TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 20

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Hollywood’s diversity problem goes beyond “Selma.” Asian and Latino stories and faces are missing.

By Jose Antonio Vargas and Janet Yang in the Los Angeles Times

2. Shifting the narrative away from religion is key to defeating ISIS.

By Dean Obeidallah in the Daily Beast

3. Innovation alone won’t fix social problems.

By Amanda Moore McBride and Eric Mlyn in the Chronicle of Higher Education

4. When the Ebola epidemic closed schools in Sierra Leone, radio stepped in to fill the void.

By Linda Poon at National Public Radio

5. The racial wealth gap we hardly talk about? Retirement.

By Jonnelle Marte in the Washington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Media

Rush Limbaugh’s Problem: How The Internet Changed Talk Radio

Rush Limbaugh;Rush Limbaugh [Misc.]
Kimberly Butler—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Rush Limbaugh flashing thumbs up sign in 1994

In the history of talk radio, Limbaugh’s comment on campus rape is nothing

Last week, Rush Limbaugh suggested that if he had faced questions about dropping out of college, as Republican presidential hopeful Scott Walker did, he would have responded, “I left college because I didn’t want to be accused of rape someday.” Limbaugh noted that Walker could not say such a thing because he was a candidate, and added, “but I mean that would just ram it right down their throats. Trying to create this rape culture on the campus.”

Liberal blogs recounted the statement with incredulity and horror, even though it did not create the firestorm that followed late last year when Limbaugh declared that actor Idris Elba could not play James Bond because James Bond was Scottish and white, and Elba was black and British. The social-media outrage in response to the campus rape and Elba comments was unsurprising, and Limbaugh tends to respond to such reactions with equally unsurprising contemptuousness. But, even if he and his fans ignore online criticism, the Internet has already substantially changed the history of talk radio.

The first all-talk station had launched in 1960. After the mid-1960s, interviews and listener calls drove talk programs, and stations offered “full service” talk formats that mixed current-affairs talk with expert discussion of everything from gardening to relationships. Famed Los Angeles liberal Michael Jackson and conservative New Yorker Barry Farber exemplified this era of talk radio—their politics might have emerged on occasion, but their philosophies were not a centerpiece of either host’s show. As Farber once told me, “It would have occurred to us to fly down to the Amazon and get our head shrunk before it would occur to attack the President.”

Even stations that featured an opinionated host offered an array of views during the broadcast day. Many stars, including Larry King, whose program entered syndication in 1978, had liberal views. Edgier, boundary-pushing talk formats existed only in a few major markets. Overall, one estimate put the number of talk stations at just 59 in 1983.

When Limbaugh began broadcasting nationally on Aug. 1, 1988, he changed what talk-radio sounded like. Limbaugh took fewer calls than many of his predecessors, and did no interviews; instead, his show revolved around his opinions. The former disc jockey fused the zany antics of rock music DJs with the explicit conservative advocacy of earlier weekly radio sermonizers, such as Dan Smoot and Clarence Manion, and the interactive talk format. He had fun on the air, using parodies, theme songs and absurdity to illustrate his points.

During the course of his 26-plus years in national radio, Limbaugh said far more controversial things than his musings about Walker and Elba. In his early national days, he aired edgier and more offensive material multiple times per show (on one 1990 show, Limbaugh allowed listeners to vote and suggest new entrants in a contest to determine the theme song for the AIDS updates that he would quickly discontinue and for which he would apologize. The cringe-worthy entrants included Gene Autry’s “Back in the Saddle Again” and Dionne Warwick’s “I’ll Never Love This Way Again”).

His style was extreme, but it connected. A combination of his success; necessity, as music listeners and advertisers fled to FM music stations; technological and legal changes; and the discovery of a heretofore unidentified audience that thirsted for conservative programming drove the subsequent explosion of talk radio. By the early 2000s, Limbaugh’s success and that of several early all-conservative talk stations, along with ownership consolidation, had transformed talk radio into a nationally syndicated, conservative, political medium.

