TIME Media

How Radio History Hinted at the Conclusion of Serial

On The Wireless
Circa 1945, a family of four gathers in their living room to listen to their home radio set Harold M. Lambert—Getty Images

The radio serial has been around for nearly a century — and some things haven't changed

Warning: spoilers follow for the end of the first season of Serial

The true-crime podcast Serial, which published its season finale Thursday morning, may be a 2014 phenomenon — but, though the 12-episodes-one-story format may have been new for that style of podcast, it’s actually one of the oldest tricks in the radio book.

The idea of publishing a story a little bit at a time is often traced back to Charles Dickens, so when radio became the popular medium of choice in the early 20th century, the benefits of hooking an audience with the drip-drip of a story were already well known. By the 1930s, Procter & Gamble was the biggest radio advertiser in the country, by dint of its serial dramas, the original “soap operas.” The serial had become one of the most popular formats for radio. A 1939 calculation by the chair of radio writing at Columbia University estimated that there were 20,000,000 words spoken each day on U.S. radio — more than all the words spoken in the movies in a year, or on Broadway in ten — and that, at the time, writers of popular daily serials were some of the best paid staffers in the business, earning $1,000 a week.

As Elena Razlogova notes in her history of early radio, The Listener’s Voice, early serials shared something with Serial beyond merely being split up into multiple episodes. Just as Serial was taped as it aired, allowing for those familiar with the case to hear the show and volunteer new information, early radio serials relied on fan mail to help decide how the stories would move along.

Which means there’s something else Serial shares with its predecessors: the fact that, as the podcast’s listeners have discovered by now, the end of the story isn’t known in advance — which often means the conclusion of a radio serial isn’t necessarily an “ending” per se.

According to the Concise Encyclopedia of American Radio, traditional radio serials were popular but “frustrating” because they were “neverending.” Unlike literary serials of the Dickens variety — a format that TIME reported in 2012 was making a comeback on e-readers — radio serials that are written as they go along have tended, historically, not to have a predetermined arc. They just start and see where they go; when the season ends or the show gets canceled, denouement or not, that’s that.

Though Serial‘s season one ended with a guess from host Sarah Koenig that Adnan Syed was probably innocent, her year of research and weeks of podcasting yielded no certainty — a fact that Koenig readily admits in the episode. Syed’s case is still not settled and it seems possible that the world may never know exactly what happened on the fateful day in question, but the season is over so that’s it as far as listeners are concerned. And, given the show’s format, if we ever do find out what happened, it won’t be on Serial season two. So, in that, Serial and old-time serials have something in common with real life as well: unlike in the world of pre-scripted shows, a neat and tidy conclusion is a rarity.

Read more about the return of serial fiction, here in the TIME Vault: Stay Tuned for E-Serials

TIME Media

You Can Visit The Colbert Report’s Set on Google Maps

Stephen Colbert
Stephen Colbert hosts Comedy Central's "Indecision 2008: America's Choice" at Comedy Central Studios on November 4, 2008 in New York City. Brad Barket—Getty Images

Check out the set on Street View

Even though The Colbert Report is ending its run Thursday, the show’s set will live on through Google Maps.

The entire iconic stage is rendered in 3D through Google’s service (though sadly, Colbert himself isn’t present). You can get a close-up look at some of the show’s famous gags, like the portrait of Stephen Colbert standing in front of a portrait of Stephen Colbert standing in front of a portrait of Stephen Colbert.

There are also plenty of goodies on Colbert’s bookshelf that you may have never noticed before, like a Captain America shield, a Rock’em Sock’em Robots game and a solemn photograph of Hugh Laurie.

Check out the set in all its glory here.

TIME Media

Sony Pulls The Interview After Threats

A poster for the movie "The Interview" is carried away by a worker after being pulled from a display case at a Carmike Cinemas movie theater on Dec. 17, 2014, in Atlanta.
A poster for the movie The Interview is carried away by a worker after being pulled from a display case at a Carmike Cinemas movie theater on Dec. 17, 2014, in Atlanta David Goldman—AP

Movie won't be released after an unknown group threatened 9/11-style attacks over the film

Sony Pictures Entertainment canceled the planned Christmas Day release of The Interview on Wednesday after an unknown person or group threatened to attack theaters that played the film. Sony’s decision comes after several major theater chains backed out of showing the film in light of the threats.

“We are deeply saddened by this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees and the American public,” Sony said in a statement. “We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”

MORE: 3 Reasons People Think North Korea Hacked Sony

The threats, which warned of 9/11-style attacks against theaters showing The Interview, may have come from the same people responsible for hacking Sony Pictures late last month. Thousands of Sony employees’ emails and personal data have been posted online as a result of the hack, and Sony is still reeling from its effects.

It isn’t yet clear who hacked Sony or threatened the theaters, though some analysts have pointed fingers at North Korea. Pyongyang is furious over The Interview, a comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco about TV journalists asked to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But no clear link to North Korea has been established, and the government has denied responsibility for the hack.

