The company, which was set up by former Fox International Channels boss Hernan Lopez, is developing a number of its serialized podcast series for the small screen, including dark medical drama Dr Death, Business Wars and Gladiator, the story of ex-New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez.
It is now plotting a TV remake of Over My Dead Body, which just ended its six-part run atop the Apple podcast charts, and is in the process of hiring its first in-house development executive to take a more hands on approach to adaptations.
The first season of Over My Dead Body, subtitled Tally, is the story of Dan Markel and his wife Wendi, two good-looking attorneys whose wedding is featured in the New York Times.
But when this perfect couple’s marriage falls apart, it leads to a bad breakup, a worse divorce, and a murder case involving a menagerie of high-priced lawyers and unexpected co-conspirators.
It is hosted by Matthew Shaer, who had originally planned to turn the story into a long-form print article after delving into the dark world of orthodox Jewish divorces with a shady rabbi nicknamed The Prodfather, whose tactics are slightly less than ethical, for GQ. Shaer, who had written an early season of Wondery’s Business Wars series about the battle between Nike and Adidas, was subsequently encouraged to tell this story as a podcast. “It’s a good example of how Wondery approaches a story; we want to figure out how to tell it in the most compelling way through the people that are involved and to a certain degree take the reporter out of the middle,” Marshall Lewy, Chief Content Officer of Wondery, tells Deadline.
The story features a cast of different characters, although the murder doesn’t necessarily come right at the start. “People overuse the term Fargo-esque but it really was and we wanted to do something a little different in true crime, where no one dies in the first episode, it’s the middle of the second episode and then you don’t really know what happened and then the blanks get filled in,” he adds.
The case is also not completely wrapped up with a trial set for June. “We wanted to do six complete episodes to where things stand now and [focus on] the evidence as to what seems to have happened. It’s like the end of a TV season finale.”
With the help of Oren Rosenbaum, UTA’s head of emerging platforms, who represents Wondery, the company is now looking to package it up for television. “We’re talking to a number of high-level showrunners and trying to zero in on a decision,” he says.
It hopes that it can replicate the success of Dirty John, which started as a podcast about a manipulative con-man called John Meehan, before being turned into a Universal Cable Productions series for Bravo starring Connie Britton and Eric Bana. “We are always thinking about whether these stories are going to have appeal for film and TV. We want them to succeed as podcasts first but there’s definitely an appetite out there for podcasts, especially in the TV space, and the storytelling is very episodic and story driven so they lend themselves [to TV],” Lewy says. “Dirty John is a good blueprint for us as to how to bring these things out in as strong a position as possible.”
Dr Death, the story of rogue neurosurgeon Dr. Christopher Duntsch, is also set up at Universal Cable Productions and Escape Artists with Happy! showrunner Patrick Macmanus writing the pilot. FX is developing a scripted series based on Gladiator with Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson’s Color Force and Mad Men writer Janet Leahy is writing a pilot of Business Wars, based on the Nike and Adidas battle.
Lewy, who previously worked on TV shows such as Project Greenlight, says that they’re looking for partners that can provide as much commitment as possible and offer creative support to talent. Its next stage, however, is looking to develop projects in-house and is in the process of hiring a development exec to drive this forward. “We’re pretty hands on and we want to partner with great people. Some of the other podcasts that we haven’t announced, it’s just us and we’re in the process of hiring a development executive for film and TV so between my film and TV background and Hernan, who was at Fox International, we’ve been doing that and we’ve grown to the point where we’re ready to have a fulltime executive in-house.”
Wondery is at the leading edge of the podcast boom, which data firm Podcast Insights has found that over 70M people in the U.S. listen to podcasts each month. “It’s a very pure form of storytelling right now, you can go very deep with a relatively small number of tools,” says Lewy.
True crime is driving a lot of listening with the likes of Serial and Criminal among the most downloaded shows. But Lewy adds that he doesn’t consider its shows traditional true crime. “Dirty John is a psychological thriller and Over My Dead Body is a mashup of a soap opera and a police procedural. We do let the people the story drive the story and we always want it to be about something greater.”
Many of the Wondery shows, which also include Charles Manson story Young Charlie and Inside Jaws, have a similar sound, something that the company strives for. “One of the things that we focus on is the way that we tell the story, we use immersive sound design to bring the listener into the story in a way that touches them emotionally,” he adds.
What’s next for the business, which recently scored multi-million-dollar investment from the likes of Shari Redstone’s Advancit Capital, Greycroft Partners, Lerer Hippeau Ventures; BAM Ventures and German media company Bertelsmann?
It is working on a new medical show with Dr Death host Laura Beil, has partnered with the LA Times on Man in the Window, a thriller that uncovers new and surprising details about the Golden State Killer and has tied up with Bloomberg to produce The Shrink Next Door with journalist Joe Nocera, about a patient who was controlled and manipulated by his therapist for 25 years.
“Last year we had two tentpole miniseries and they were the biggest new podcasts of the year so it was a high bar to meet again. We have a plan to do six this year. It’s a lot but it’s not for a shortage of story, we just want to do something new each time and continue to have people respond positively,” Lewy adds.