After the uproar over the Elba comments, Limbaugh noted that a lot of his critics hypothesized that he made such statements to draw attention. Those critics, however, miss the point of talk radio—Limbaugh absurdly and colorfully illustrates his points, not to draw attention, but rather to entertain, as entertainment value has driven the success of his show dating back to 1988. And, as he correctly pointed out amidst the accusations of scandal-mongering, these days he doesn’t even have to try to draw attention. Instead, in the Internet and social media era, he receives almost constant attention—yet only occasionally is that wider attention positive, thereby demonstrating the paradox facing hosts in 2015.

Whether you love or loathe Limbaugh, you can’t deny that tackling controversial topics today presents risk that did not exist in 1988. Yes, Limbaugh provoked complaints almost instantaneously after debuting on many stations. Gradually, however, calls to executives from fans exceeded these complaints. More importantly, in those days, when Limbaugh signaled a homeless update with Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s “Ain’t Got No Home,” only the audience heard it.

Today, by contrast, every word that Limbaugh says is broadcast and archived. Watchdog groups, such as Media Matters, scrutinize every word, waiting to blast any potentially offensive statements out to the world. Whereas the opinions of non-listeners might have been irrelevant in 1988 and a boycott hard to organize, someone who considered the Elba comments to be racist could easily use social media to pressure advertisers to remove their ads from Limbaugh’s program (as many did in 2012 after Limbaugh insulted Georgetown student Sandra Fluke).

Several times over the years, exposure to broader audiences changed the paradigm for talk-radio hosts. In 2003 Limbaugh resigned from a short-lived job as an ESPN football commentator after he sparked outrage by musing that quarterback Donovan McNabb received undeserved credit because the media wanted to see an African American quarterback succeed. Disney-owned ESPN reached many people who did not regularly consume talk radio, and Disney had broader business interests to protect. As a result, Limbaugh could not sneer at the handbook of political correctness, as he did daily on the radio without consequences.

The Internet reaches an even bigger audience than ESPN did, and through it that broader audience can now hear what is said on talk-radio programs themselves. Hosts’ words far more easily reach non-listeners than they did 25 years ago. Indeed, a show’s actual audience need not be bothered for comments to cause trouble. Campaigns against a host can build over time, and social media makes it easy to pressure station management and advertisers.

In fact, the provocative, unpredictable content that produces the best talk radio fits poorly with an advertiser-based business model in the Internet and social media era. This problem may eventually drive the content provided by Limbaugh and his peers to an internet-based subscription platform, where hosts do not have to worry about losing advertisers when they generate controversy.

It might seem that talk-radio’s critics would have won if that happens. But, in reality, they would have won their battle, but lost their war. If critics force the delivery mechanism away from an advertising-based model, their pleas will be less likely to affect talk radio’s bottom line. Subscribers, unlike advertisers, aren’t likely to be swayed by a social-media campaign (after all, they are fans). As such, executives and hosts will be freer to ignore critics, while profiting from giving fans what they want. In the end, talk radio’s content will exist as long as an audience for it exists.

The Long View

Historians explain how the past informs the present

Brian Rosenwald is a fellow at the University of Pennsylvania and a doctoral candidate at the University of Virginia. He is completing a doctoral dissertation entitled Mount Rushmore: The Rise of Talk Radio and Its Impact on Politics and Public Policy.

TIME radio

Listen to Superman’s First-Ever Radio Episode

Action Comics No. 1 Introducing Superman
Hulton Archive / Getty Images Cover illustration of the comic book Action Comics No. 1 featuring the first appearance of the character Superman, June 1938

Superman's first radio serial premiered 75 years ago today

It’s a bird, it’s a — well, you know.

By now, Superman’s legendary introduction needs no introduction. But, on this day in 1940, when the Man of Steel made his first foray into the audio serial format, listeners heard them emerge from the radio for the first time.

Though Superman (introduced in print form in 1938) would have several on-air incarnations, he started his radio days in a thrice-weekly show, The Adventures of Superman. At the time, he also appeared in comic form in dozens of U.S. newspaper, in addition to dedicated issues of Action Comics and Superman Quarterly. There were 100,000 members of his fan club, but not everyone loved him equally, as TIME reported in the Feb. 26, 1940, issue:

Superman comes on the air with a shrill, shrieking sound effect (combination of a high wind and a bomb whine, recorded in the Spanish war). Voices hail him with: “Up in the sky—look! It’s a bird. . . . It’s a plane. . . . It’s SUPERMAN!” Superman or no superman, he has to watch his step on the radio. Mothers’ clubs have their eyes on him, the Child Study Association of America feels that his occasional rocket & space ship jaunts are a bit too improbable. By radio’s own war rules, he must remain neutral, may mix in no international intrigues, rub out no Hitlers. So last week Superman cleaned up a local mob bent on wrecking the Silver Clipper, a streamliner train; caught them after a quick repair job near Denver, heaving 20 tons of rock off a trestle and replacing missing rails in a jiffy.

