From The Teachers Pet to Spr, true crime is making a real dent in the criminal justice system worldwide. Can the third series of the pioneering podcast Serial keep up?
On paper, the first season of Serial, launched in 2014, didnt exactly scream hit. Who would have bet on aThis American Life spin-off podcast that investigates a 16-year-old murder case in 12 episodes of excruciating detail without ever reaching a definite conclusion about who was guilty?
Yet the host, Sarah Koenig, correctly judged the publics appetite for true-crime stories, and eagerness to turn over the small details of a case for themselves, to the extent of contributing new information or witnesses.
Serial returns this week with a new series, but it does so as something of a victim of its own success. There are now hundreds of serialised true-crime podcasts, all of them clearly inspired by that first season of Serial.
Whats expected of these shows has also changed. Koenig was always upfront about the fact that she was investigating but not adjudicating on her stories, but true-crime shows have been effective tools of restorative justice. Adnan Syed, from the first series of Serial, who maintains his innocence, had his conviction overturned in 2016 and is awaiting a new trial. The Teachers Pet, an Australian podcast about Lynette Dawson, who went missing in 1982, has resulted in a new police search for Dawsons body. Spr, a Swedish podcast, turned updramatic new evidence in the case of Roger Lindberg, who was attacked and killed 14 years ago. The podcast led to the retrial and eventual acquittal and release from prison of the man originally convicted of the murder, KajLinna.
Serials new season will focus on different cases at a single courthouse in Cleveland, Ohio. Koenig says she wants to show more about the workings of the criminal justice system. It means that, unlike most true-crime shows, the cases featured will be recent, so interventions could have a big impact.
Will listeners be happy just hearing about justice? Perhaps. But after the success of previous true-crime shows in overturning verdicts, they might be hungry for Koenig to deliver some herself.