Podcasting is increasingly being used as a story device by film and TV screenwriters – and it’s becoming integral to certain narratives too.
It’s 1998, and sophisticated fashionista Carrie Bradshaw is inspiring millions worldwide with her designer clothing, shoes and seemingly endless pot of money. She has similarly fabulous friends, lives in a sprawling Manhattan apartment and accomplishes all of her walk-in closet goals while writing her weekly sex and relationship column, Sex And The City.
For as much as Sex And The City was as realistic as the graphics were on a ZX Spectrum, it was always an idealistic view of living, working and socialising in New York, told through the eyes (and monologue) of Carrie. For all its flaws (and it has plenty), it spoke to a generation and undoubtedly inspired that generation to become writers and live in, let’s be honest, probably a considerably smaller apartment in Manhattan.
When the inevitable reboot came along in December 2021, not only did we get an update to the general everyday lives of Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte (with Kim Cattrall’s character Samantha’s absence felt at every corner), we also saw Carrie at a new job.
She had become a podcaster. She was taking her late-90s-early-00s love life advice and translating it for the digital age, on a diverse LGBTQ-friendly sex and relationships podcast. While many of the plot lines and character motivations in And Just Like That didn’t feel honest or true, this one did, because of course perpetually fashionable Carrie Bradshaw would turn to the new trend of becoming a podcaster.
Carrie Bradshaw is not alone either. The rise of the podcaster in film and TV is occurring in parallel to the rise of the podcaster in our everyday lives, and unlike And Just Like That, it’s becoming integral to these stories.
Take Disney+’s smash hit Only Murders In The Building. That series starts when three people, living in the same swanky Manhattan building (this is not a trend, I promise), happen upon the fact that they all love listening to the same true crime podcast (itself a parody of fan-favourite true crime podcast Serial). When a grisly murder occurs in their building, they decide to solve it and create their own true crime podcast at the same time. While the podcast isn’t the main focus of the TV show, it certainly adds a twist to the existing ‘whodunit’ formula that makes Only Murders In The Building seem fresher than most mystery-comedies. The fact the core lead trio are, themselves, obsessed with a true crime podcast taps into the zeitgeist surrounding true crime shows like Serial and S-Town.
No spoilers of course, but the nature of true crime podcasts makes them compelling listens, and Only Murders In The Building capitalises on that. By the second season of the TV show, the in-universe podcast has its own in-universe fans, and merchandise which ties (or should that be tie-dyes?) into yet another murder in their building. The building management better be careful, or they’ll become as synonymous with murder as the quaint fictional English county of Midsomer.
It’s not just TV that’s embracing podcasting. Movies are too, with recent examples including an actual character called Podcast, with a podcast, in legacy sequel Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Joaquin Phoenix as a podcast host on a road trip with his nephew in C’Mon, C’Mon. Then Millie Bobby Brown’s character Madison Russell in Godzilla vs Kong listens to an conspiracy podcast hosted by Brian Tyree Henry’s character Bernie Hayes, and Rhian Rees and Jefferson Hall as true crime podcasters in Rob Zombie’s 2018 Halloween reboot (and sequel to the 1978 original), who like in Only Murders, are amateur investigative journalists who “reexamine murders from an unbiased lens”, podcasting about the night 40 years prior when Michael Myers first went on his killing spree. The fact that Myers is himself completely non-verbal and therefore his motives remain unclear, doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. For a podcast, having the power of speech seems pretty vital…
The list doesn’t end there, either. See also MTV’s Scream series, Vengeance and Chucky. Plus you know you’ve made it when Hallmark movies use podcasting as a plot point, in Hallmark Originals like Dear Christmas and TV shows like Chronicle Mysteries.
Movies can also come from podcasts. Kevin Smith’s 2014 film Tusk was derived from a segment on his podcast SModcast, where Smith and producer/friend Scott Mosier discussed a story around a Gumtree ad in which a homeowner offered a free place to stay if the inhabitant agreed to dress like a walrus. The conversation continued after that, and nearly an hour of the show was devoted to reconstructing and retelling a potential narrative based on the ad. After that, Smith used Twitter to poll the public about whether or not the hypothetical movie should be made. They agreed, and Tusk transpired as a result. The Gumtree ad itself was a prank, but the guy who posted it, Chris Parkinson, would end up becoming the Associate Producer on Tusk.
With all this talk of podcaster protagonists, and with reboots of existing properties the only way any studio will greenlight anything, it’s not outside of the realm of possibility that Dr Frasier Crane could come back hosting his own advice podcast in the long-mooted Frasier reboot. A remake of Grosse Pointe Blank, the 1990 movie starring John Cusack and Minnie Driver, could easily make Debi Newberry a podcast host, right? Or, if reboots of existing IPs aren’t to executive’s likings, what about making your next film or TV project based on a podcast? Shows like WeCrashed and The Dropout are taken pretty much verbatim from podcasts of the same name. The Kickstarter for the TV series of Film Stories may be announced shortly (spoiler, it probably won’t!)
As our culture shifts into podcasts becoming part of our day-to-day lives, film and TV is adapting to translate our audible comfort zones back into the media we devour. The podcasts we like to spend time with, that we listen to on the commute, especially the small indies who are, literally, just like us.
Everyday people are becoming the heroes of their own stories. As much as the superhero media dominance continues, there’s something down to earth and identifiable about the humble podcaster. It’s like studios are realising it’s more relatable to make your protagonist or supporting character a podcaster, because podcasting is literally for everyone. Not everyone can be a lawyer or a scientist, but there’s very little financial or socio-economic barrier to a podcast, all you need is a phone or laptop, free software and a voice. It’s become more than just a realm for nerds and geeks; it’s a legitimate hobby, as well as a career.
It’s a glorious catch 22. If more podcasters are shown in prominent roles in film and TV, more people will be inspired to become podcasters, which leads to the wonderfully meta situation of podcasts talking about media about podcasts. Nevertheless, it’s a podcaster protagonists’ world right now, and we just live in it.
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