The Serial spin-off S-Town recently derailed podcast listeners’ weekly regimens, dropping seven immaculately produced episodes all on the same day. The narrative unfolds vastly differently than the many episodic murder mysteries that have been released in Serial’s wake, starting off with a similar hook before spiraling into small-town arcana and finally assuming the form of a profile of Woodstock, Alabama’s resident horologist, climatologist, and misanthropist John B. McLemore. We’re big fans and have already relaunched our Serial Serial podcast to talk about it.
It’s a mysterious, unexpected little thing, which is part of what has made it so compulsively listenable. In part because of its amorphous nature, it creates more questions than it solves, leading people to clamor for more information (like the depressing state of McLemore’s hedge maze). Buzzfeed spoke to executive producers Brian Reed and Julie Snyder about making S-Town, and it helps shed a light on some of those details. (It is full of spoilers, for what it’s worth.)
Some of the most interesting have to do with its creation rather than its subject—like, for example, the fact that Reed wasn’t even sold on pursuing the McLemore story. A full half of the stories This American Life staffers investigate don’t get turned into episodes, and S-Town was something Reed did, he says, “on the side.” After deciding to pursue it and conducting hundreds of hours of interviews, he and Snyder produced a massive spreadsheet detailing what each conversation was about, which is what they used to trace the story’s strange arc. Of that novelistic structure, Snyder says:
“For those reasons, I felt like it’s important for it to feel that Brian has a story to bring you, and you’re going to have to trust that he knows the beginning, the middle, and the end of this story,” she said. “I felt like that’s what you get when you read a novel. You open the first page, you have no idea where you are and why you’re there, but you have a confidence that you know you can physically see there’s a final page, and the author has a story to tell you.”
Also, rest easy, there is a happy-ish ending for McLemore’s dogs:
McLemore kept a small army of stray dogs on his sprawling property, and there was some question as to what would become of them—McLemore had requested that they be euthanized after he killed himself. It turns out, they’re almost certainly fine. “For a long time, at least two of them were with Tyler,” said Reed. “And then it’s my understanding that homes were found for the rest. I don’t have the firmest information on this, but to my knowledge, they were not euthanized.”
The full article goes into much more detail about the show’s controversial investigations into McLemore’s sexual history as well as the still ambiguous whereabouts of his gold.