It would be safe to say that Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness has become one of our latest obsessions. Joe Exotic is the subject of a very good in depth podcast from Wondery called Joe Exotic: Tiger King (it was formerly called Over My Dead Body: Joe Exotic). That podcast is a perfect companion to the Netflix documentary series and is now the inspiration for a scripted drama starring Kate McKinnon as Exotic’s nemesis, Carole Baskin.
This is not the first podcast to inspire a TV show, documentary, or dramatisation, and it certainly won’t be the last. Major studios and production companies use podcasts more and more as sources of original IP and a testing ground to see if there’s an appetite or an audience for the subject matter. Making a podcast is cheaper than making a TV pilot and gives you as much if not more data on the potential audience.
Here’s a guide to true crime podcasts which have inspired TV series, including upcoming shows in the works. We’ll keep this updated as more are announced.
Dirty John comes from Wondery – the same network that made Joe Exotic: Tiger King. The podcast was first adapted as a scripted TV drama starring Connie Britton and Eric Bana and then a documentary based on the podcast was released. The story of confidence trickster John Meehan has been widely told – and with good reason. It’s an amazing tale which sees the charming Meehan seduce and move in with successful business woman Debra Newell, convincing her he was an anaesthetist. But Newell’s family think there’s something decidedly shady about Meehan – and it turns out they’re right. A fascinating case that builds to a shocking conclusion. A second season starring Amanda Peet and Christian Slater, telling the story of Betty and Dan Broderick whose marriage ended in double homicide is planned for this year.
Watch the show on Netflix.
The Case Against Adnan Syed
The podcast that launched a thousand podcasts – This American Life’s Serial – is still one of the most successful true crime podcasts out there, investigating the possible wrongful conviction of Adnan Syed for killing his former girlfriend Hae Min Lee. A spin-off podcast called Undisclosed delved further into the case but this four part documentary series brings us up to date with where the case is now. For fans of Serial it’s interesting to be able to put faces to names and the doc, directed by celebrated West Of Memphis documentarian Amy Berg, takes pains to put Hae Min Lee in the spotlight and not just Syed. A must-watch for fans of the original true crime gateway podcast.
Watch the show on: NowTV (UK), HBO (US)
I Am The Night
The excellent podcast Root Of Evil is actually billed as a companion piece to crime drama I Am The Night which premiered on TNT in America, inspired by the biography of Fauna Hodel, One Day She’ll Darken: The Mysterious Beginnings of Fauna Hodel. Hodel is the granddaughter of George Hodel, a prominent LA physician who just might be responsible for the Black Dahlia murder and many more. I Am The Night introduces Chris Pine as a fictional reporter investigating George Hodel, while Root Of Evil is narrated by Fauna’s daughters who bring to life their strange but true family story which begins with Fauna, who was given up by her birth mother, searching for her heritage and getting way more than she bargained for.
Watch the show on: Amazon Prime (UK), Hulu (US)
The worry about a new documentary focusing on a very famous and widely reported subject, is that it will simply rake over everything you already know, and there aren’t too many subjects that are more famous and widely reported than the Watergate scandal. Yet that’s exactly what Slate based the first season of its highly regarded podcast Slow Burn on, claiming – and delivering for the most part – to tell the story in a new way, focusing on key players that have remained relatively overlooked. It’s a compelling listen, whether you’re well versed on Watergate, or just happened to catch All The President’s Men on a late night rerun. Now Epix has adapted the podcast into a six-part TV documentary, which given the recent Trump impeachment proceedings will likely find an extensive audience. Season two of Slow Burn, which lifts the lid on the Clinton impeachment is arguably even more engaging. Fingers crossed Epix gives it the green light.
Watch the show on Epix.
This is the incredible story of Elizabeth Holmes, CEO of health tech company Theranos. Holmes is such an interesting character – a smart, beautiful young woman who modelled herself on Steve Jobs, artificially lowered her voice, became the youngest female self-made billionaire, and pioneered a groundbreaking invention which didn’t actually work. Holmes’ story has been adapted into various formats already and more are on the way. The ABC News podcast The Dropout which arrived in January 2019 is an absolute must listen, and landing at around the same time was the documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley by Oscar winning director Alex Gibney. Searchlight Television is producing a series based on the podcast for Hulu, which will star and be produced by Kate McKinnon. It’s being developed with the podcast’s narrator Rebecca Jarvis and its producers, Taylor Dunn and Victoria Thompson executive producing.
