicago's true crime podcast Serial, it's been a race among entertainment networks to see who can turn out a homebrewed spin on the hit audio program—and it looks like crime network Investigation Discovery (ID) is the winner.

At the Television Critics Association winter press tour today, Discovery exec Henry Schleiff shared details with Adweek about the upcoming podcast, which ID is fast-tracking for a spring launch, even though nearly everything about it—including the subject and host—remains up in the air. The idea for the podcast, Schleiff admitted, was inspired by Serial's success.

"I think we were all surprised by the amount of press and attention—and indeed some of the viewership, or 'soundship'—that the podcast got," explained Schleiff

He said the initiative highlights a lesson he learned from the late Don Hewitt, who created 60 Minutes.

"He used to say about 60 Minutes, 'If you can turn off the video and just listen to the voices, you've still got a great story.' You put that learning and you put the experience of podcasts together and we said, great, we tell stories really well, why don't we do our own version, and we'll do a multi-arc podcast," Schleiff said.

Schleiff said he hadn't considered doing a podcast before Serial.

"Talk about what's old is new!" he exclaimed. "I think the roots of these podcasts, in a very elementary fashion, have their historical background with the legendary Orson Welles' [War of the Worlds], when the Martians were coming." The difference, of course, being that everything in Serial actually happened.

So who will be this podcast's version of Serial host Sarah Koenig?

"Most likely, it will be a personality that we have worked with before," Schleiff replied. "Someone whose voice, whose presence you know. You can think of all of the usual suspects. It could be Michelle Ward, it could be Joe Kenda, so many others, all of whom have very distinct voices. [Like] Susan Lucci!"

Schleiff is still deciding whether the podcast will have a television or website tie-in to drive viewers hungry for more information. He's also debating whether the podcast's title will be more serious—a la Serial—or in the pulpy vein of ID's series like Wives With Knives, Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry? and Happily Never After.

"I would hope it's more in that pulpy vein," he said.

Also, he said that securing advertisers for the podcast seems probable, given the buzz surrounding Serial's sponsor, MailChimp.

"I think there's a real thirst and a real interest," Schleiff said. "And again, you have to appreciate the number of people who are traveling everywhere."