Issue 300,  published April 6, 2021

Apple TV+’s Twin Project

So, this is very interesting. This morning, Apple TV+, the tech giant’s media streaming service, announced an original content production called The Line that’s actually a combination of two different projects spanning two different formats.

The first project is a six-part narrative nonfiction podcast series hosted by Dan Taberski (Missing Richard Simmons, Running From COPS) that debuts today on Apple Podcasts and via RSS feed, which means it’s accessible by every other podcast platform that’s plugged into the open ecosystem. Meanwhile, the second project is a four-part limited documentary series directed by Jeffrey Zimbalist (The Two Escobars) that will be released exclusively on the Apple TV+ platform later in the fall. Both come from Jigsaw Productions, the prolific documentary production company led by Alex Gibney.

The press release describes the two projects as being independently reported productions that both attend to the same subject: the story of Eddie Gallagher, the former U.S. Navy SEAL who was charged in 2018 with committing war crimes in Iraq before ultimately being acquitted for all but one count, which involved Gallagher posing for a photo with a corpse.

Beyond the fact that I’ll pick up anything that Dan Taberski puts down, here’s what I find interesting about this announcement: Apple TV+ seems to be positioning this project as the division’s first original podcast that isn’t strictly a companion marketing piece to one of its television assets, as was the case with the For All Mankind podcast that came out earlier this year. The fact that the company is visibly positioning the podcast series as a parallel but separate experience to the limited documentary series is intriguing detail, though whether or not that positioning is entirely accurate will only bear itself when the latter drops in the fall.

(For what it’s worth, I think there’s at least one precedent for this separate-but-parallel twin podcast-docuseries approach: the combination of the Morally Indefensible podcast and the FX docuseries A Wilderness of Error, both projects about the same story by Marc Smerling that came out last year. Also, I imagine there may well be some similar cross-platform hijinks with the many, many Gamestop projects in development.)

For now, though, I’m revising my general read of Apple’s original podcast adventures. Up to this point, I’ve chiefly interpreted the company’s much-reported interest in original podcast development as being mostly about marketing. There’s the previously mentioned For All Mankind companion podcast, but the past few years have also seen the releases of The Zane Lowe Interview Series (marketing for Apple Music), Apple News Today (marketing for Apple News+), the Oprah’s Book Club podcast (marketing for Apple Books), and the audio recordings of various Apple events that you can find distributed over the Apple Podcasts platform (marketing for… well, the company as a whole).

But what they’re doing with The Line feels like the start of a curious new direction. Additionally, as much as this is a story about Apple TV+ seemingly expanding its creative content interests into original audio, another thread worth noting is what appears to be the Apple Podcasts platform’s on-going neutrality. It’s not lost on me that the original content flowing through Apple Podcasts exclusively comes from other Apple divisions, almost as if the Apple Podcasts platform is insisting on identity that’s nothing more than a cold distribution point as opposed to something more mixed and complicated, as with the case of Spotify.

I’m very, very curious to see what comes next.

I run this thing.