Neither Superman nor Clark Kent appeared in the first episode, however. Instead, it tells of the destruction of Krypton — as you can hear for yourself below, via the Internet Archive:

Read original coverage of the debut of Superman’s radio serial, here in the TIME Vault: H-O Superman

TIME Television

The Wire, Serial and the Decline of the American Industrial Empire

AP ON TV The Wire
Paul Schiraldi—AP Photo/HBO Clarke Peters, left, and Dominic West in a scene from season five of "The Wire"

What TV can teach us about Baltimore, and what Baltimore can teach us about the world

When The Wire first aired on HBO, critics and fans swooned over the performances of Idris Elba, as drug pusher Stringer Bell, and Dominic West as the shambolic but determined detective Jimmy McNulty. But the often-overlooked star of the series was the city of Baltimore itself.

While ostensibly a dark police drama, The Wire is also a window into the history of Baltimore over the last 30 years, and what happens when sociological theories become public policy. The viewers hailing it as the best television show ever made were being shown a side of American urban history that is rarely explored in such detail.

The Wire is a story of systems, people’s role in them and resistance to them. The global capitalist system is the force that has built up and then abandoned Baltimore. In season 2, longshoremen are shown a promotional film of robotic cargo handling at Rotterdam, and realize that their jobs will be eradicated by this new technology. They are unable to resist this change.

The importance of “the system” extends to all of the characters. In 1938, Earl R. Moses conducted a study on the “Negro Delinquent in Baltimore” for the Works Progress Administration. This study was included in Clifford R. Shaw and Henry D. McKay’s influential 1942 book Juvenile Delinquency and Urban Areas, which promoted Social Disorganization theory to explain the phenomenon of juvenile crime. This book’s introduction endorsed the new federal housing projects that were then being proposed, and which later formed the main location for the start of The Wire. Social disorganization theory holds that location is the key factor for crime, not an individual’s race or personal tendencies: put very simply, people in rough neighborhoods are more likely to be rough. Paradoxically, while housing projects were meant to clean up crime-ridden areas, in many places they made it worse — for precisely the reasons the sociologists should have expected. Once criminal elements took over the projects, kids within them were more likely to be drawn to crime.

These projects — and the world they created — were partly responsible for how gang crime changed since the 1960s, when it was largely a juvenile phenomenon of petty delinquency, to a system of groups that include older members and more entrepreneurial activities. Changing attitudes in social control meant that, rather than seeing troublemaking youngsters in need of guidance, authorities saw organized crime in need of punishment.

And, though social disorganization theory fell out of favor after the 1960s, around the same time that the nature of gang crime changed — and when criminologists often turned to cultural explanations, for example the idea that young, black men are violent because of the legacy of slavery, or because of absent fathers — it has recently come back into vogue. The “broken windows” policing theory is related to social disorganization theory; both share the emphasis on place as a contributing factor in crime.

But what makes this scene distinctive to Baltimore as opposed to any other city plagued with gang crime? Why is this place special? It’s a matter of scale: The Wire depicts a world in which gang participation had reached a critical mass. The teenagers involved are not deviating but conforming. While these young men have been largely excluded from the legitimate economy, participation in a gang can offer a job, a sense of inclusion and also protection. (Even though it will never be lucrative for most participants. As Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt showed us in Freakonomics, while the leaders may profit, the kind of money filtering down to the lowest level soldiers, or “hoppers,” is very small.)

Despite the numbers, members of the urban underclass are not empowered citizens. They are not citizens at all, in police parlance, a “citizen” being a law-abiding, presumably tax-paying, member of the community. Even the gang members on The Wire recognize and accept this classification themselves, distinguishing in their own victims between fellow criminals and “citizens,” and priding themselves on not harming the latter. So, in the context of this community, a large proportion of the black male population will never be regarded as “citizens.” Thus they are faced with resisting a system from which they are excluded, and which regards them as a problem to be managed.

