Podcast startup Wondery claims a sweet spot in content creation and curation within the booming but highly competitive podcast landscape. And it found this spot not by being first to market, nor exploiting a previously untapped genre, but through strong and innovative storytelling across several of the most demonstrably successful genres. And Wondery podcasts are winning.
Among a crowded field of true crime offerings post-‘Serial’, Wondery captured a sizable fan base and quickly found a formula for spinning off hits into Hollywood development deals. Wondery original (in partnership with the LA Times) ‘Dirty John’ is now greenlit for television adaptation with Connie Britton top-lining an A-list cast. Meanwhile, ‘Sword and Scale’ has a development deal at Ben Silverman’s Propagate Content.
CEO Hernan Lopez launched Wondery in 2016, with the backing of his former employer 20th Century Fox. Through a combination of smart creative partnerships (many of them with legacy media outlets) and innovative in-house story-hunting/development, Wondery swiftly established itself as a force within the non-fiction anthology category. With the March 31st announcement of $5 million in Series A funding, the podcast producer/network rang a high note on two incredibly successful launch years.
During its short and successful launch period, Wondery has focused mainly on established genres like business, entertainment, personal development and true crime. Some of its series relied on celebrity guests, others on dramatization, and others on rock-solid traditional investigative reporting.
Here are a five Wondery podcasts that you should dive into for entertainment, education and a template for success.
With the simple yet telling tag line “Business is War,” this series deep-dives into epic battles between two behemoth brands at the defining moment in history — which one would dominate and the other would fade into the background.
Storytelling: Produced in-house, each cycle of ‘Business Wars’ tells the story of a landmark brand battle. The narrative is driven by a writer or reporter completely immersed in the backstory of two brand behemoths fighting for supremacy in the vertical. David Brown of ‘Marketplace’ has, to date, been the host. The journalist writes the script, which becomes the framework for a re-creation of actual conversations or defining moments.
Episodes to download: “Nike vs. Adidas”, “Blockbuster vs. Netflix”
‘Safe for Work’
Billed as a career advice podcast to address all the things you can’t actually disclose about work, this is Wondery’s first call-in show. It’s hosted by Liz Dolan, former CMO of Nike and Oprah Winfrey Network; and Matt Ritter, a former TV writer and executive recruiter. This dynamic duo banters their way to life-changing advice with a constantly changing featured guest list of entrepreneurs, creative game-changers and celebrities. While some of the topics are specific to the 9-to-5 office life, others are relevant and helpful to folks who work remotely and/or on a contract basis.
Episodes to download: The first guest of the series was Rainn Wilson, talking about artistry and his startup Soul Pancake. A recently aired (March 19, 2018) episode features screenwriter John August, talking about taking risks in the workplace —specifically, asking to be entrusted with responsibility beyond what people already expect from you. A recent episode on April 9 focuses on the infinite pitfalls of running a family business. An April 16 negotiation episode covered circumstances related to freelancers as well as full-timers seeking the best compensation and benefits in today’s ephemeral marketplace.
Part of an ongoing but not season-delineated anthology series that intimately explores the origins of iconic American films. For movie buffs and Americana experts, this podcast is a scintillating tour behind the scenes — and behind the producers’ inscrutable public faces.
Episodes to download: Horror geeks were more excited about “Inside Psycho” — part true crime, part Hollywood insider memoir – than they were about the recent Gus van Sant big-screen remake. The podcast is oh so meta, and super insidery, yet also familiar to anyone who ever thrilled to the unmistakable crescendo of the theme song. And with true crime podcasts’ weird magnetic appeal to the younger female demographic, we’re pretty sure that even women who were always too terrified to watch the actual ‘Psycho’ film can sink their teeth into this squishy, gory history.
Other episodes to download: “Inside the Exorcist”… and watch this space for a very exciting announcement of the next ‘Inside’ installment.
‘Good Life Project’
Produced in partnership with host Jonathan Fields, this uplifting and motivational podcast amplifies the overall ‘Good Life Project’ mission of living a “fully engaged and purpose-drenched life.” Lifelong creative professionals, entrepreneurs and business execs alike can stand to learn from its episode, featuring a mix of generational thought leaders like Seth Godin and under-the-radar heroes like traumatic accident survivor Ruthie Lindsay.
Episodes to download: There are a lot of absolutely golden episodes in this long-running series, but if you’re just getting started, two standouts are “Curiosity and the Passion Fallacy” with Elizabeth Gilbert, and “Halfway Through Life, What Really Matters?” with Tim Ferriss.
Other episodes: Brian Koppelman, showrunner/co-writer of Showtime’s hit series ‘Billions’. Susan Piver, founder of Open Heart Project.
‘This Is War’
Many media outlets claim to tell veterans’ stories, but few want to showcase the broken fragments that lead to some of the most extraordinary redemptive arcs. Perhaps because Wondery is produced first for an audio medium rather than more traditionally packaged TV, this series doesn’t shy away from the darker moments in its featured veterans’ life stories.
Each episode, a new guest — a veteran from some branch of the armed services — traces their unique story, from pre-military to their experiences while deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, including combat, to what happens after military service and the struggle of reintegrating into civilian life. The series digs into violence, traumatic injury, addiction, PTSD and all the other painful realities of the military/veteran experience. It is hosted by Anthony Russo, print and podcast journalist.
Episodes to download: Episode 1, Ian Mearns, who did two tours after signing up as a recruit at the age of 17. Episode 4, released April 4 — Marcus Freeman, still grappling with rage after serving as a combat medic for a decade in Afghanistan and Iraq.