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Unplayed Zero

Posted by Sandy Baggs on


In my latest monthly podcast rankings, I had Invisibilia as my top show...so it’s fair to say that my expectations were extremely high. I wrote, “A lot of the podcast buzz lately has come from entities that aren’t “the establishment,” but Invisibilia (hopefully) will be a good reminder that the old guard (NPR) still has it.”

After listening to episode 1, the question at hand is... does it?

So before I get into the show too much, I should say that this is really a story of expectations. And mine, for Invisibilia, were way out of whack. In the days/weeks post-Serial, the internet has been abuzz with stories of what’s coming next, and on surface level, Invisibilia seemed like the obvious next big thing. It’s an NPR show, so I knew the production quality would be there. It’s hosted by Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel, who, like Sarah Koenig, have production backgrounds on huge public radio shows (Radiolab and This American Life). And the preview show had a guy called Mr. S! I mean, protecting names is so super Serial.

But then, 45 minutes into episode 1, I realized that Invisibilia wasn’t an ambitious new idea—it was just a new show that fit somewhere between This American Life and Radiolab in the “a couple good stories told really well” category. It's nicely done-although I was pretty surprised they went for the longish length—but it didn’t feel like anything new or unique. If this were television, Invisibilia would be NCIS Vegas or Law and Order: Criminal Intent—the show that fans of the genre will enjoy, but is sort of like too many other shows to be anyone's favorite on the dial.

To be fair, we’re only one episode in, so all this could change. And given my podcast listening habits, even if every episode was just like this one, I’ll probably listen happily for the rest of 2015, still amazed that I’m getting content this good, for free, every week or so. But I have to say, I was really looking for NPR to do something groundbreaking. To cover something in brand new way, with a new and exciting voice.

Maybe next time.


No, I didn't begin 2015 with a re-review—TLDR changed hosts in December, switching from PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman (now at Reply All) to Meredith Haggerty. And after listening to her first three episodes, I felt it necessary to treat her version of the show as a new entity (even though the theme is the same). Give it a read.


In my quest to absorb as many new voices as I can, it's nearly impossible for me to actively keep up with too many podcast subscriptions. So instead of creating an arbitrary list of shows I'm actively subscribed to, I'm changing the focus here a bit with a list of the ten shows I'm most excited about at the moment—the ten shows that are producing the stuff that's most interesting to me right now. Like any consumer, my tastes change quite regularly, so check back at the beginning of each month for the latest updates.


NPR has been doing "if you like this show, try this" ads on its shows for a while now, but lately they've been promoting a new show, Invisibilia. Here's the scoop from NPR:

Launching in January 2015, Invisibilia is a new NPR program about the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and thoughts.

Hosted by Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel, public radio veterans who helped create and regularly contribute to Radiolab and This American Life, the program interweaves personal stories and dynamic new psychological and brain science, in a way that ultimately makes you see your own life differently.

If you're interested in good storytelling shows, give the Invisibilia preview a listen. It reminds me a lot of Radiolab, but the "Mr. S" intro has a definite Serial vibe.

Also, Invisibilia is already available in most (all?) podcast apps, so be sure to get that all set up before the first episode hits.


Gimlet Media has the interesting distinction of being the only network in the history of podcasts that was born before our very ears (on StartUp). Like the Truman Show, we were sort of there during the naming process—we were there through the American Podcasting Corporation days. We were there during the first hire, and the painful negotiating process that came with it. We heard the first VC pitch. We witnessed the cashing of the first check. And we’re all (well... maybe not all of us) more invested in Gimlet’s success for it.


Part of the Best of 2014 series: There's a lot to be excited about in 2015, but one podcast network in particular has me downright ansty-pantsy. Podcastland needs more hitmakers, and maybe (just maybe) we have a good one on our hands.


Part of the Best of 2014 series: I'm not a huge fan of comedy shows with groups of people uncontrollably laughing, so my top pick is a more subtle one. One that made me laugh out loud... in public.


Part of the Best of 2014 series: There's one show out there that kind of changed the game in podcastland, and it had to win. But the runner up is no slouch. It's an interview show that edits out the interviewer—and it's one of my favorites.


From Natasha Vargas-Cooper - The Intercept:

This interview is the first time Jay has spoken publicly about events surrounding Lee’s death and the trial that ended in Syed’s conviction. We met over the weekend at his two-story suburban home. Jay’s wife and mother entertained the couple’s young children while Jay and I spoke in the family living room.

This is the first part in a multipart interview. The following has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Woah boy. If you're a fan of Serial, this is must-read stuff.

Update: Judging by my Twitter feed, the general reaction to this interview is "Jay's a liar who will always lie, and he probably paid the interviewer. Why is he talking to people anyway?" Ugh. I mean, sure, maybe he is lying, but the paid journalism part is pretty insulting I think. Anyways, Ken Kurson at the New York Observer just interviewed the Jay interviewer, and it's a really good read.

[My interview] demonstrated that Jay’s a pretty smart guy. He’s a human being and I don’t think there was any way for him to have known that not giving an interview to a journalist would result in huge segment of the population speculating that he committed the murder.

So, just for one moment, imagine an army of Redditers knocking on your door and calling your place of employment to tell people you're a lying murderer (these things are actually happening). Of course you'd talk to someone! I don't know if he's lying or not, but not telling his side of the story at this point just isn't an option anymore. And imagine if what he's saying is true. He was a high-shcool kid looking at jail time for dealing weed (3-5 years he says), and the first time he saw the body (according to the interview) was in front of his grandma's house. Would you want the police potentially searching your grandma's house—the house he was dealing out of—for evidence? Then, as a dealer, imagine being seen around town with the police during Baltimore's "stop snitching" era. If what he's saying is true, of course he told the police half-truths along the way. He'd be crazy not to.

Anyways, an interesting tidbit came at the end of the NY Observer article:

“Well, it might get even better,” Ms. Vargas-Cooper said tantalizingly. “It hasn’t been 100% confirmed, but I do have like two more interviews of people who refused to speak with Sarah who are very big players. … It looks like the prosecutor is going to talk to me and he said he wants to talk about the questions that he would have asked Adnan had he taken the stand.”

I can't wait!


From Andrew Beaujon - Washingtonian:

During the 18-month incubation period for Invisibilia, a soon-to-launch show about human behavior, NPR asked the categorical questions media organizations have always used to give direction to their efforts: Would it be its own radio show? A podcast? A segment on other shows?

Instead of trying to fit Invisibilia into preexisting categories, “we decided to just answer yes,” says Eric Nuzum, NPR’s vice president for programming.

Invisibilia will debut January 9, and it “is really meant to be a big thing on a lot of different platforms at once,” Nuzum says. Pieces from the show will populate Radiolab, All Things Considered, and WBEZ’s This American Life. And, of course, Invisibilia will be available as a podcast.

Oh, also, “You can make the argument that 2015 is the year of the podcast”. Give this one a read, will you?

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