If coming off a long holiday weekend weren’t hard enough, there’s another reason this Monday may seem rougher than usual. There’s no new “Serial” episode to talk about.
The hugely popular “This American Life” spinoff podcast, which usually releases an installment each Thursday, took a break for Thanksgiving, leaving its millions of listeners and armchair analysts bereft. The reasons for the success of “Serial,” in which executive producer Sarah Koenig reinvestigates the 1999 murder of a Baltimore-area high school student, are clear. The program takes advantage of the podcast format by telling its story in chapters. Also, it has a huge head start, as the offspring of a radio show that has also long been the most popular podcast in iTunes. (You can read Storyboard’s interview with Koenig and executive producer Julie Snyder here.)
But there are other terrific podcasts to listen to. Some are carefully produced narratives like “Serial,” while others are conversations that can run for two hours or more an episode. Here are a handful of other podcasts worth your time:
“The Memory Palace.” This is my ultimate “high reward” podcast. It’s short and infrequent, but the storytelling is among the best available online.
“Judge John Hodgman.” Writer and actor John Hodgman (“The Daily Show,” those Mac/PC ads) adjudicates petty conflicts between friends in this People’s Court-style podcast. Many humor podcasts consist of funny people (or people who think they’re funny) riffing and hoping for laughs, but this is smarter and, at times, surprisingly heartfelt.
“Gastropod.” In each episode, Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley look at issues related to the future of eating. This is new, but with its focus on reporting and sharp writing, it’s quickly become one of two food-related podcasts I always listen to (the other is “America’s Test Kitchen,” from the same people who make the TV and radio shows).
“Strange Fruit.” When I left my station for the Nieman Fellowship, I unsubscribed from everything work-related. I later resubscribed to this show. It’s a review of “politics, pop culture and black gay life,” but, essentially, it’s a weekly conversation about the things everyone is talking about on Twitter.
“Death, Sex and Money.” Anna Sale’s show for WNYC is about exactly what it sounds like, but in a public-radio way. The episode with a funeral parlor worker is a recent highlight; it’s a great example of how an interview can be shaped into a great conversation.
“The Bugle.” Before he was on the “Daily Show” or “Last Week Tonight” on HBO, John Oliver co-hosted this podcast with his comedy partner Andy Zaltzman. It’s still going, and sounds like a more-British, pun-filled rough draft of Oliver’s weekly shows. The difference between good comedy podcasts and bad comedy podcasts is especially stark after you hear a great one like this.
“Under the Influence.” This CBC show comes out in seasons, like a TV show, but the back catalog is worth a listen. Each episode is an essay on advertising and branding, with the occasional dad joke (but the good kind of dad joke).
“Welcome to Night Vale.” The fact that such a strange show can occasionally rise into the top podcast lists on iTunes is a testament to how open to experimentation the podcast form is. This is a fictional show presented as a radio broadcast from a small town where supernatural things happen. But the shows build on each other, so it’s best to start at the beginning; catching up gets more challenging with each new episode.
“The Talk Show.” I’m normally averse to technology news, but this show, which is billed as the DVD commentary for John Gruber’s website Daring Fireball, delivers news and commentary in the least bro-y way possible.
“Criminal.” It’s not the same sort of crime show as “Serial,” but “Criminal” explores the issues of crime and punishment we don’t think about.
“Backstory.” It’s a public radio show that isn’t as widely-heard. Each week, experts on the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries look at the history of a topic that’s in the news that week.
“Lexicon Valley.” Slate has a strong lineup of podcasts, but this one on language is especially good. The episode on swearing hooked me.
Gabe Bullard is a 2015 Nieman Fellow. He is also the director of news and editorial strategy at WFPL News, the public radio station in Louisville, Kentucky. He began his career online, as an editorial assistant for a St. Louis politics blog. In 2008, he started at WFPL in Louisville as a reporter, focusing on city politics. In the following years, he was promoted to online editor, news director and now director of news and editorial strategy, a position overseeing all aspects of the station and website.