Which brings us back to the housing project, one of the management systems used. We learn from the show that all residents of are photographed for identification and security. In addition, the police are often watching from rooftops, taking photos: making the housing projects a panopticon in which all are under scrutiny. Supposedly to “detect and punish deviance,” in the words of James C. Scott’s Domination and the Arts of Resistance, CCTV seems to be a punishment in itself, denying people privacy. In The Wire, the opening credit shot shows a more aggressive resistance to this oppression, as the view is shown through a CCTV camera that is hit with a rock, fracturing the lens.

Baltimore is unlucky as hell, from what we see. Parasitic government, politically hamstrung and underfunded police, hellish public schools, dying economy, rampant drug crime. A perfect storm of urban dysfunction.

In reality, the city has tried — as other post industrial cities have — to find ways to resist or accommodate an economy in which its old industries are no longer needed.

Anyone visiting Baltimore today can see its waterfront regeneration, which was depicted in The Wire from the perspective of political corruption and a working class forced out by gentrification, but this redevelopment doesn’t necessarily reach the average resident. And the city still feels awkward about its past. It lacks a city museum; H. L. Mencken’s house is no longer open to the public; Edgar Allen Poe’s house has also struggled despite the efforts of fundraisers, its ability to attract visitors no doubt impaired for many years by its proximity to the crime-ridden Poe Homes projects. The biggest tourist draw is Fort McHenry, just outside the city.

Baltimore’s murder rate went from 27.6 per 100,000 in 1985, to a peak of 48.2 in 1993. It remained close to that peak through the 1990s, and had dropped back to 37.3 in 2009 and remains there currently, according to FBI figures. This is better than it was, but still equates to over 230 homicides annually, and demonstrates that Baltimore has not seen the massive drop in violent crime experienced in other big cities. (New York’s murder rate is now 4, and Chicago’s 6.5.)

More recently, the podcast Serial drew the eye of crime watchers back to Baltimore, by investigating the 1999 murder of high schooler Hae Min Lee. Serial is not The Wire—it’s not fiction; it takes place in Baltimore County rather than the city; its focus is a single crime—but it touched on a number of elements of Baltimore’s crime narrative. Most disturbingly, one episode discussed Leakin Park, where Lee’s body was found. This wooded park has been notorious since the 1960s for the number of bodies dumped there. The same location was discussed in The Wire, where a detective talks of going to look for a body there, and being warned, “We’re looking for one body in particular—if you go grabbing every one you see, we’ll be here all day.” There’s even a website that keeps a ghoulish tally of the bodies found there, and it is assumed there are more than have been recorded — another example of the importance of place. Even as the city tries to rebound in reality, these two very different narratives keep bringing back the bad associations for Baltimore, which is even more unfortunate if one subscribes to theories about location.

By inviting us to witness those “sharing a dark corner of the American experiment,” as the show phrased it in Season 3, The Wire explains the recent history of Baltimore, a city that has been sidelined in American popular culture of the last generation. And though its story is specific, its broader message is the decline of the American Industrial Empire, and how one of the biggest cities in America became a byword for crime and decay: “Charm City” indeed.

TIME Podcast

Serial‘s Key Witness, Jay, Reveals New Details About the Case

Serial
Serial

Jay Wilds explains lying to the police and helping bury Hae Min Lee's body

The man who served as the key witness against Adnan Syed in the 2000 Baltimore murder investigation, which recently has gained national attention thanks to the hit podcast Serial, revealed new details about the case in a report released Monday.

Although Jay Wilds declined to be formally interviewed by Serial host Sarah Koenig, he told The Intercept in a multi-part interview that he was unfairly portrayed.

Koenig investigated the circumstances surrounding the death of Hae Min Lee, Syed’s ex-girlfriend, and the role that Wilds played. Syed was later found guilty of murder and is serving a life sentence in prison. Although Wilds admitted to police that he helped Syed bury her body, he denied further involvement — and Koenig questioned why his story surrounding the afternoon of Lee’s murder changed over time. Wilds, who dealt pot at the time, said:

I wasn’t openly willing to cooperate with the police. It wasn’t until they made it clear they weren’t interested in my ‘procurement’ of pot that I began to open up any. And then I would only give them information pertaining to my interaction with someone or where I was.