TIME Media

Netflix Just Announced a Huge New Partnership

Netflix Dish
The Netflix Inc. application is displayed on an Apple Inc. iPhone arranged for a photograph in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

It's Netflix's first big partnership with a major TV provider in the U.S.

Netflix has found an unlikely partner to help it recruit more new subscribers—Dish Network.

The satellite operator announced Wednesday that it will be integrating Netflix directly into its Hopper set-top box. That means Dish subscribers will be able to seamlessly switch to Netflix content using the same device, remote control and video input that they use when they watch regular television.

The Dish deal, however, doesn’t mean Netflix will be free for Dish subscribers. It only makes it easier for people who use both Netflix and Dish to watch Netflix content.

“Pairing Netflix with Hopper represents the consolidation of two incredible video experiences,” Vivek Khemka, Dish senior vice president of product management, said in a press release. “It gives our customers easy access to their favorite shows and movies, on both Dish and Netflix, without ever having to leave their Hopper.”

Netflix has aggressively been pursuing partnerships with pay-TV providers in order to place its streaming service in front of more potential new customers. While the company has had some success cutting deals in Europe and with small cable operators in the U.S., the major American TV providers have been wary of giving Netflix easier access to its subscribers — until now.

It makes sense that Dish would be the first big pay-TV operator to hop in bed with Netflix. The satellite company has plans for an “over-the-top” TV service delivered via the Internet that will aim to attract exactly the kind of TV viewers who enjoy Netflix. In the future, Dish says, it may add tighter integration of Netflix content by making the streaming service’s shows and movies searchable via the Hopper interface.

TIME Media

These Are the Theaters That Have Pulled The Interview After Threat

Law enforcement says there's no credible threat

An increasing number of movie theaters and chains are deciding not to show Sony Pictures Entertainment’s The Interview, following a threat believed to come from the same group claiming responsibility for a devastating hack against Sony.

The Regal, AMC, Cinemark and Carmike theater chains won’t show The Interview until federal law enforcement groups finish their investigation of the threats made against the film, the Wall Street Journal reported citing anonymous sources Wednesday. Those chains control nearly half of the movie screens in the U.S., according to the Journal.

NBC News previously reported that Carmike had decided to pull the plug on The Interview. Deadline reported late Tuesday that California’s ArcLight Cinemas, which runs five theaters across the state, also won’t show the film, but a spokesperson later said no official decision had yet been made.

Meanwhile, Landmark Cinemas has cancelled The Interview’s New York City premiere, which was set for Thursday evening. That cancellation comes as the film’s co-stars, Seth Rogen and James Franco, already backed out of several media events around the films.

The threat, which may or may not have come from the same people who hacked Sony Pictures, intimated at the possibility of attacks on theaters that choose to show the movie, a completely fictional comedy about journalists recruited by the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong Un. “We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time,” read the message, with “the places” apparently referring to theaters showing the film. The message also invoked the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

While Sony is at this point going ahead with the film’s Christmas Day release, sources told NBC News that the company won’t punish theaters that back out. The Department of Homeland Security, meanwhile, has said there’s no “credible intelligence” regarding an attack on movie theaters in the U.S.

The threat also coincided with a new release of Sony employees’ emails, several weeks after hackers breached Sony Pictures’ systems and posted troves of company and employee confidential data online. Early reports linked the hacks to North Korea, which is reportedly furious over The Interview’s plot about killing the North Korean leader. However, North Korea denied conducting the attack, and the little evidence thus far tying the country to the incident is circumstantial.

The total fallout of the Sony attack is still incalculable, but it could amount to the most damaging corporate cyberattack in history.

Read next: 3 Reasons People Think North Korea Hacked Sony

TIME Companies

Apple Just Won That $1 Billion iPod Lawsuit

Could have faced $1 billion in liability

Apple doesn’t have to pay up to $1 billion to iPod owners for the way it limited access to competing music services’ songs on the devices, a jury ruled Tuesday.

The eight-person jury in Oakland, Calif., determined that software updates to a version of iTunes released in 2006 were legitimate product improvements rather than a ploy to limit competition in the digital music market, Bloomberg reports.

Plaintiffs had argued that Apple purposefully prevented songs downloaded from other music stores from working on the iPod to boost the sale of its own products. Apple said the changes were made to boost security on the iPod and iTunes, and to meet the demands of record labels at the time.

The plaintiffs sought $350 million in damages from Apple, an amount that could have tripled to exceed $1 billion under antitrust law.

[Bloomberg]

TIME Media

How Stephen Colbert Schooled Americans in Campaign Finance

By having his own Super PAC and 501(c)(4), he could evolve right alongside the campaigns

When I speak at law schools, I am always asked about the Colbert Super PAC “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow” and its sibling 501(c)(4), “Colbert Super PAC Shhh.” Almost every time, someone asks, “How did you and Stephen Colbert plan the story line of his coverage of money in politics?”

