Before we begin, can we make a quick plug for our own podcast
? TheWrap's "Shoot This Now" features Matt Donnelly and Tim Molloy talking about stories we want made into movies. We've talked about a very creepy Craigslist ad, the episode of the "Atlanta Monster" podcast in which Frank Sinatra tried to catch a killer, and the devastating "Love + Radio" story "The Living Room." Here it is on Apple Podcasts
Atlanta Monster: Dialing back in time 40 years, this true crime series looks at the Atlanta Child Murders, in which more than 25 African American children and young adults were murdered or disappeared. With questions still lingering even decades later, host Payne Lindsey tries to uncover the answers and provide the closure to the families of victims who still wonder what happened, and why.
A Very Fatal Murder: The Onion pod-casts a very skeptical eye on shows like "Serial" and, we guess, "Atlanta Monster," with a dead-on parody of the let's-solve-a-murder genre. It's filled with in-jokes about not just true crime, but podcasting itself. As an added bonus, there are no ads. No real ones, anyway.
This American Life: It's a perfect gateway to podcasts, because it started as a radio show. More than two decades old, it's still going strong -- as it proved with its recent examination of the fractured Democratic Party.
You Must Remember This: Karina Longworth's dirty encyclopedia of showbiz secrets isn't just the best Hollywood history podcast -- it's the best history podcast. Every episode has more tinseltown tragedy and tawdry allure than a Ryan Murphy show scored by Lana Del Rey.
Fresh Air: Again, maybe it's not a true podcast since it started out as a radio show, and even predates "This American Life." But Terry Gross' series is the best interview show in any format, ever.
Savage Love: Sex columnist-author-activist Dan Savage deserves a place on podcasting's Mount Rushmore alongside Glass and Gross, even if none of them started out as podcasters. His podcast has transcended a call-in format where you can ask about anything to become a place where anyone can go for support and damn good advice. His new storytelling podcast, "Hot Mic," is also fantastic.
Good One: A Podcast About Jokes: Vulture editor Jesse David Fox's podcast about how funny sausages are made just wrapped a second season that included the most uncomfortable laugh-out-loud we've had in a while, courtesy of a lost Jerry Minor routine.
Snap Judgment: Another radio show turned podcast, “Snap Judgment” focuses on storytelling like “This American Life” or sometimes “Radiolab,” but with a different focus. The tagline “storytelling with a beat” gets close to what makes “Snap” so cool — it chooses stories that feel like they often come from off the beaten path, for a slightly edgier feel.
The Nod: Brittany Luse and Eric Eddings (often hilariously) explore undercovered aspects of African-American life, like the time Luther Vandross very unsubtly shaded En Vogue. The "Chitlins at Bergdorf's" episode is a straight-up masterpiece.
Lovett or Leave It: Former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett recorded his first show the night Donald Trump failed to repeal Obamacare, and if you wanted to hear the sound of liberal glee, this was it. "Lovett or Leave It" is a spinoff from "Pod Save America," part of Crooked Media, a political podcasting business started up by a coterie of former Obama Administration that has quickly come to rule the podcasting world. Lovett is the funniest of the erudite "Pod Save America" crew, providing comic relief from whatever dire news they're discussing on any given week. The pop-culture references make the serious policy talk feel fun.
Radiolab: “Radiolab” is a mix between “This American Life” and “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” Hosts Jad and Robert dig into scientific concepts by relating them through interesting stories, and it's great about keeping complex ideas palatable even for people who aren't technically minded.
Reply All: Think of it as "This Internet Life" -- all the stories somehow tie back to technology, in achingly human ways. There isn't much hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman won't do to expand the podcasting medium: Separately or together, they've microdosed on LSD, broken into a building, tried to reunite lost pets with their owners, and taken calls from anyone who wanted to talk for 48 hours. Start with "Boy in Photo," which examined the possibly tragic fate of a Hooters-shirted teen who became a meme.
The Moth: Storytelling gathering “The Moth” turns some of its best presentations into a weekly radio show and podcast. The theater brings regular people onto its stage to tell their stories, making its podcast a compilation of interesting, off-beat, intense and often funny stories that could cover just about anything.
Tobolowsky Files: Stephen Tobolowsky, a character actor you’ve seen probably hundreds of times in everything from “Groundhog Day” to “Deadwood,” tells stories from his life. Running the gamut from looks at the drug-addled 1980s to his childhood spent in the Dangerous Animals Club, Tobolowsky’s stories are always artfully told, fascinating, and full of heart.
Heaven's Gate: "Snap Judgment" host Glynn Washington leads this 10-part series on the apocalypse cult Heaven's Gate, the 39 members of which committed suicide together in 1997. Twenty years later, the podcast digs into the personalities at the heart of the cult and the experiences of the people who survived. Washington also brings some of his own experience to the podcast -- he grew up in an apocalyptic Christian church.
Love + Radio
Radiotopia's podcast pops up monthly to mostly tell nonfiction stories through deep, fascinating interviews. The "Living Room" episode starts out being about neighbors having sex, then turns into something else entirely. It made the hosts of our "Shoot This Now" podcast cry.