The team behind podcast hit “Serial” are premiering the latest season of the investigative series — digging into the inner workings of Cleveland’s criminal-court system — later this month.
The first two episodes of “Serial” season 3 will debut Sept. 20, with subsequent episodes to be released weekly on Thursdays. Instead of telling a single story over the course of the show, as the first two seasons did, the third run will follow many different stories with some spanning two or even three episodes.
When “Serial” first launched in 2014, the spinoff of NPR’s “This American Life” became an overnight podcasting success. In the first season, Sarah Koenig narrated an investigation into the 2000 conviction of Adnan Syed for the murder of his girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in Baltimore. (The show led to a judge’s ruling granting Syed a retrial, which remains pending.) Season 2 of “Serial” documented the story of Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier who was captured by the Taliban. The first two seasons of “Serial” have been downloaded more than 340 million times.
Now, with season 3, “Serial” tells the stories of ordinary cases as they wind through the justice system in Cleveland. Producers said they chose Cleveland because they were given an unusual level of access to record inside courtrooms, judges’ chambers, hallways and attorneys’ offices. For the latest season, Koenig and reporter Emmanuel Dzotsi — an Ohio native and former “This American Life” fellow — spent more than a year in the city, looking at small criminal cases like marijuana possession and disorderly conduct and more serious ones including felonies. The duo say they documented various manipulations, distortions and justifications that they say produced a disparity between what people did and what they were punished for.
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The show comes from Serial Productions, formed by the podcast’s original producers in 2017, and is partnered with “This American Life,” which is produced in collaboration with Chicago Public Media. The executive producer of “Serial” is Julie Snyder, who also created the company’s “S-Town” podcast with Brian Reed that launched last year.
“Every case Emmanuel and I followed, there came a point where we thought: ‘No, this can’t be how it works,’” Koenig said in a prepared statement. “People who work in the system, or have been through the system, they know this. But millions more people do not. And for the past year I’ve had this urgent feeling of wanting to kind of hold open the courthouse door and wave people inside. Because things are happening — shocking things, fascinating things — in plain sight.”
Ira Glass, host of “This American Life” who serves as an editor for “Serial,” commented that even the early drafts of season 3 left him with “this dumbass, fanboy ‘OMG it’s ‘Serial’! feeling” that reflected Koenig’s “deeply ‘Serial’-ish, super-methodical, annoyingly well-reasoned investigation into the deeper truths that underlie all the stories.”
“Serial” season 3 will be available as a free download via apps including Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts, and also will be available free on Pandora via an exclusive streaming partnership. After subscribing, listeners will automatically receive all episodes as they are released. The new season is exclusively sponsored by jobs site ZipRecruiter.
The third season of “Serial” is expected to be around 10 episodes, but that’s subject to change. Listen to the audio trailer for season 3 at serialpodcast.org.
Pictured above: Emmanuel Dzotsi (l.) and Sarah Koenig