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Follow Up on USA Today’s gambit with The City

Plus: Wolverine claws into your eardrums, and a note on Crime Writers On

Follow-up on The City. As much as folks were excited for the prospect of “The Wire or Treme, but only if they were true” — which, to my mind, weirdly evokes Robert Caro’s The Power Broker more than anything else, not that I’ve actually read it because it’s a fucking brick that’s eaten other bricks — wait, what was I saying? Oh right. Anyway, turns out that as much as the prospect was super interesting, turns out that more than a few readers were moreover drawn to this little detail in the big profile this week:

The City’s road to the USA Today Network was an unconventional one. After learning that WNYC wouldn’t be picking up the show in August 2016, Amer secured help from a literary agent, Danielle Svetcov, with whom she started shopping the pilot episode around in November 2016.

I was deluged with emails and texts asking: is it common for literary agents — or agents in general — to work with podcast creators to shop around their works? Well, my answer’s a little complicated. I don’t believe literary agents getting involved in brokering podcast deals for creators is all that common; in fact, this is the only instance that I’m personally aware of. (If there are more examples, do let me know.) But the involvements of agents more generally, in terms of building projects around talent and shopping them among podcast publishers, has become increasingly common, and has been for a while, especially with the rising involvement of talent agencies within the podcast space. In that context, it’s the reverse dynamic from what we’ve been seeing in the recent pod-to-tv trend. This article from The Hollywood Reporter from the summer of 2016 snapshots this activity:

Although The Tony Kornheiser Show is the first podcast from IMG Original Content, sister agency WME has struck several podcast deals for its clients, including Sophia Amoruso (#GirlBoss Radio), Stephen Dubner (Freakonomics, Question of the Day), Malcolm Gladwell (Revisionist History), Brian Koppelman (The Moment) and Slate (Cultural Gabfest). So, yeah, while the specific instance of The City hasn’t really happened before, it does fit as a variation on an overarching trend.

Anyway, I think what Danielle Svetcov — of the Levine, Greenberg, Rostan Literary Agency — has carve out here hints at a fruitful opportunity for further mining; last week, I illustrated the role that one book publisher plays in creating additional value around the relationship between books and podcasts. (Mediating simultaneous projects in both medium around the same properties, expanding the surface area of exposure, etc. etc.) There’s no reason that literary agencies can’t get in on the fun, and I’m sure we’ll see more from this soon enough. (Another example I’m thinking about: that imprint Panoply built around Happier’s Gretchen Rubin, which could really go further than it currently has.)

The Long Night. I’m planning to write something in the next newsletter around the trailer that just dropped for Wolverine: The Long Night, the podcast collaboration between Marvel and Stitcher, and the challenge-pleasure-experience of hype and a strong lead-up to launches, which is something that I’ve been getting from this project. But for now, I’d just like to plug this Vulture interview with Benjamin Percy, the veteran comics writer who handled the story and script for the upcoming podcast. Besides being the kind of piece I’d love to read — and get AMPED as a result — should I, of course, be a member of the target demographic, which I marginally am, I also thought it was pretty fun #process fodder:

Did you go to the well of other scripted podcasts, to get a sense of how that works, or old radio dramas?

I did. I was already an avid podcast listener, but I brushed up on some of my favorites, including Serial and S-Town. Their success, I think, has everything to do with their investigative format, the way that the listeners are complicit in the story. They are co-authors, they are literally detectives, because they are piecing together the clues alongside the point-of-view characters, the reporters in that case. In our series, our point-of-view characters are FBI agents. We’re lodged in their point of view, in their perspective, as we work our way through this community where dark deeds are occurring.

As a side note, it’s quite cool to see how writers primarily functioning in other media unpack the aesthetics of certain hit podcasts.

A side note. I’ve been producing more reviews for Vulture, and one of the side effects of that is that I find myself dedicating more time to thinking about true crime stuff, which not only is an exceptionally prolific genre in the podcast universe but also the genre that general readers seem to respond most consistently and strongly towards. (As far as I can tell from my limited metrics, anyway.) To that end, I’m thankful for Crime for Writers On, a really enjoyable round-table podcast that I’ve found myself leaning on these days to situate and contextualize the ideas I’ve been coming up with. Writing is a sad, isolating, and pitiful process, for me anyway, and I’ve often found it hard to tell when I’ve spiraled into an abyss or when I’m actually producing copy. Checking in with the show once in a while has been ever so helpful to get outside of my head.