Meanwhile a movie called Bad Blood, to be directed by The Big Short’s Adam McKay and starring Jennifer Lawrence, based on the book Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carryrou is in development.
This six part podcast from Wondery charts the dramatic rise and fall of shared workspace company WeWork under its messianic leader Adam Neumann. Now uber producer Jason Blum, known for his Blumhouse horror empire but also award-bothering outliers including BlackKklansman and Whiplash is turning the WeWork story into a movie, with Charles Randolph (who won an Oscar for penning the script of The Big Short) writing the screenplay. Like The Dropout this is a story of a charismatic leader who convinced investors that his project was the “unicorn” they had been searching for – the company was at one point valued at $47 billion – and how easily hubris can lead to disaster.
A TV movie based on this Gimlet media podcast series which examines organised crime in Providence, Rhode Island was announced back in 2017. Theodore Melfi, who made St. Vincent and Hidden Figures, is attached to direct from a script written by the podcast’s hosts Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier – the pair who created the phenomenal HBO documentary series The Jinx. That’s some serious credentials right there, however the project is still listed as being in the script stage with no updates since December 2017.
Another one of Wondery’s very popular podcasts, this ten-parter follows the story of surgeon Christopher Duntsch who seriously maimed multiple patients and even killed two during surgery in what seemed to be not just a malpractice case but a deliberate desire to harm. Universal Content Productions is developing the series with Happy! showrunner Patrick Macmanus writing the script. Jamie Dornan will play Duntsch with Alec Baldwin and Christian Slater playing Robert Henderson and Randall Kirby, the two surgeons who had to fix some of Duntsch’s botched work and who lobbied hard to get him taken down. This is bound to be a big hit.
Over My Dead Body
When the Joe Exotic: Tiger King podcast was first released by Wondery it was the second season of a show called Over My Dead Body which focused on extreme feuds that drove people to criminal acts. The first season, Tally followed a couple of attractive, high-flying lawyers who looked like they had the perfect marriage until things fell apart leading to a messy divorce, family conflict, and even murder. Elizabeth Banks is reportedly developing the series for WarnerMedia streaming service HBO Max, which is due to launch in May. No word on progress though the wild success of Tiger King can’t have hurt its chances.
Gimlet produced this fascinating podcast that occasionally takes a turn for the weird, following a woman named April Balascio who at the age of 40 contacts police to tell them she suspects her father might have been responsible for a double murder committed when she was just 11. Her father Edward Wayne Edwards had been in and out of prison and at one time gave motivational speeches about his reform. Edwards eventually confessed to several murders and may have been responsible for more (check out the episode with the retired cop who is convinced Edwards is to blame for pretty much everything from the Zodiac murders to the death of JonBenét Ramsay). Chernin Entertainment will produce the show, with Weimaraner Republic Pictures
The Missing CryptoQueen
Rights to adapt this BBC podcast actually sparked a bidding war, and it’s not all that surprising: the show was wildly popular with 3.5 million downloads in four months. It follows the eye-opening story of Doctor Ruja Ignatova who in 2014 launched a cryptocurrency called OneCoin, with the intent to rival Bitcoin. The trouble was, it was a scam. The podcast does a great job of explaining the complexities of cryptocurrency in a way that’s clear and compelling, and the glamorous world of Dr Ruja, who’s been ‘missing’ since October 2017 makes this at times feel like a Hollywood heist movie, though the real life stories of people who’ve invested and lost their money brings you back down to earth with a bump. New Regency International won the rights and plans to adapt the story for TV. Jamie Bartlett and Georgia Catt who co-wrote and presented the podcast are on board as consultants and exec producers.
The Shrink Next Door
Paul Rudd and Will Ferrell are set to star in this series based on Wondery’s podcast The Shrink Next Door, a quirky story about a man controlled and manipulated by his therapist. The podcast was written and narrated by journalist Joe Nocera who bought a house in the Hamptons and was invited to a lavish party hosted by celebrity therapist Isaac ‘Ike’ Herschkopf (Rudd). It wasn’t until the following summer that Nocera discovered the house wasn’t owned by Ike at all but by Marty Markowitz (Ferrell), (Nocera had thought he was the gardener) who’d recently thrown Ike out of his home. It was the start of a weird and compelling story which went back decades. Studio Media Rights Capital is developing the project and Michael Showalter who made The Big Sick is currently attached to direct. There’s potential here for a show that’s shocking and surprising but tonally lighter than some on this list.