As streaming services proliferate and thousands of new series flood our queues, it’s become increasingly difficult for TV shows to break through the noise. Maybe that’s why television creators have increasingly turned to books, comics, and articles for inspiration: Bridgerton and Moon Knight have built-in fans thanks to their source material. Even Inventing Anna could draw on an audience that obsessively followed the headlines about real-life scammer Anna Delvey.
Recently, Hollywood has tried to pluck old ideas from yet another corner of the media landscape: podcasts. Some of this year’s buzziest shows, from The Dropout to WeCrashed to The Thing About Pam, have ripped their stories straight from reported podcasts of the same name. If you’ve finished bingeing The Dropout and are desperate to delve deeper into Elizabeth Holmes and the Theranos scandal, the podcast is filled with tidbits the TV show skipped over. Fans of the first season of Slow Burn can see its exploration of the Watergate scandal on screen in the Julia Roberts-starring Gaslit, out April 24 on Starz.
Here are 9 great podcasts that have recently been transformed into TV series.
Julia Roberts in Gaslit
Hilary Bronwyn Gayle—Starz
The new Starz series Gaslit centered on the Watergate break-in draws its inspiration from the excellent history podcast Slow Burn. In its first season, Slow Burn tried to capture the essence of what it was like to live through the Watergate scandal, which emerged into the news not with a bang but in small increments until President Nixon was finally forced to resign. The very first episode of the exhaustively researched yet surprisingly spry and addictive podcast centers on Martha Mitchell, the wife of one of Nixon’s closest confidants, who tried to blow the whistle on the president long before Bob Woodward and Leonard Bernstein published their historic reporting on the Watergate scandal. She was called crazy, and her life was ruined over the accurate accusations. In Gaslit, Julia Roberts plays the Cassandra-like Martha.
Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes
As scammers go, Elizabeth Holmes is a particularly fascinating subject: She genuinely appeared to believe that she could will an impossible blood testing technology into existence. Perhaps that’s why she’s been the subject of so many analyses, from John Carreyrou’s excellent book Bad Blood to an HBO documentary to the ABC News podcast The Dropout, which served as the source material for Elizabeth Meriwether’s television series of the same name. The propulsive podcast helped provide a foundation for Amanda Seyfried’s depiction of the puzzling character who at once boated a confidence that won over her A-list investors for her startup but also succumbed to self-delusions that led to her decision to lie her investors and customers. The series returned last year to report on the Elizabeth Holmes trial.
WeCrashed—first the podcast and now the show—are among the best stories that scammer season has to offer. Both spin the tale of WeWork, the off-space company that tried to sell itself as a community instead of a collection of desks. The charismatic founder Adam Neumann managed to achieve a $47 billion valuation before, as the title might suggest, the house of cards—or, I suppose, the co-working space of cards—came crashing down. Love him or hate him, Jared Leto can be a charismatic fellow, and he and Anne Hathaway do their darnedest to try to capture how Neumann and his wife Rebekah sold an empty startup idea with their cult of personality.
The Shrink Next Door
Paul Rudd, left, and Will Ferrell in ‘The Shrink Next Door’
Veteran journalist Joe Nocera stumbled onto a very strange story: One day, his neighbor revealed that for a time, he let his shrink make every life decision for him. The doctor even moved into the neighbor’s Hamptons home and essentially began living his life—all under the auspices of offering professional advice. This is a true crime podcast that you can feel good about: It’s well-reported and not nearly as voyeuristic as the typical true crime podcast. It’s even funny and upbeat, a tone that Paul Rudd and Will Ferrell mimicked when filming the adaptation of the bizarre tale.
The Bodega Boys
Dina Litovsky—New York Times/Redux
The podcast space is littered with comedy shows centered on two friends riffing on topics of the day. But few have been able to successful take their talents to television. Desus Nice and the Kid Mero are the exception. INM’s TV critic wrote of the early episodes of their Showtime talkshow, Desus and Mero, “It’s the only thing on TV that never fails to make me laugh until tears stream down my face.” Their bluntness has put even the most practiced interviewees, including Cory Booker and Barack Obama, charmingly off-balance. The Bodega Boys podcast has a huge archive of episodes that you can peruse when you need a laugh.
The Thing About Pam
Renée Zellweger as Pam Hupp in ‘The Thing About Pam’
Pam Hupp, who is currently serving a life sentence for first-degree murder, has been a major presence at NBC for years now. She popped up on a 2014 Dateline report called “The house on Sumac Drive,” featured in Dateline’s first podcast titled The Thing About Pam, and recently was portrayed by Renée Zellwegger in a scripted series of the same name. Dateline correspondent Keith Morrison even narrates both the podcast series and the television show. The series is more interested in Zellwegger’s exaggerated and outsized performance than any mystery, so those who are more interested in parsing specific clues might look to the podcast.
Roberts comes to TV in Amazon’s surreal new drama Homecoming
Julia Roberts acts infrequently these days, so it’s intriguing that her last two big projects have been popular podcast adaptations. Perhaps, she’s an avid podcast listener. Whatever drew her to these projects, Homecoming has been one of the more critically successful podcast adaptations to date, in no small part because of Roberts’ compelling performance as a therapist helping veterans process their trauma in unconventional ways. As gripping as Stephan James, Bobby Canavale, and Hong Chau are in the TV series, the original podcast also boasts an all-star cast including Oscar Isaac, Catherine Keener, and David Schwimmer. Even if you know the mystery at the center of this propulsive story, the audio drama is worth a listen.
Where to Listen: Spotify
Alicia Keys and Hrishkesh Hirway in ‘Song Exploder’
Offering a respite from the many true-crime adaptations is Song Exploder. The Netflix adaptation of hit podcast offers short episodes. But each bite-sized entry goes deep on one single track, breaking down why songs from R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” to Dua Lipa’s “Love Again” are so catchy. Unlike the podcast, where host Hrishikesh Hirway edits his half of the interviews with artists out, on the Netflix show he’s a warm and attentive host. But while the visual medium of a show allows Hirway to give audiences a peak inside artists’ studios, those curious to discover new music are much more likely to stumble upon something new if they subscribe the podcast, which publishes much more frequently.
Eric Bana as John Meehan, Connie Britton as Debra Newell in ‘Dirty John’,
Your mileage may vary when it comes to true crime podcasts. Personally, he tendency of these shows to treat threats to women’s lives as prurient entertainment makes me a bit queazy. That said, what Dirty John may lack in subtlety it makes up for with an incredibly gripping true tale. The Los Angeles Times’ series examines the tale of a relationship that turns dangerously sour when a woman falls for a conman. Connie Briton and Eric Bana play the ill-fated couple in the series, which takes soap opera worthy twists and turns. The podcast offers a slightly more grounded retelling: Veteran reporter Christopher Goffard pursued the story with rigor rare for true crime podcasts.