The idea for S-Town, the hit podcast from Serial Productions, started with a strange email from a man in Alabama. It took Brian Reed, the show’s creator, two years of gathering tape before he figured out it would be a story.
S-Town has since become the most successful podcast launch in the medium’s history, with 53 million downloads since its release at the end of March. That blockbuster success would not have happened without a creative process that made room for curiosity and experimentation, said Ira Glass, the show’s editorial advisor and host and creator of This American Life.
Sharing his storytelling tips at Cannes Lions, the radio and podcasting legend told creators to "amuse and surprise" themselves. He called the dearth of humour in media "a failure of craft."
Media that lacks pleasure, humour and surprise makes the world "smaller and less interesting," Glass warned. "We are out for fun, and we’re not ashamed to be out for fun," he said.
Glass challenged creators to see failure as a success. On This American Life, the producers often run through ten to 15 story ideas just to get two or three pieces for the final show. Much of their work never makes it on air, but Glass says they have been purposeful about building experimentation into their process.
That approach is clearly paying off. After the breakout success of Serial, Glass and the other producers of S-Town set a goal to reach 40 million downloads of the show within the first six months. They reached that target in just one month.