Wilds also clarified his friendship with Syed (“I only smoked with him two or three times”), his fear of retribution for dealing drugs (“I also ran the operation out of my grandmother’s house and that also put my family at risk”) and chilling details about seeing and burying Lee’s body.

Read more at The Intercept

Read next: The Innocence Project Tells Serial Fans What Might Happen Next

TIME radio

Casey Kasem Family Feud Continues as Radio DJ’s Body Is Buried in Oslo

Eric Jamison—AP In this Oct. 27, 2003, file photo, Casey Kasem poses for photographers after receiving the Radio Icon award during the 2003 Radio Music Awards in Las Vegas

Former host of American Top 40 was buried in Norway last week without the knowledge of his adult children from a previous marriage

Casey Kasem, the legendary former host of the radio show American Top 40, was buried last week, six months after his death, at a cemetery in Oslo, adding another chapter to a long-running family feud.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Kasem’s daughter Kerri Kasem wrote: “This morning my family and I learned that my Dad’s abusive wife Jean Thompson Kasem and their daughter Liberty conned a cemetery in Norway into burying my Dad there. Even with ALL the letters, attached below, from my father’s friends and family stating that he wanted to be buried in the UNITED STATES, the country in which he was born and raised, his wishes were, once again, ignored by his unfaithful wife.”

CNN on Tuesday confirmed the burial at Vestre Gravlund in Oslo with a manager of cemetery administration.

Kerri won conservatorship over her father’s health in the months before his death, but Jean fought this decision in court, claiming that Kasem’s children from his first marriage were prematurely ending his life.

Before his death, Jean moved her husband from a care facility in Santa Monica, Calif., to the home of family friends in Washington State. Family members have since complained that they didn’t know where the body was located.

CNN was not able to reach Jean Kasem for a comment.

[CNN]

TIME Media

How Radio History Hinted at the Conclusion of Serial

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

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

Adnan Syed’s Family Finds Comfort in ‘Serial’ Podcast

Serial
Serial

For starters, they think host Sarah Koenig is "doing a better job investigating than the police did"

If you’re not listening to Serial, the wildly successful podcast (the most popular in history, in fact), you’ve probably overheard co-workers or friends or people at brunch talking about it.

Hosted by veteran radio producer Sarah Koenig, Serial explores the case of Adnan Syed, who was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999. Each week, millions of devoted listeners tune in to hear new details, theories and clues that could shed light on one central question: Is Syed guilty?

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Syed’s mom and brother, Shamim and Yusuf, open up about how Serial has affected them — and how Adnan’s conviction, in general, drastically changed their lives. Here are some things we learned:

They think Sarah Koenig is doing a great job. “Sarah is so thorough and clean,” Yusuf says. “She’s doing a better job investigating than the police did.”

They listen to every episode. Yusuf says he listens “in my room, by myself, so all the information can sink in better. After the episode’s done, I think about it all day.” Shamim listens “after everybody goes to sleep.”

They’re constantly learning new information. “Everything Sarah’s saying is new to me,” Yusuf says. “All I knew growing up was that my brother was arrested for a murder, but we believed Jay was responsible [for Adnan’s wrongful conviction, he means, or maybe even for the murder itself]. So when I hear the podcast it’s all new information.”

Adnan’s mom is finding a tiny bit of comfort in the podcast. She says she listens over and over to the part at the beginning, when the phone operator says, “This is a Global-Tel link prepaid call from…” and then Adnan recites his full name. “So sweet,” Shamim says.

Jay is a Redditor. The social news site has become a hotbed for intense discussion and theories about the case — and moderators told the Syeds that Jay, the key witness who testified that Adnan murdered Hae, is on Reddit, though they did not reveal his username.

They say Serial has helped bring their family back together. After the conviction, Adnan and Yusuf’s older brother, Tanveer, totally vanished. “I haven’t told Sarah this,” Yusuf says, “but we feel Serial has brought us all back together. My older brother Tanveer – who was estranged for 15 years – he came home. When he heard my brother’s voice, it brought back all the memories. He’s visited us three or four times already.”

