Last year’s Serial—a 12-episode podcast investigating the 1999 murder of a Baltimore student—sparked a phenomenon. Each week, millions of listeners anxiously looked to their smartphones, tablets, and computers for new installments of the true-crime drama to appear. Serial set off a slew of social media chatter, think pieces, and more podcasts. “In the normally low-profile world of podcasting,” wrote Ellen Gamerman of The Wall Street Journal, “Serial is a certified sensation—a testament to the power of great storytelling.”
Serial cocreator and narrator Sarah Koenig recounts the case of Adnan Syed, a man convicted of strangling his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, during their senior year of high school. Serial’s first season ended ambiguously, refusing to definitively answer the basic question, “Did Syed kill Hae Min Lee?” But the show’s ambiguity only piqued listener interest. Serial quickly became one of the most popular podcasts in history, the fastest, according to Apple, to reach 5 million streams or downloads.
Similarly, HBO’s documentary series The Jinx captivated audiences in early 2015. Sketching the life of enigmatic millionaire Robert Durst, The Jinx tried to prove that Durst murdered his first wife, his best friend, and a next-door neighbor.
Arguably, The Jinx succeeded where Serial fell short. The final episode ended with Durst saying that he “killed them all, of course.” Durst’s apparent confession, combined with his arrest on the day of the show’s finale, incited strong commentary from the media and broader public. According to Canvs, a qualitative social TV platform, 35,108 tweets went out about The Jinx in ...1