What happens when a podcasting company gets into fiction? Gimlet Media is about to find out.
Since Gimlet Media was founded in 2014, the company has made a name for itself with journalism.
This week, the podcasting company changed that game plan up a little.
On Tuesday, Gimlet Media announced that for the first time, it would produce a fictional podcast. The show, called "Homecoming," will feature actors Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac and David Schwimmer and is a psychological thriller told through a series of mysterious telephone calls, therapy sessions and overheard conversations about an experimental facility.
The show, which was written by Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg, will launch later this month and be told in six weekly installments:
"Homecoming" is part of a slate of new shows from Gimlet that includes "Undone," a podcast examining the aftershocks of big news stories, and "Crimetown," a show about the seedy underbelly of Providence, Rhode Island. Both "Crimetown" and "Undone" are non-fiction offerings.
Although fictional podcasts may be new for Gimlet, they've been explored by other companies before. Panoply, the podcasting spinoff from Slate, saw success with "The Message," a science fiction podcast created in partnership with GE.
The eight-episode series shot to the top of the iTunes charts and joined productions including "Welcome to Night Vale," "The Black Tapes" and "We’re Alive" in the expanding genre of make-believe podcasts.
For Gimlet, which since its inception has been focused on journalism, "Homecoming" isn't as much of a departure as it might initially seem, said Caitlin Kenney, head of new show development at Gimlet Media. The company's secret sauce is its storytelling chops, which can be applied equally to journalism and fiction.
“I don’t see this as a change of our mission or purpose at all, I just see this as at Gimlet, we know how to tell the best stories in audio with unparalleled quality," Kenney said. "And I think that extends to both the fiction and the nonfiction podcasts.”
Although "Homecoming" is made up, Gimlet Media approached the show in much the same way it would a traditional podcast, Kenney said. Alex Blumberg, the company's CEO sat in on the story development meetings, as he does with the company's other shows. Reporters went on-location to gather sound, as they would for other shows. And episodes of "Homecoming" went through multiple drafts, the same way Gimlet's non-fiction shows do.
There were some differences, however. "Homecoming" is clearly labeled as fictional, setting it apart from Gimlet's other shows. The traditional arc of a Gimlet podcast — with a single reporter narrating the action — has also gone out the window. And, of course, it's scripted.
Although "Homecoming" is a departure from business as usual for Gimlet, that doesn't mean the company is prepared to stray from its roots as a journalism company, Kenney said.
“I think journalism is always at the core of our DNA," she said. "Most of the people who work here, with the exception of the people working on homecoming, would call themselves journalists."
This season's slate of shows also represents an evolution in the way that Gimlet develops its shows, Kenney said. Previously, the company had a shorter turnaround time from conception to publication, causing producers to release content that wasn't always the best it could be. Gimlet has since lengthened its development time, giving ideas more time to gestate.
The company has also shuttered some of its podcasts this year, hard decisions that ultimately proved enlightening for the staff, Kenney said. The closure of "Sampler," a podcast about podcasting hosted by Brittany Luse, underscored the importance of holding onto talented podcasters even when the shows they produce don't work out.
Luse is staying, and she'll work on something else relevant to her interests, Kenney said.
“We’re a creative enterprise, and to create things, we’re going to have to try things that don’t work out,” she said.
And overall, Gimlet's goal is to put out quality shows on a regular basis — shows that generally have lots of reporting and production muscle behind them.
“Those are the shows that do the best," Kenney said. "If you look at the iTunes charts and look at the shows that rise to the top and stay there, it’s the people who are working on shows every week.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the surname of "Sampler"'s host. It's Brittany Luse, not Luce. We apologize for the error.