Read more at The Guardian

 

 

TIME radio

Serial Podcast Gets Season 2

Sarah Koenig
Meredith Heuer Sarah Koenig, host and executive producer of Serial

"Between the money you donated and sponsorship, we’ll be able to make a second season"

Serial, the most popular podcast in the history of podcasts, will return to give listeners one story, told week-by-week, with its just-announced second season.

“This American Life funded the bulk of Season One, but for Serial to continue, it needs to pay for itself,” staffers wrote on their website Wednesday, about one week after first asking listeners to donate. “Today, we have good news: between the money you donated and sponsorship, we’ll be able to make a second season.”

Reporter and executive producer Sarah Koenig told TIME earlier this year that her team “want[s] to keep it going and the idea is that we will, if people seem interested in it.”

The producers don’t know when the season will air, nor what that story will be, probably because they still don’t know how their first story will end. The inaugural and current season of Serial is investigating the 15-year-old murder of Maryland teenager Hae Min Lee.

“I’m still reporting,” Koenig recently told the New York Times. “I said it’s not my responsibility to make a perfect ending. I do want a solid ending that is based in my reporting. But I don’t feel a responsibility to make it the kind of entertainment that you would get on some TV drama.”

TIME

Serial: What to Watch, Hear and Read If You’re Obsessed with the Podcast

HBO's "True Detective" Season 1 / Director: Cary Fukunaga
JIm Bridges—Jim Bridges/HBO

From Blood and Money to Love and Radio, here's what to do in between episodes of Serial

Serialthe addictive podcast from the team at This American Life — investigates the tragic story of the murder of Hae Min Lee and the guilt or innocence of Adnan Syed, who was convicted of the crime. Each week, a little more of the story is told as host Sarah Koenig unravels the clues, guiding listeners through hours of interviews, cell phone records, and courtroom transcripts, trying to get to the truth — or at least to a better understanding of what happened.

One problem with Serial, though, is that it only comes out once a week and for many fans, gets gobbled up in one 45-minute listening session. That leaves a lot of time without Serial. Here’s what to watch, read or listen to while you’re waiting for a new episode of the podcast — or after the series wraps in December.

Movies

1. The Paradise Lost Trilogy

The saga of the West Memphis Three is one of the most haunting true crime stories in American history. The story begins with the brutal killing of three 8 year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993. Three metal-head teenage boys were tried and convicted for what many considered to be a Satanic ritual. The trilogy of films follows the original trials and subsequent appeals along with widespread public doubt about the guilt of the West Memphis Three, as they came to be known.

2. The Imposter

In 1994, a 13 year-old Texan boy named Nicholas Barclay disappeared. Three years later, someone claiming to be him surfaced in Spain. But was it really the missing boy or an imposter? The documentary follows the stranger-than-fiction tale of Frédéric Bourdin and the impressive lies that the charming stranger told to everyone who crossed his path.

3. The Staircase

Michael Peterson’s wife was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in the couple’s home. Did she fall or was she pushed? French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s compelling, addictive mini-series strives to get to the bottom of what happened in their Durham, N.C., mansion, but creates more questions than answers in his searing, comprehensive documentary.

4. Dear Zachary

After Andrew Bagby was allegedly murdered by his very recent ex-girlfriend, Shirley Jane Turner, it was revealed that she was pregnant with Bagby’s child. Filmmaker Kurt Kuenne wanted to create a “cinematic scrapbook” of his friend Bagby, intended as a keepsake for Bagby’s son. Instead, Kuenne’s film captured the tragic events surrounding Turner’s arrest and became a compelling true crime documentary along the way.

Podcasts

1. Criminal

Each installment of Criminal tells a resolved criminal case — focusing on victims of crime, relationships with criminals, or just otherwise fascinating tales of criminal activity — all within a 15 to 20 minute time frame. It’s the purist’s true crime series with stories from prosecutors, crime reporters and others involved in the cases.

