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Podcasting was one of the few entertainment constants in 2020, as the novel coronavirus roiled film and television productions and forced many networks and studios to push back many big-ticket releases. Audio-first producers, meanwhile, continued to make new shows — even if it meant recording in sound-proofed closets or home basements.
In fact, the last year was in many ways an inflection point for the podcast industry, one of continued consolidation and investment. It was the year that it seemed like almost everyone — including Michelle Obama and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — launched podcasts. That’s a trend that’s expected to continue heading into 2021. In the new year, listeners can expect more of the narrative non-fiction series that have become podcasting’s bread and butter (Pineapple Street Studios will launch series on the Unabomber and the Crown Heights Riot), not to mention new companion podcasts to popular TV shows (Shondaland and iHeartRadio’s Bridgerton series drops soon). The year is also expected to bring new stories about popular IP (see the expansive Spotify and Warner Bros. deal) and a podcast from at least one former president.
Though the podcast release calendar isn’t set nearly as far in advance as those for film and TV, The Hollywood Reporter has assembled a list of some of the audio shows to key an eye out for in the new year.
365 Stories I Want to Tell You Before We Both Die (Prologue Projects, Jan. 1)
Filmmaker Caveh Zahedi has teamed up with Fiasco’s Leon Neyfakh for this daily short-form podcast. In each episode, which will range from 2 to 5 minutes in length, Zahedi will narrate a tale. Some will be hilarious, some devastating, some profound.
The Apology Line (Wondery, Jan. 19)
In the 1980s, Allan Bridge posted fliers around New York City asking people to call the Apology Line to come clean about their wrongdoings, everything from infidelity to murder. But Bridge, who operated under the name Mr. Apology, soon became too involved in his callers’ lives, even trying to stop a serial killer. The podcast, which will debut early on Jan. 12 for Wondery+ subscribers, uses the thousands of hours of taped phone calls from the Apology Line to tell Bridge’s story.
Batman Unburied (Spotify/Warner Bros./DC)
In the first project to result from Spotify’s multi-year podcast deal with Warner Bros. and DC, Batman Begins screenwriter David Goyer will return to Gotham to explore the darker side of Bruce Wayne’s psychology. The series, which Goyer describes as “using the unique advantages of audio to dig into the more nightmarish members of the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery,” will debut exclusively on Spotify.
Death at the Wing (Sony Music/Hyperobject Industries/Three Uncanny Four Productions)
One of two podcast projects with Sony Music that writer/director Adam McKay teased at the Podcast Upfronts earlier this year, the series will explore the intersection of sports and politics by looking at the tragic deaths of several promising basketball players during the 1980s and 1990s. Though details are limited, the project is expected to launch in the coming months.
HypochondriActor (Hazy Mills Productions)
Following the 2020 launch of Smartless with his friends Will Arnett and Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes is returning to the recording booth for a podcast that combines medicine and comedy. For HypochondriActor, the Will and Grace star has teamed up with internist and comedian Dr. Priyanka Wali. In each episode, they will bring on a guest with an incredible medical story to discuss the outcome and quiz each other on medical history.
The Kennedys (Spotify, Jan. 19)
Timed to launch around the 60th anniversary of the inauguration of John F. Kennedy, The Kennedys will look at the history of one of the most powerful families in America. The podcast will explore not only the Kennedys’ influence over politics and entertainment but also the scandals and tragedies that have befallen the dynastic family over the years. Carter Roy, who hosts Conspiracy Theories and Unsolved Murders for Spotify-owned Parcast, hosts the special collection of episodes.
The Laverne Cox Show (iHeartRadio/Shondaland Audio, February)
Each week, the Orange is the New Black star will host intimate conversations with guests with the hope of fostering new perspectives and inspiring new behavior. Her goal is to encourage people to become the best versions of themselves, inspiring a spiritual makeover for herself, her guests and her audience.
Power: The Maxwells (Sony Music/Somethin’ Else, Jan. 12)
Hosted by investigative journalist Tara Palmeri, the seven-part series will tell the story of media mogul Robert Maxwell, father of British socialite and Jeffrey Epstein companion Ghislaine Maxwell. The series will take listeners inside Maxwell’s rise from poverty into a publishing tycoon and chart his fall, including his 1991 death while sailing on his yacht, Lady Ghislaine, near the Canary Islands.
President Bill Clinton Podcast (iHeartRadio/The Clinton Foundation, January)
The former President is following in his wife’s footsteps with the launch of a new audio series that will showcase his gift for storytelling. The show, expected to touch on the issues and events that shape our world, will feature Clinton in conversation with some of the most interesting people he knows.
There Be Monsters (iHeartRadio, February)
John Boyega and Darren Criss star in this sci-fi thriller about a Silicon Valley startup with dubious aims. In the scripted series, Boyega plays Jack Locke, a mysterious man with a vendetta against a body-hacking company run by enigmatic CEO Max Fuller (Criss). The highly secretive company promises to enhance human biology — but every drug has a side effect. Marley Shelton, Clark Gregg and Sahr Ngaujah also star in this series, which is being produced by Beau Flynn of FlynnPictureCo., Dan Bush of Psychopia Pictures and Boyega through his UpperRoom Productions shingle.
Welcome to Your Fantasy (Gimlet/Pineapple Street Studios)
In her first turn behind the microphone, academic and writer Natalia Petrzela tells the story of Chippendales. Using more than 100 hours of archival footage and 60-plus interviews, she unpacks how an immigrant from India and a children’s TV producer from New Jersey turned a seedy Los Angeles strip club into a global phenomenon, and how paranoia and greed ultimately turned the establishment into a hotbed for drugs, corruption and murder. Spotify-owned Gimlet teams up with Pineapple Street for the series following their 2020 collaboration on Wind of Change.
The White Tiger (Netflix, early 2021)
Netflix is set to debut the feature film The White Tiger on Jan. 13. This companion podcast will take listeners inside the story, based on the Aravind Adiga novel of the same name, of a village boy who strives to improve his situation by becoming the owner of a taxi service. The podcast will feature stars Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Adarsh Gourav and Rajkummar Rao, as well as writer/director Ramin Bahrani and producers Mukul Deora and Ava DuVernay.
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