This Is How Serial Is Made

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The massively popular podcast sensation Serial is back for its second season. You may have heard. An in-depth piece about how the second season — which takes former Taliban prisoner Bowe Bergdahl as its subject — was made just dropped in New York magazine. In it, host Sarah Koenig dishes on the show’s humble beginnings: Most season one episodes were edited in her Pennsylvania basement and Koenig commuted into New York via MegaBus. Even This American Life, the podcast’s parent company, had offices so cozy that a visitor advised host Ira Glass never to allow people to see where he worked. The runaway success of Serial spawned a collaboration with Page One, producer Megan Ellison’s media company that includes Mark Boal. Boal, who wrote The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, conducted the 25-hour interview that serves as the basis for this season’s Serial (Koenig never talked to Bergdahl herself). Koenig talked about the biggest challenge in the new season: “It’s making sure I knew what the hell I was talking about. I had a big learning curve on this one. I’m not a war reporter. I’m not a national-security reporter. You know what I mean?” Boal says that he had an advantage because he wasn’t in the “one-night stand situation” of a tight deadline. “I had the luxury of spending a year talking to Bowe,” he tells New York. Koenig says there was a bit of a tense negotiation regarding turning over the interview: “He was extremely nervous and cautious to turn this over to us, which I completely understand. I didn’t get that at first; I was like, ‘What’s the problem?’ But it’s his voice, it’s very personal.” Boal says not to ask him about how the new season will develop: “One of the exciting things about Sarah is that she lets listeners into her deliberative process. And I’ve tried many times to get her to give me a preview of that process, and she doesn’t like to do it that way. She likes to do it in real time. So I’m pretty much just as curious as you are.”

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