Podcasts pique Hollywood’s interest with fiction series

Two years ago, podcasts devoted to fiction were a blip on the radar, but the genre is gaining momentum — under the watchful eye of Hollywood, which sees it as a hotbed for new movies and television series.

There are only a handful of fiction podcasts, almost drowned out by the talk shows, true crime, science and history series, but their numbers and quality keep going up — “Blackout,” “Passenger List,” “Carrier” to name some recent entries, soon to be joined by “Motherhacker” or “Frontier Tween.”

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“It’s something we hoped would happen, and now we’re seeing it really gaining momentum and traction,” said Rob Herting.

He founded a production company, QCode, barely a year ago, and already it boasts several successful series, including “Blackout,” in which a massive electrical outage threatens the very foundation of society.

A major sign of interest in this new format are the top-tier actors — such as Rami Malek (“Blackout”), who in February won the Oscar for Best Actor — lending their voices to audio fiction series.

Just two years ago, “when I started, nobody was thinking about fiction shows,” said Mimi O’Donnell, who is in charge of the genre at Gimlet, a production company bought by Spotify in February.

But she has seen an influx of writers, including “creators that have never done anything in audio but are really well-known in film, TV or theater.”

Many writers at QCode also come from those fields, even if the link between tyles isn’t always evident. “It’s absolutely a new muscle to flex and an exciting challenge for a lot of them,” said Herting.

Podcasts, which until recently were heavily tethered to reality, are just beginning to realize the potential of audio fiction.

“What audio drama can do is build this amazing connection to the listener,” said Marc Sollinger, co-creator of the podcast “Archive 81.”

“By removing images, it lets the listener create with their mind’s eye and imagine the characters, the settings, the monsters, the situations,” he said.

“And the images that they create are going to be so much better, so much more interesting than a film with a $20 million budget.”

In Herting’s opinion, “people are turning to audio because they can’t stare at screens anymore.”

It’s somewhat ironic that the saturation of images has contributed to the revival of a medium almost wiped out by the rise of television.

During the 1930s and 1940s, radio was the preferred medium, and audio fiction was a major genre.

On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles created a mass panic when thousands of Americans heard him reading passages of “The War of the Worlds” on the radio and believed Martians really were invading.

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