New podcast from Serial makers, S-Town, breaks download records

S-Town producer Brian Reed interviews a Woodstock, Alabama native.

S-Town producer Brian Reed interviews a Woodstock, Alabama native.

After a disappointing second season that dulled the sheen on Sarah Koenig's game-changing debut, the team behind breakout hit Serial have struck gold again with their new podcast.

S-Town, produced by Serial makers Brian Reed and Julie Snyder from This American Life, has set a new record for podcasts, being downloaded more than 10 million times in the first four days of its release, Variety reports.

To put that in context, Serial's game-changing first season took seven weeks to reach that number.

The series, released freely online on Wednesday, follows a murder mystery in Woodstock, Alabama, sparked by local eccentric John B McLemore, an antique clock restorer who emailed Reed in 2014 suggesting his team investigate a local death.

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The podcast, three years in the making, takes its title from McLemore's dry description of his hometown: "S...-town".

Sarah Koenig, Ira Glass, and the crew behind the groundbreaking Serial podcast.

Sarah Koenig, Ira Glass, and the crew behind the groundbreaking Serial podcast.

A shocking death at the end of the second episode quickly hooked listeners, leading to conspiracy-clouded cafe discussions among fans and glowing reviews from online critics. The wide consensus? It's podcasting at its finest. 

"Anyone interested in audio journalism's potential as art will marvel in what Reed and his team accomplishes," goes a typical rave from The Atlantic. "Moving and startlingly raw" Esquire added, while The New York Times cut to the gist, writing, "Liked Serial? Here's why the true crime podcast S-Town is better".

The series' success marks a return to form for podcast pioneers This American Life and the team behind Serial - Reed, Snyder, Koenig, Ira Glass and Neil Drumming, now going by the name Serial Productions - following the lacklustre response to Serial's official second season, which centred on Bowe Bergdahl, a US Army soldier who was held captive for five years by the Taliban before being charged with desertion.

That podcast, which made its debut to much hype in December 2015 and was also hosted by Koenig (herself an editor on S-Town), was met with mild disinterest by the time it wrapped up last March. An unravelling investigative piece, it was criticised for straying far from the true crime antics of its predecessor, as well as a fortnightly structure that lost many followers.

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Of course, while impressive, S-Town's record-breaking run comes with a few caveats.

Unlike Serial's often infuriating weekly wait, S-Town has taken the Netflix approach, dropping all seven episodes in a crowd-pleasing binge-ready format.

The story of #STown begins with an email sent to This American Life.

A post shared by S-Town Podcast (@stownpodcast) on

It also comes as the appetite for true mystery podcasts has once again peaked, following the unlikely viral success of Missing Richard Simmons, a series from former Daily Show producer Dan Taberski that chased the whereabouts of the reclusive retro fitness guru.

The ethically-iffy series, which aired its final episode amid controversy last week, topped podcast charts during its six-episode run.


 - Sydney Morning Herald


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