Brow Beat

Serial Is One of the Best Podcasts Ever Made. Why Does It Need to Be a TV Show, Too? 

 Sarah Koenig.

Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Peabody Awards

Serial, apparently, is now ready to shake off the constraints of radio and leap on screen. The director-producers behind The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street move forward with Sarah Koenig and her team to create a cable show. The show will focus on the making of one season of the podcast—one as yet unreported and unreleased, so don’t expect to re-encounter Adnan Syed or Hae Min Lee. According to Deadline, Christopher Miller and Phil Lord—who’ve brought the project to Fox 21TVS— are longtime fans of Serial, and the masterminds at This American Life return the love. “Chris and Phil take an unexpected approach to telling stories and that is so appealing to us,” said producer Julie Snyder. “Developing a show with them is exciting because we feel like we speak the same language, only they’re smarter than us.”

To the extent that setting brilliant minds to work on something that has been a pre-tested success will likely result in something watchable, a Serial TV series is not the worst idea. (It will certainly attract a big viewership.) All wildly popular cutural products must worry about complacency; a shift into a new medium may keep everyone involved scraggy and alert. The podcast’s touches of mordant humor often go uncelebrated, and as seasoned comedians, perhaps Miller and Lord will draw out surprising shades in Koenig’s narrative voice.

But to me, this latest twist speaks mostly to the property’s ever-burgeoning awareness of its own power, which sometimes expresses itself in odd ways. (See the crew’s haughty response to Maxim’s reporting about upcoming seasons.) Serial is already so perceptive about, and interested in, its own construction that a show offering behind-the-scenes glimpses of this process seems redundant. And it is unclear what the TAL folks have to gain from transplanting this story—so perfectly suited to the intimate audio format—onto the screen. There are plenty of cerebral detective dramas on Netflix; plenty of true crime documentaries on HBO; plenty of warm and winning protagonists. If Serial would like to be “more” than a fascinating, historic innovation in a relatively new and undersung form—if it wants to join the approximately 7.89 billion other narratives unspooling on TV screens across the planet—it could very well succeed. But why would it want that?