For nearly 40 years, a boarding school for troubled kids with ties to Synanon operated out of the San Bernardino Mountains. The case of a teen who went missing from the school in 2004 is the subject of the first project from NBCUniversal’s new podcast banner.
The Lost Kids launched June 3, kicking off Universal Content Production’s foray into podcasting via its UCP Audio division. The six-part true crime series explores the history of CEDU Running Springs through the story of Daniel Yuen, who disappeared after escaping from the program 16 years ago and has never been found.
Host Josh Bloch tells THR that UCP Audio executives reached out to him about the project after seeing a 2019 news article about a potential sighting of Yuen years after his disappearance. “There were a number of things about his story that were really intriguing,” Bloch explains, including “how emblematic he was of the kinds of situations that kids and their parents find themselves in that lead up to them deciding to send a kid away to a program like CEDU Running Springs.”
The project is Bloch’s follow up to CBC podcast Escaping NXIVM, about the group, its leader and a member’s journey to get out. Bloch began investigating CEDU Running Springs and the disappearance of Yuen in September, work that involved interviewing Yuen’s parents and reaching out to former staff and residents of the program. In one early episode, he and a former Running Springs resident trek through the mountains to find the site of the program, which closed in 2005.
Bloch’s biggest challenge was crafting a compelling narrative from each of the threads he discovered during reporting. “We tried to walk people into it slowly and slowly peel back the layers, rather than bombarding people with all the craziness,” he says.
The Lost Kids is the first in a lineup of planned UCP Audio podcasts that also include true crime investigation House of Prayer and Esmail Corp.-produced scripted sci-fi series The End Up. The banner allows UCP to incubate IP that can then be adapted for television — much the way it produced TV versions of podcasts like Homecoming and Dirty John.
Though podcasting is new for UCP, Bloch says “we quickly found a common language.” He adds that the potential for adaptation didn’t change the creative process. “We really approached this story as an audio story,” he says. “The focus was like, let’s just make a good podcast.”
All six episodes of The Lost Kids dropped on June 3 on podcasting platforms including Apple and Spotify.
In other podcasting news:
— The fictional true-crime show, Looking for LaToya, that features regularly in the current season of HBO’s Insecure is getting the podcast treatment. A one-episode special will drop in podcast form on Sunday, June 14. Tenderfoot TV, podcast studio behind Up and Vanished and Atlanta Monster, collaborated with Insecure creator Issa Rae’s Raedio and HBO on the scripted project. It will dive into the disappearance of LaToya Thompson, using parody to explore the lack of true crime investigations focused on missing black women.
— The week of June 8 saw the return of a podcasting favorite and the debut of several new series. Slate’s Slow Burn dropped the first episode of its fourth season on June 10, introducing listeners to new host Josh Levin and his reporting on David Duke. On June 12, Crooked Media released the first two episodes of Unholier Than Thou, host Phillip Picardi’s vehicle for exploring religion and spirituality in the modern era. Also on June 12, Audioboom released Truth vs. Hollywood, in which David Chen and Joanna Robinson deep dive into how closely films hew to the real life stories they portray.