Gongol.com Archives: January 2024

Brian Gongol

January 25, 2024

Given the continued sustained growth in podcast listening, as well as the popularity in episodic series of fixed seasonal duration (of which "Serial" is a leading example), it seems strange that American audiences haven't been offered a lot of scripted audio comedies, dramas, or thrillers. ■ The BBC has been running a radio soap opera called The Archers for more than 20,000 episodes. As a format, American radio drama largely died out many decades ago because of television, but times have changed in ways that ought to favor scripted audio fiction. ■ Technologically, podcast players allow listeners to start and stop at their convenience, picking up exactly where they left off. This is infinitely more audience-friendly than scheduled programming broadcast over the air, as the massive rise in on-demand video streaming confirms. And podcast listening takes place largely through headphones and earbuds, which serve up high-quality versions of cleanly-recorded digital programs: There's no radio static! ■ From a production viewpoint, it has never been easier to record scripted programming (quality microphones are found everywhere), and there are lots of skilled voice talents and production wizards ready for hire. Distribution costs are basically nil. ■ Thus the question may be one of writing. We are living in what has arguably been a golden age of television scriptwriting, and the great success of adult-targeted cartoons (like the 14 seasons of "Archer", or the 271-and-counting episodes of "Bob's Burgers") provides ample evidence that audiences are comfortable with stories that don't require live actors in front of eyeballs. ■ Something is holding back the audio-only scripted series, and it's not immediately obvious what that is. The skills and the tools are out there -- perhaps what's missing is just the induced demand.

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