2. This American Life

Serial is the first spin-off from the popular radio show and podcast, and while the show is formatted differently, it’s similarly engaging. Each week (more or less) the radio show follows three or four stories, some real, some fictional, usually all related to a theme, and presents them in an easy-to-digest format. Stand-out episodes include the “The Giant Pool of Money”, which is an explainer of the sub-prime loan crisis and “Harper High School,” a two-part series on a modern urban high school. If those aren’t escapist enough, there’s always the one about the squirrel cop.

3. Love + Radio

Each episode of the podcast revolves around a theme that informs the show’s stories “from the seedy to the sublime.” The show plays like a cross between This American Life and Radiolab (which also has a great podcast) with engaging stories that are real or not, coupled with complex sound design. Highlights include their award-winning portrait of Jay Thunderbolt, a strip club manager.

4. StoryCorps

Filled with over 50,000 stories of real people, StoryCorps has something for everyone. The stories were collected as part of one of the largest oral histories in existence for the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, The stories are unveiled each week on NPR and released as a podcast that shares extraordinary stories from the lives of ordinary people.

Television

1. The Affair

The Wire’s Dominic West stars as a married man having the titular affair with a waitress played by the enchanting, sly-eyed Ruth Wilson. The story unfolds from a his-and-hers perspective, with the truth lying somewhere in between their memories of the events. The show’s first season is still unraveling, so it’s hard to know if it will live up to viewers’ expectations — but so far the show has set the bar very high.

2. Broadchurch

David Tennant (yes, the tenth Doctor) stars as a detective trying to resolve the murder of a young child in a small town, where everyone has secrets and no one seems to want to uncover the truth. Poignant performances and a devastating conclusion made the show a hit.

3. True Detective

HBO’s compelling detective show casts Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as an odd couple of detectives trying to crack a string of brutal murders with strange supernatural overtones. It was one of the buzziest shows of the year and if you’re a Serial fan, you should get caught up before the show reboots with Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell for season two.

4. Top of the Lake

Elisabeth Moss plays a Sydney-based detective who returns to her small New Zealand town and gets embroiled in a missing person case. Acclaimed filmmaker Jane Campion created the series, which brings a compelling female lead with complicated back story, a tough 12-year old girl who’s nobody’s victim, and a female-driven cult to the typical crime drama.

5. Happy Valley

This Netflix original hasn’t gotten as much publicity as Orange is the New Black, but it’s a compelling British crime story. The tense drama follows a police captain trying to save a young woman kidnapped by the man who raped her own daughter.

Books

1. Blood and Money by Thomas Thompson

The death of socialite and oil heiress Joan Robinson Hill in 1969 made waves in Houston and far beyond as her husband was convicted of her murder and married his mistress. Hill’s death was only the beginning of the story, though, and Thompson covers every twist, turn and dark secret of the sordid tale.

2. People Who Eat Darkness: the Fate of Lucie Blackman by Richard Lloyd Parry

Lucie Blackman was a 21-year-old Brit working at a “hostess bar” in Tokyo when she suddenly disappeared. Her father and sister flew to Japan to try and find out what happened to her. Parry, the Tokyo bureau chief for the Times of London, covered the case as it unfolded over months of investigations — and finally, over the course of the six year trial of the man accused of killing her.

3. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

The adventure writer turns his reporter’s eye on the horrifying double murder of a woman and her baby by two brothers convinced they received a commandment from God to commit the act. The story takes him deep into the heart of Mormon Fundamentalists, who defy the teachings of the Latter Day Saints and break the laws of state and country. It’s a darkly fascinating and ultimately unsettling tale.

4. The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy, the Shocking Inside Story by Ann Rule

Ann Rule is now one of the best known American true crime writers, but her fascination with true crime came from an unlikely source — she used to work at a suicide hotline with serial killer Ted Bundy. The book documents her relationship with Bundy, who she knew as a charismatic co-worker, but who was also a sadistic killer.

5. The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching for My Father . . . and Finding the Zodiac Killer by Gary L. Stewart

Gary L. Stewart set out to find his biological father, but that led him to a horrifying realization that his father may be the elusive Zodiac serial killer. It’s not just a hunch, though: During his hunt, Stewart turns up clues — including forensic evidence — that could conclusively point to his father as the notorious Zodiac Killer. It’s a sensational story that crafts a compelling case and a disconcerting portrait of a murder.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser