Serial launched in October 2014 as the first spin-off from This American Life. It was created by TAL producers Julie Snyder, Ira Glass, and Sarah Koenig, who also hosts the show. Serial tells one, true story over the course of a season. Season One is a re-investigation of a 1999 murder case in Baltimore. Released in 12 episodes, Serial Season One set podcast records and is still widely cited as the most listened-to podcast in the world, with more than 300 million downloads. Slate called Season One “a master class in investigative journalism,” and The New Yorker wrote that “Serial gave millions of people what felt like a personal connection to the realities of criminal prosecution.”
Serial Season Two, released in December 2015, takes on the story of Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier who walked away from his post in Afghanistan, was captured by the Taliban, and held for nearly five years. It’s a complex personal story tied to the competing demands of American foreign policy and domestic pressures during America’s longest war.
For Season Three, Serial went back to court. This time, in Cleveland. Sarah and reporter Emmanuel Dzotzi spent a year inside a typical American courthouse. In this season, they tell you the extraordinary stories of ordinary cases. One courthouse, told week by week. Season 3 premiered in September 2018.
Serial has won most every major award in broadcast journalism, including the Peabody Award (the first ever awarded to a podcast), the Edward R. Murrow Award, the duPont-Columbia University Award, and the Silver Gavel Award from the American Bar Association.
In 2017, Serial formed a podcast production company called Serial Productions. The goal was to develop new shows using the reporting and editorial talent at This American Life. A few months later came the debut of S-Town. Hosted by Brian Reed in seven chapters, S-Town is like a nonfiction audio novel, following the life of one man and his relationship to his hometown in rural Alabama. S-Town was an immediate success, with more than 40 million downloads in its first month. Many critics declared it the best podcast of 2017; from New York magazine: “Novelistic, ambitious, and powerful, Brian Reed’s southern gothic is an unambiguous, marvelous achievement.”