IFC's upcoming scripted comedy “Maron” is the latest in a growing trend: the podcast leading to a television series. The semi-autbiographical (dare one say "Louie"-inspired?) half-hour stars Marc Maron as, more or less himself, a comedian with a successful podcast who struggles with relationships. This is certainly the way real-life Maron presents himself on his real-life podcast, "WTF with Marc Maron," which regularly starts off with a monologue/rant about his life at the given point in time before heading into a longer segment where he interviews a comedian (or actor, or musician, lately) of note.
The monologues and interviews deal with Maron's own personal issues with intimacy, and sometimes with his tense relationship or fraught history with the interview subject. Since debuting in 2009, "WTF" has become a big hit by podcast standards, more often than not achieving Maron's apparent goal of honest -- even if it has to be painfully honest -- conversation, occasionally touching deep and profound veins of truth.
And so, as of May 3rd, it will be a television program, with a recently announced array of guest stars ranging from comedy veterans (Jeff Garlin, Dave Foley, Bobcat Goldthwait, Andy Kindler, Denis Leary) to indie stalwarts (Gina Gershon, Mark Duplass, Eric Stoltz, Ileana Douglas) to popular young-ish TV actors (Adam Scott, Aubrey Plaza, Nora Zehetner, Ken Jeong). Also set to appear are the less easily classifiable Judd Hirsch and Danny Trejo. A great number of these collaborators have also been on the real-life "WTF," adding that meta-theatrical layer.
While “Maron" is based on source material from a medium that only really came into its own 8 or 9 years ago, it's one of several series that originated as podcasts. IFC itself also produces Scott Aukerman and Reggie Watts' “Comedy Bang! Bang!”, renewed for a second season several weeks ago, while the BBC has “The Nerdist,” adapted from Chris Hardwick's geek culture podcast/growing media brand of the same name. The Science Channel recently launched “Stuff You Should Know,” a scripted show based on Josh Clark and Charles W. Bryant's educational podcast.
It's too early to tell whether this tendency heralds the podcast as new, fertile ground for TV series (and whether aspiring small screen stars should immediately run off and grab a microphone), but a number of factors make the podcast a natural place for TV development people to turn looking for material. An extant podcast saves those development teams the energy of thinking up their own ideas, and one successful enough to attract notice has already proved that it has an audience.
Also, in contrast to a best-selling series of novels like George R.R. Martin's “A Song of Ice and Fire” cycle -- the basis of HBO's “Game of Thrones” -- or a popular comic book like Robert Kirkman's “The Walking Dead,” now an ongoing and similarly successful AMC series -- podcasts are without any precedent in terms of the scale an audience might be expecting for production values, making them far more economical to produce as television.
In a way, this is a throwback to the early days of television, when many radio programs—among them “The Lone Ranger,” such an evergreen it's seeing a film adaptation this summer—were ported to television to take advantage of the built-in audiences they had. The motivation behind adapting podcasts for television is different, as is the culture: the monoculture in which everyone listened to the same radio stations and watched the same four TV channels is long since gone. Podcasts, as with many other forms of entertainment, are individualized experiences, that have niche audiences, as do all but the most popular cable television programs.
For podcasters themselves, the idea of television being a possible next step is an enticing one. For one, not even the most successful podcasts generate much revenue. Maron, by his own account, has a handful of modest sponsorship and merchandising arrangements even though his is one of the most-discussed podcasts out there is at the moment. Podcasters without Maron's audience or cachet lack even those revenue-generating options. Podcasting, quite simply, is not a way to get rich.
But with podcasts being traditionally free of charge, and with the great prevalence of mp3 players, smartphones, and the like -- to say nothing of home computers on which one can also listen -- a well-done podcast can be an excellent way to reach an audience with a relatively small initial investment (audio equipment, server costs). From a creative perspective, the same practical realities apply.
However, aspiring podcasters looking to score a TV deal should be forewarned: Marc Maron is in the singular position of having been in show business for a solid quarter century and, however contentious the relationships may seem, he knows a vast number of people. “Maron" is a contemporary take on an older and well-established phenomenon in television: the half-hour comedy starring a stand-up comedian. That Maron landed this show largely due to a form of discourse that takes place sitting down matters less than that he may be too good at what he does to serve as a bellwether of the future of podcasts-turned-TV series.