Podcasts are on TV, not just in your earbuds

Podcasts like '2 Dope Queens,' 'Pod Save America,' and 'Welcome to Night Vale' are all making the transition to networks including HBO and FX.

Courtesy of Mindy Tucker/HBO
Jessica Williams (l.) and Phoebe Robinson star in '2 Dope Queens.'

Podcasts once came to you only through your earbuds, but now they’re showing up on your TV screen, too.

Podcast titles such as “Serial” and “WTF with Marc Maron” have become as prominent in cultural conversation as TV shows and movies. And now TV is turning to podcasts for material for some new programs.

HBO aired four comedy specials based on the podcast “2 Dope Queens” earlier this year. Then the network announced that it would be airing specials based on the political podcast “Pod Save America” this fall. Among other TV networks adapting podcast material, FX is working on a TV show based on the podcast “Welcome to Night Vale.” 

Chris McBrien, a business and marketing professor at Georgian College and host of the podcast “Pop Goes Your World,” sees podcasts, where these hosts got their start or burnished their reputations, as an intriguingly homegrown enterprise. “Things have changed,” Professor McBrien says of the entertainment world. “Now you need a computer and you need something to say and you can find an audience.”

But McBrien is unsure whether a partnership between podcasts and Hollywood is always a good idea. “Hollywood is still a visual medium, and podcasting is not,” he says. Some podcasts may adapt easily to a new format like TV. But McBrien thinks many may work best remaining in audio form.

Ross Brown, director of the Master of Fine Arts in writing and contemporary media program at Antioch University Santa Barbara and a former TV writer and producer, sees podcasts as a fresh place for Hollywood to seek out new talent (even as, once upon a time, stand-up comics such as Jerry Seinfeld and Roseanne Barr were given their own sitcoms). “People who have already succeeded have been ... filtered by agents and development executives and so on,” he says. “And going to the sort of Wild West that is podcasting or web series ... is a way to maybe find somebody who’s really outside the box and has a fresh point of view or an original voice ... and that hasn’t been discovered yet.”

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