Serial, one of the most popular podcasts of all time, is changing course for its upcoming third season — rather than focusing a single extraordinary case, as it did in its first two runs, the show’s new episodes will chronicle a full year inside the Cleveland, Ohio criminal court system. The first two installments will premiere September 20th, and subsequent episodes will follow weekly on Thursdays.
“If you’ve listened to Serial before, you probably know that our first season was about a murder case in Baltimore,” host Sarah Koenig said in a trailer for the project. “Ever since that story aired, people have asked me and the people I work with, ‘What does that case tell us about the criminal justice system?’ And the answer is: The case of Adnan Syed wasn’t typical in any way — defendant with no criminal record, public defense attorney. Rarest of all: a six-week trial. The vast majority of cases don’t even go to trial. I don’t think we can understand how the criminal justice system works by interrogating one extraordinary case. Ordinary cases are where we need to look. This season of Serial we do just that. We take a look at the entire criminal justice system. A year inside the criminal courts in Cleveland, Ohio. We chose Cleveland because they let us record everywhere: courtrooms, back hallways, judges’ chambers, the prosecutor’s office. And then we followed those cases outside the building: into neighborhoods, into people’s houses and into prison.”
— Serial (@serial) September 5, 2018
Koenig and reporter Emmanuel Dzotsi spent over a year in the Cleveland court system for the show, documenting small criminal cases like marijuana possession and disorderly conduct up through serious felonies. Some stories will unfold in a single episode; others will span two or three.
“Every case Emmanuel and I followed, there came a point where we thought: ‘No, this can’t be how it works,'” Koenig said in a statement. “And then we were like, ‘Oh! Oh my god. This is how it works! This is how it happens!’ People who work in the system, or have been through the system, they know this. But millions more people do not. And for the past year I’ve had this urgent feeling of wanting to kind of hold open the courthouse door, and wave people inside. Because things are happening – shocking things, fascinating things – in plain sight.”
Serial editor Ira Glass, who hosts radio show This American Life, said he loves “how hard it is, what they’re doing this season, how big the target is, that it’s the entire system.” He added, “Even listening to early drafts, which is basically just Sarah reading the scripts to a bunch of us over Skype and playing quotes off her computer, I had this dumbass fanboy ‘OMG it’s Serial!’ feeling, just totally caught up in the characters and what happened to them, and in Sarah’s deeply Serial-ish super-methodical, annoyingly well-reasoned investigation into the deeper truths that underlie all the stories.”
The podcast’s third volume follows Season Two, which aired during the winter of 2015-16. For that season, Koenig teamed with screenwriter Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker) to document the court martial of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.