Phoebe Judge and Lauren Spohrer, co-creators of hit podcast Criminal, are set to turn the true crime audio series and its spin-off This Is Love, into scripted series as they look to take advantage of the podcast “explosion”.
The pair, who run and own Criminal Productions, told Deadline that they are also looking to expand the range and breadth of podcasts that they produce, while also innovating their existing shows.
In a wide-ranging interview, the pair lifted the lid on the booming audio market and how they’ve been working with Hollywood talent agency UTA and podcast network Radiotopia to further the medium.
Criminal, which features close-end episodes of up to 30 minutes, tells stories of people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle, while This Is Love investigates life’s most persistent mystery. Criminal is at AMC, while This Is Love is currently in early development with a production company.
“This whole world is exploding and there are so many opportunities for the world is waking up to the fact that the content being created in these podcasts are stories that could be created in many different mediums, not just over the air through sound. That means you’ve got television companies and movie studios saying ‘hey, you’ve got a plethora of content, let’s figure out how you can adapt it’,” Judge told Deadline. “It’s bringing public radio people into Hollywood.”
The pair have worked with UTA and particularly Oren Rosenbaum, the agency’s head of emerging platforms, to close scripted deals on both podcasts, although have not revealed who they are working with. “We’re excited for the future and we’ve loved learning more about the television process through it all. Right now, we’re looking at them as separate shows,” Judge added.
Criminal featured in Amazon’s Super Bowl advert, highlighting the medium’s increasing growth. “It’s crazy to watch the explosion and growth [of podcasting]. When podcasts have made Super Bowl ads, we know that this industry is something to pay attention to,” she said. Criminal launched in 2014 and the pair, along with producer Nadia Wilson, have created over 100 episodes featuring cases including the tale of a man who entered an airport with a wig and a sawed-off rifle the story of Evelyn Nesbit and how the U.S. Navy attempted to develop a shark attack repellent after sailors were attacked during WWII.
The pair met when they worked at public radio station WUNC on The Story with Dick Gordon. Spohrer said that the way that they look for stories is much different from these days.
“We had a lot of experience finding stories but an important difference when you’re working on an NPR news show, you’re looking for an expert, a policy analyst, whereas on this show we’re looking for first person stories. We don’t seek out stories to have an expert holding court, we’re interested in talking to people who had a thing or had a thing done to them,” she said.
Judge added that it wanted to create stories that could be funny one week and sad the next. “We’ve always said that people who are real true crime fans might be disappointed if they listen to Criminal… it is a crime show but it’s so much more about human experience. We’re not in the judgement game; we just want to figure out why people do the things they do and get themselves into these situations. We’re not just in the headlines, we’re interested in finding out the history and the background.”
The plan is now to keep innovating and is eyeing more investigative work, more foreign stories and to try out a serialized story over a longer number of episodes. “We’re never happy to sit back and keep riding,” said Judge.
Meanwhile, This Is Love launched on Valentine’s Day last year and tells stories such as the one about a man who moved to an abandoned mining town to be alone, the one about a woman who finds a mysterious message in a bottle, and becomes consumed with finding out who wrote it and why and the one about a best-selling author who became a best-selling novelist by writing 120 books about her first romance.
They are currently working on a third season of This Is Love, consisting of six episodes. “It’s really exciting to see how this show is shifting and changing. The sound of the show and format of the show – we can experiment and we feel confident that our listeners will trust us and come along with us,” said Judge. “That’s the great thing about podcasts; there are no rules, there is no such thing as a standard season. We wanted it to feel like an event.”
Next up, in addition to TV work, they are looking to create more shows and also bring in more podcast creators. “Lauren and I have always hoped that Criminal Productions becomes something where we’re creating more shows and a place where we’re working on other shows, bringing other shows in and being executive producers, giving other people a shot to get their voices heard.”
The pair work closely with podcast network Radiotopia, which also reps shows such as Ear Hustle and The West Wing Weekly. The company sells its sponsorship and helps with fundraising. “They are the indie label for podcasts; we own our shows 100%, they don’t get in the way editorially unless we ask for help, they bring freedom that is rare and so happy to be a part of the network,” Spohrer said.
Two of the stand-out elements of Criminal and This Is Love are Judge’s voice and the fact that it also airs voices not usually heard on podcasts. “Phoebe’s voice is so important,” admitted Spohrer. “You really do need a host who has a certain presence; people are very attached to the quality of Phoebe’s voice and also the calm, which is really who she is and is part of the design of the show.”
The company is also based in North Carolina, which gives them a fresh outlook on stories. “Phoebe grew up in Chicago and I came from New York so we sometimes wonder why we live in North Carolina but it’s a really cool place to live; Merge Records is here, the Mountain Goats are here, it’s a nice place and there are a lot of people making things. I wouldn’t say it influences our work other than it gets us a little out of the tunnel vision of the coasts; we have more southern voices. It can be an advantage that we’re not operating in the same circles as every other radio producer.”
It seems that there will be plenty more coming out of NC in the near future.