From makers of 'Serial' and 'This American Life' comes 'S-town,' based on Alabama town

From makers of 'Serial' and 'This American Life' comes 'S-town,' based on Alabama town

Brian Reed is the host of "S-Town," which tells the story of real events in a rural Alabama town. Photo courtesy of Andrea Morales

The massively popular "Serial" has ushered podcasts into mainstream entertainment since its debut in 2014. Now, creators Julie Snyder and Sarah Koenig are back with "S-Town," which is hosted by Brian Reed and tells the story of real events in a rural Alabama town. "S-Town," like "Serial," is spinoff of the radio show "This American Life," which has been on the air since 1995 and has a weekly audience of 2.1 million. All seven episodes of "S-Town" are being released today, perfectly prepped for binge-watching.  

"We’re trying to make something that sounds new as a podcast," Reed said in a phone call Monday afternoon. "It’s not another 'Serial' or 'True Crime' story. It’s its own thing."

Reed and Snyder began work on "S-Town" about three years ago, before its predecessor "Serial" was even released. An Alabama man named John reached out to Reed with complaints of his rural town and a wealthy young man who had allegedly been bragging about getting away with murder, whom he wanted a reporter to investigate. A series of events leads to another death (you'll have to listen to find out), and a story came to life. Through close to a dozen visits to John's town and many, many hours on the phone with Alabama folks, Reed has reported and investigated this story.

"It's definitely the place I've spent the most time reporting of anywhere I lived," Reed said. "As a place to report, at least in rural Alabama, I found it refreshing. You can just go up to people and talk to them and they're open."

Three years may seem like a long time. But to Reed, it never felt that way.

"I was never bored by it," he said. "I like the story. I feel like I’ve learned things about the world that I didn’t know before doing this story. I want to share that with people. I feel grateful and lucky that that’s my job to do."

"Serial" was modeled a bit after television shows, Reed said, while "S-Town" feels more like a book.

"The feeling of it as a story is a little more novelistic," he said. "You have this story kind of wedged in your brain. It’s built around this mood and feeling and being inside this place with characters over an extended period of time."

"Serial," which has been downloaded over 250 million times and has been spoofed on "Saturday Night Live," was the start of a podcast revolution of sorts. But there's still a lot left to explore in the realm of podcasts and storytelling, Reed said. 

"I think people just like stories," he said. "I feel like podcasts are there in the mix. I do feel like because they’re a newer medium there’s more that hasn’t been done yet. That’s one of the big things we’re trying to do. I hope we pulled it off."

All episodes of "S-Town" are available today on iTunes, the "S-Town" website, www.stownpodcast.org, and podcast apps like Stitcher. 

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