While there are plenty of podcasts that are just essentially 21st century versions of ‘zines, others have really revived investigative journalism. True crime stories in particular have found a great new platform to regale us with their intricate narratives, heightening our connection to the stories by often including interviews with the people that the story is actually about. The biggest hit of recent years was the first season of Serial, which — while extremely compelling — also didn’t provide listeners with any closure (and was followed-up not by another unknown crime, but one with too much exposure). Since then, many true-story podcasts have instead had told full stories with a definite end, including S-Town, In the Dark, and Dirty John.
The Dirty John podcast is based off of the crime reporting of Chris Goffard of the LA Times. I happened upon it a few months ago thanks to the recommendation of a friend, and devoured it all in two car rides. Dirty John tells the story of John Meehan and his relationship with a wealthy California woman, Debra Newell, and how he sought to alienate her from her family in increasingly bizarre ways and with a murderous end (though it’s maybe not how you expect). The less said the better — I knew almost nothing going into it other than it was twisted and an easy binge, and it is most certainly both of those things. (Here’s a link to the podcast’s homepage).
Now, Dirty John is being adapted into a series on Bravo (which is really the perfect network for it). According to THR, the first (scripted) season will follow the story of the podcast, with a second season telling a different, but similarly closed-ended story. The anthology will be written by Alexandra Cunningham (Chance), and executive produced by Cunningham alongside Mark Herzog, Chris Cowen, Chris Argentieri, Charles Roven and Richard Suckle.
Meanwhile, Bravo’s sister network Oxygen, which recently rebranded to focus on true crime, will also run its own investigative series on Meehan and his life of crime, harassment, and manipulations. Bravo has stepped away from the scripted game for the most part in recent years, but this particular subject matter makes sense for them as well as for Oxygen. And while there is no schedule yet for when we might see the Dirty John anthology, it should be a fascinating project (I’m really interested to see what they do with the casting in particular).
What are some of your favorite podcasts of the moment, and do you have a favorite true crime podcast of the last year or so? I also recommend In the Dark, although it’s incredibly depressing. Dirty John is more of a “WTF!?” kind of podcast, and can even be a little frustrating, but I was definitely riveted throughout.