The assumption at law schools, where law professors create a course by designing a complete blueprint for each subject, is that Stephen’s two years of on-air legal conversations on money and politics issues were planned and scripted in advance. Stephen certainly offered the American public a course in modern campaign finance law, but there never was a master plan for the discovery of the American campaign finance system’s peculiarities. Instead, our serial discussion evolved in wonderful spontaneity, appropriate to Stephen’s belief in the power of improvisation. One conversation simply led logically to another—unless Stephen got that wild look in his eyes and said “What if I did…?” (like “run for President of South Carolina”), and then the dialogue took an unexpected turn.

The 2012 presidential election cycle was a remarkable time in the campaign finance field. Campaigns evolved in real time as they experimented with the new political vehicles known as Super PACs and explored the gray areas of election law. Along the way, Stephen effectively demonstrated the absurdities and workarounds in our campaign finance system through the creation of several legal entities: a non-connected PAC to raise money to influence elections, a Super PAC to raise unlimited contributions from corporations and labor unions, and a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization used to launder contributions to keep donors anonymous.

Finally, he was able to show America the loopholes (or “loop-chasms” as he called them) in the laws designed to regulate coordination between candidates and supposedly “independent” groups. By having his own Super PAC and 501(c)(4), Stephen could evolve right alongside the campaigns—or often be a step ahead of them. His understanding of the possibilities inherent in the legal confusion was keen enough to discover and exploit absurd legalities before it became clear that actual candidates and political activists were doing the same thing.

Working with Stephen, I quickly came to respect his quick and sharp intellect, including that skill so highly prized by lawyers: the ability to ingest and intellectually digest a large amount of information on an unfamiliar subject, distilling it into key questions and insights. The fact that he could do this with unfamiliar campaign finance legal concepts always amazed me; that he could then boil it all down to a 4 ½ minute on-air discussion and make it funny was pure genius. I told him at one point that if he ever wanted a different career, he would make the world’s best Supreme Court advocate. After all, the highest paid lawyers master the factual record of their case, apply a nuanced area of law, and present the breadth of this material to the justices in a digestible and persuasive manner. The only difference is that Supreme Court advocates have 30 minutes and Colbert had 4 ½.

Stephen, if you ever decide to move on from the entertainment industry, I would be happy to refer potential Supreme Court clients.

Trevor Potter, Stephen Colbert’s “personal lawyer” for his SuperPac, is a former FEC Chairman and currently a member of the Caplin & Drysdale law firm and President of the Campaign Legal Center, a public interest law firm.

TIME intelligence

Attorney General Allows Limited Subpoena of New York Times Journalist

A man crosses the Central Intelligence A
A man crosses the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) logo in the lobby of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, on August 14, 2008. Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images

Attorney General Eric Holder has given federal prosecutors permission to subpoena New York Times reporter James Risen for some information regarding his connection to a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Though New York Times reporter James Risen has been adamant about not revealing his sources and the Department of Justice indicated last week it would not force the Pulitzer Prize winner to reveal who his sources were, prosecutors announced Tuesday they will be seeking his testimony in the case of Jeffery Sterling.

The Department of Justice charged Sterling, a former agent, of unlawfully obtaining documents and spilling national secrets in 2010, and subsequently accused him of being a source in Risen’s 2006 book State of War.

Information regarding confidentiality agreements for Risen’s book, whether articles and chapters from his book, “accurately reflect information provided to him by his source (or sources), that statements attributed to an unnamed source were, in fact, made by an unnamed source, and that statements attributed to an identified source were, in fact, made by an identified source” will be sought during the trial, scheduled to begin on Jan. 12.

According to a court filing, prosecutors needed approval in regard to the subpoena given new Department of Justice guidelines on seeking information from the news media. The guidance, issued in July, provides some protection from members of the media in civil and criminal proceedings. The guidance came following scandals involving the DOJ seizing phone records and emails of reporters from the Associated Press and Fox News.

Media organizations and advocacy groups including the Newspaper Association of America have been calling on Congress to pass a law that would protect journalists from having to reveal their confidential sources in criminal and civil proceedings without having to face legal consequences.

A federal judge in Virginia requested last week that the federal attorneys come to a clear decision on whether or not they would subpoena Risen by Tuesday.

Requests for comment from Risen’s attorneys were not immediately answered.

TIME Culture

This Feminist Twist on ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ Will Warm Your Heart

It's very short

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” may be a classic holiday song, but it’s kind of creepy. She’s like, “no, I have to go,” and he’s like “no, stay for sex purposes” and that’s pretty much the entire song. But the song was written in 1944, before the modern sensitivity to sexual pressure and consent, so it’s no surprise that we’re forced to listen to it in every elevator or glove store against our will.

But here’s a feminist version. It cuts out the creepy stuff, which means it’s very, very short:

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