Podcasts aren’t just for your ears anymore.
Television networks are betting big on the format this year with a bunch of shows based on some of the most popular audio series, including “Pod Save America,” “Homecoming,” “Dirty John,” “2 Dope Queens” and “StartUp.”
It’s the latest frontier for a medium that in recent years has become a formidable force in American culture.
Podcasts have particular strengths that make them suitable for adaptation, said Chris Giliberti, the head of Gimlet Pictures, a division of Gimlet Media. The company produces some of the most prominent podcasts on the market, including “StartUp” and “Homecoming.”
“The stories are inherently very character-driven because you don’t have a way to sequence visuals,” Giliberti said. “You wind up with this really sort of tight, dialogue-driven material that I think just naturally translates to an environment of premium TV.”
The film and TV unit at Gimlet is relatively new. Giliberti said it was created to satisfy Hollywood’s demand for podcasts on TV and video.
“It’s absolutely a very attractive financial opportunity,” he added. “We see a lot of promise there.”
Gimlet’s first project is the ABC sitcom “Alex, Inc,” an adaptation of “StartUp,” a podcast about Gimlet founder Alex Blumberg’s experience creating his company. The show, which was produced by Sony Pictures and stars Zach Braff of “Scrubs,” debuted last month to mixed reviews.
Jamila Hunter, the senior vice president of network comedy at ABC, said adapting a podcast for TV is just like making a into a movie or TV series — a Hollywood staple for generations.
“It to us seems like sort of a natural outgrowth of the proliferation of storytelling,” she said. “There’s so many of them now, and there’s always writers and creators looking for inspiration from different places.”
Giliberti said Gimlet did not have a lot of creative input on “Alex Inc.,” but they learned about the TV industry by watching that show come together. The company is more heavily involved with a forthcoming adaptation of its scripted psychological thriller “Homecoming.”
“The podcast is sort of like story concentrate,” Giliberti said, adding that creating an adaptation is “like adding water.”
The TV show, which will star Julia Roberts, is expected to premiere later this year on Amazon’s Prime Video. It is produced by Universal Cable Productions, an arm of NBCUniversal.
Dawn Olmstead, one of the presidents of that division, said the company is also working on adaptations of three other podcasts: the scripted dramas “Alice Isn’t Dead” and “Bronzeville,” and the true crime series “Dirty John.”
The latter series, which began as an article in The Los Angeles Times, will be developed as a scripted series for NBC’s Bravo network starring Connie Britton. Olmstead said she was drawn to the podcast because it added depth to the article that appeared in print.
She added that the show, which is about a mysterious man and his relationship with a businesswoman in Southern California, was perfect for Bravo’s audience. The network’s viewers are predominately women.
“It made a lot of sense: being set in Orange County, a woman of a certain age, a woman of a certain affluence,” Olmstead said. “We all really had lots of long discussions of, ‘Could we do it there? Could we be the ‘Mad Men’ of AMC for Bravo?'”
Other networks are taking a different route by adapting unscripted comedy series. HBO in February released a four-episode special based on WNYC Studio’s “2 Dope Queens,” a podcast hosted by comedians Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson. They were well received by critics. Another series of specials based on the political podcast “Pod Save America” is coming to the network this fall.
“As podcasts become more popular, it’s another pool of source material for people like me who are looking for strong voices,” said Nina Rosenstein, HBO’s executive vice president of original programming. (HBO, like CNN, is owned by Time Warner.)
Rosenstein said that creating televised versions of “2 Dope Queens” and “Pod Save America” don’t pose too much of a challenge — the hosts of both podcasts already do live performances.
“It just seemed like a natural transition,” Rosenstein said of the “2 Dope Queens” series.
Another benefit: Shows like the ones in HBO’s lineup already come with a following.
“They are road-tested, in a way,” Rosenstein added. “They come with a fan base, and they come fully baked.”
Giliberti, of Gimlet Pictures, said he wasn’t surprised that podcasts have found their way to television.
“We’re in a landscape with, I think it’s 400- or 500-plus scripted shows on the air,” he added. “There’s plenty of room.”