Inside The Making Of The New Murder Mystery Podcast, ‘Over My Dead Body’

02.20.19 1 month ago

With the TV adaptation of Dirty John wrapping up on Bravo and adaptations of Gladiator (for FX) as well as Dr. Death and Business Wars, Wondery is hoping to build on their successes with another new true crime podcast miniseries, Over My Dead Body, covering the unsolved case of a respected law professor who was murdered in his driveway in Tallahassee in 2014. It follows a similar blueprint as the others, teaming a seasoned reporter — in this case Matt Shaer, who has written features for GQ and the New York Times — with Wondery’s production team.

Wondery is sort of an early adopter in giving podcasts the same kind of promotion as TV series and movies, buying billboards and hosting listening premieres (the LA listening premiere for Dr. Death provided the audience with eye masks while the podcast played over the screening room’s speakers), which seems to have paid off in all the upcoming adaptations of its shows. OMDB is similar to Dr. Death — which was reported by award-winning medical journalist Laura Beil — in hiring a respected print journalist to do the reporting and hosting while using Wondery’s in-house team of producers and audio engineers to create the sound and add production value.

“This would’ve been a magazine article and it had been approved as a magazine article, but ultimately, there was so much to it,” Shaer told Uproxx. “I had a friend, Eric Benson, who co-reported this with me, and we’d wanted to do a podcast for a while. Eric covers different aspects of the criminal justice system. When we started talking about this one, it was obvious that it compared to a lot of other cases that we’d both written about, there was a lot here and there was enough to spool it out over six episodes.”

The case begins with the story of a courtship and then a divorce, between Dan Markel and Wendi Adelson, two Jewish attorneys, before spiraling into a murder mystery, with connections to both Orthodox rabbis in New York (who Shaer had previously written about for GQ), and Latin gangsters in Miami. “The case was unusual on a lot of levels, but one was that the victim was pretty high profile in the legal academia world,” Shaer says. “Without spoiling anything, I guess suffice to say that what made it additionally fascinating was that it did bring together two radically different worlds in a really tragic way.”

The show is compelling just as an autopsy of a doomed relationship even before it gets to the murder, with twists that are seemingly part of the Wondery house style. Like all Wondery shows, it lives right on the edge of too muchness — too much music, too many sound effects, too busy a soundscape — but as Shaer says, the style seems to fit the story in this case, which he compares to American Crime Story or Fargo on FX.

Over My Dead Body releases its fourth episode this week. I spoke to Matt Shaer by phone.

What made you want to do [this story] as a podcast?

Look, I think that there are a lot of true crime podcasts out there, right? There are a lot of true crime television shows. I think that part of what sets this particular story apart is that there are so many different characters involved in this case from so many different types of backgrounds. They were all sucked into this murder investigation that started around 2014 and really gained steam in 2016. I think that there’s an inherent interest too in being able to create something that’s about a relationship as well as a murder. The podcast is specifically structured so that someone doesn’t even die until two hours in.

That was actually one of my other questions — I think it’s like an episode and a half before you even get to the murder. At first, it feels like a story about why a marriage didn’t work, and I was actually just kind of enjoying it on that level before you got to the murder.

I’ll tell you the truth. When Eric and I, we finished a bunch of our reporting and we were getting an outline for the first draft for how we envisioned the whole series going, we had more or less started right with the murder. We started with that, and the investigation immediately lurching into gear. We worked with these producers, Wondery, specifically Marshall Lewy and George Lavender, and they had the idea that, “All right, what if we don’t do that? What if we hold back and make it about the relationship first?” The idea being that people would care about the two people at the center of the investigation more than they would if we just dove right into it. I think that also Wondery’s done some really interesting similar stuff — Dirty John, etc, where you’re kept in the dark for a long time. There’s something to be said for that. It’s interesting to be able to play with structure like that, which you can’t always do with a magazine article but you can with a podcast.

Had you listened to a lot of podcasts before you started working on this one?

No. I mean, yes, I listened to the big ones. I listened to S-Town and I listened to Serial. I listened to all the seasons of Serial and In the Dark, which I really loved, but I watch a ton as well. My unwinding reading is crime novels ranging from the really trashy to the mildly high brow, and I also watch a lot of documentaries about crime.

The way that Wondery works is that their podcasts are really, although it’s in audio form, they are really cinematic in some ways, right? I think that being an aficionado of detective novels and crime TV helped to a large degree. But yeah, as we’ve been winding down our own, I’ve started to listen to more podcasts. I think you can start to see that people are starting to play around with the true crime podcast form. Even though this medium’s been around for a few years, people have done the true crime thing in the straightforward way over and over again, right? People will still make the straightforward ones, but I think it’s really interesting when people start to mess around with how a true crime podcast sounds, how the structure should work, and which act the dead body appears in. I feel like that is something that is getting a lot more thought in terms of approach, which is cool.

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