The team behind Slate’s critically acclaimed podcast series Slow Burn—named Show of the Year by Apple Podcasts on Tuesday—spoke in a new episode available today about the making of its timely seventh season on the years leading up to the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.
The Slow Burn team members take listeners behind the scenes of the show and discuss producing a season focused on the abortion debate in the 1970s as the issue took center stage in American politics.
The seventh season was released in June, in the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe, but Matthews had the idea for the show soon after the release of Slow Burn’s first season on Watergate.
“I had been interested in doing a season on Roe v. Wade since the very beginning of Slow Burn,” Matthews said. “I thought it had all of the hallmarks of a good season: A story that most people know the broad sketches of, but maybe not the specifics, despite it being such an important inflection point in American history.”
“But it was really when the composition of the Supreme Court changed that made it feel more and more urgent. With Amy Coney Barrett starting her first full term and Dobbs vs. Whole Women’s Health on the docket, we knew that June of 2022 was likely when the Court would issue a decision that could effectively overturn Roe and decided it was the perfect time to produce our Roe season.”
The conversation around abortion had become “totally polarized and stuck,” Matthews said. In going back to the ‘70s, the Slow Burn team took listeners to an unfamiliar time when more Republicans than Democrats supported abortion rights.
“I started thinking about how we could cover this story in a way that might expand what people understood about this subject—that could get them thinking about this in a way that was outside of what they were used to,” she said. “That’s when I decided that the right thing to do was go back in time to the early ‘70s, when the decision was still up in the air and your party affiliation didn’t correlate with what you thought about abortion. It felt like there would be a lot of room there to actually re-engage people on the subject. And I think we delivered a season that has a lot of surprising moments.”
The show team also dealt with an unexpected twist in the news cycle: the leak of a draft opinion from Justice Samuel Alito in the Dobbs case in May.
“Believe it or not, Susan had mapped out the season at least six months beforehand so we were already planning to release it during the June SCOTUS term,” said Derek John, executive producer of narrative podcasts for Slate. “That foresight allowed us to do most of our reporting and tape gathering in advance. However, once the news leaked, there was a flurry of late night messages as we brainstormed how to respond. We ended up scrambling over the next 24 hours to finalize the trailer, artwork, etc., so we could publicly announce the new season in the leak’s aftermath. It was a wild few days as we realized these musty old documents and forgotten stories we had been collecting were suddenly very relevant to current events.”
For more on the making of the show, listen to a conversation featuring five members of the Slow Burn team: Matthews, John, producers Samira Tazari and Sophie Summergrad, and editor Josh Levin.
The conversation is one of six brand new Show of the Year Extras released Tuesday. You can listen to the rest exclusively on Apple Podcasts.
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