For nearly three decades, Dateline has dominated true crime TV, drawing channel surfers and devoted fans alike into tantalizing whodunnit investigations. Now the franchise is staking its claim as a major contributor to the crime podcast craze, as well. Earlier this year, NBC launched its Dateline podcast, an ongoing rollout of audio adaptations of TV episodes from its 27-season run. New episodes have appeared every few days since May, with over 100 posted already.
The company has also begun formatting investigations into their own original podcasts. The first, 13 Alibis, debuted in May, about a wrongful murder conviction. Their next series, however, The Thing About Pam, feels like a perfect point of entry for a new Dateline audio audience. It has Keith Morrison.
The long-beloved (and lovingly parodied) Dateline correspondent narrates with a deep growl of a voice that is somehow as whimsical as it is imposing, like Boris Karloff reading How the Grinch Stole Christmas. He makes the macabre investigation sound like a cozy-mystery audiobook. This may not be the goal, but it’s part of what audiences have come to expect and enjoy from Dateline.
The story covers a five-year Dateline investigation into the 2011 Troy, Missouri, murder of Betsy Faria. Her husband is charged with killing her, while a friend, the titular Pam Hupp, collected a large life insurance settlement from Faria’s death that she refuses to share with the family. It gets stranger from there.
The series refreshingly lacks the overly-conversational style and self-conscious stammering that have become satire-worthy trademarks of podcasts and radio. Other TV production elements don’t translate as smoothly to audio. A string of quick quotes from unnamed sources makes more sense when you can see the talking heads, for instance.
Morrison as guide keeps the listener guessing, in part by making self-referential remarks that could be red herrings, or not. “The funny thing about making Dateline,” he sing-songs in one episode, “Is a lot of times, the murderer is pretty obvious.” But that doesn’t mean it is this time.