Ira Glass is staying tight-lipped about the third season of his hit podcast Serial, only revealing in a recent interview that the series will take on a different format.
"It's not a case," he told Variety at Cannes Lions earlier this week. "In season two, we tried to get away from true crime. We felt we already did that. Season two was about Bowe Bergdahl, a really different kind of story. We were looking at something that had news-and-issues stakes to it, but with the same narrative drive and characters to it. Season three takes on something huge and different with characters and narrative but very different from the first two seasons."
Season one of the popular podcast followed the real-life story of Adnan Syed, a man who may have been wrongfully convicted in 1999 of killing his then ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. The case against him was largely based on the testimony of one witness, Syed's friend Jay, who claimed that he helped Syed bury Lee's body. The podcast was an overwhelming success.
"I would like to say that we knew it was going to be popular, but we didn't," Glass said. "We really just saw it as a little side project. We had no idea that 14 million people would download every episode. No podcast had ever done that. No podcast had ever had a parody of it on Saturday Night Live. It wasn't a mainstream product like that. That was a turning point in 2014 for podcasts."
Season two chronicled the life of ex-Taliban captive Bowe Bergdahl, and what exactly happened between the time he went missing and he was released from their hold in May 2014.
As a serialized offshoot of This American Life, Glass explained, he and his team really wanted to focus Serial on narrative, regardless of the subject.
"When we started we were doing journalism about very personal stories," he said of This American Life's 1995 inception. "We were taking the tools of journalism and applying them to stories that were so small that journalists wouldn’t touch them. And then I and the staff started after September 11th getting very interested in the news as did the rest of the country. We started to apply those stories to stories in the news."
These days, he added, interest in the news has only grown – thanks in large part to the current administration, which has created "the most intense news-consuming period any of us can remember" – though there is no longer just one narrative for viewers and readers to follow. And that, he points out, is worrisome.
"There are new challenges that fact-based journalists face, but it doesn't have to do with the president," Glass said of what kinds of difficulties journalists face today. "Over the last 20 years, an entire second media has grown up that runs an alternate narrative to the mainstream media. … Every event goes through two prisms now in a way that it never did before. That's the hardest thing for those of us in the fact-based media. And that's enormously difficult to know how to deal with as someone in the mainstream media because the people who believe otherwise aren't consuming our product."