Produced By: 'Homecoming' Creator, 'Dirty John' Showrunner on Mining Podcasts for TV Content
Saturday's Power of Podcasts panel at the 2019 Produced By conference included 'Homecoming' creator Eli Horowitz, 'Dirty John' showrunner Alexandra Cunningham, Gimlet Media's Chris Giliberti and 'Small Town Dicks' host Yeardley Smith.
While books have long been adapted to the screen, the newest trend in Hollywood may be bringing podcasts to life through TV and film. Two of the year's buzziest shows, Amazon's Homecoming and Bravo's Dirty John, both started as podcasts before having a second life as a series.
At Saturday's Power of Podcasts panel at the 2019 Produced By conference, Homecoming creator Eli Horowitz spoke about creating his hit podcast and stumbling into TV success, adapting the show later with Sam Esmail. Horowitz said he started writing the fictional podcast himself because "we were taking pitches and that smell of the 'We wish it wasn't a podcast, we wish it was a TV show,' but they'll do it as a podcast for now because someone told them it was a good idea — that was a real turn-off to me. So I wanted to do it in a total other direction."
And that he did. Horowitz said that while some people have pushed back on how different the show is than the original podcast, it was out of necessity.
"I don't know if it's podcasts in general but the way we made it, it was so narrowly focused," Horowitz told the audience on the Warner Bros. lot. "We didn't even say what the building was like, we didn't do all sorts of things. We only had to answer the questions that were appearing in the script basically. So once you start asking the questions: What does this place look like? Why does it look like this? Who made it look like this? It just kind of snowballed and then it's almost more of a challenge to hold onto what you need to hold on to because it can take on a life of its own."
In contrast, Dirty John showrunner Alexandra Cunningham said she's gotten criticism that the show was too close to the podcast, which she listened to and read the accompanying Los Angeles Times print pieces, and immediately thought of Connie Britton to star.
"I remember I was looking at the pictures of Debra Newell, who is the woman at the heart of the story, and thinking, 'Connie Britton should play her, because no one else has hair like that,'" Cunningham joked. "That's the sophistication of me as a producer, I'm like, 'Who has hair like this?'"
She also remembered walking into an all-male room of producers when she first came aboard the show, who immediately asked her, "'How are you going to make Debra not look stupid?' And I was like, 'I'm going to make Debra not look stupid because to me she isn't stupid. She is a trusting person who is a generous person and gives people the benefit of the doubt. She's not stupid, so just because you guys read too many comments on the L.A. Times website, we're going to be fine because we're going to have Connie Britton play her, and Connie Britton isn't stupid.'"
As for adapting future shows, Cunningham says podcasts provide her great source material because of the intimate experience they provide.
"I have people basically speaking into my ear and telling a story, and that's a lot more seductive than someone sending you a PDF of an article that they think would make a good television show," she said. "It's another incredible source of IP and it's exploding all the time. If you're in my position, you'd be a fool to not try to consume as much of it as possible."
The panel, moderated by Sanjay Sharma, also included Chris Giliberti, head of Gimlet Pictures, and Small Town Dicks podcast host (and voice of The Simpsons' Lisa Simpson) Yeardley Smith.