‘Serial’ Podcast Returns With Guantánamo Bay Story Developed as a TV Series

Season 4 explores the infamous detention camp that host Sarah Koenig previously wrote a fictionalized pilot script about

A man with medium-toned skin in an orange prison uniform is transported by guards behind barbed wire fencing.
Marines transport a detainee behind layers of fencing and razorwire in Camp X-Ray Feb. 6, 2002 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

The Sarah Koenig-hosted “Serial” podcast, a public radio show that helped popularize the podcasting medium following its first season’s 2014 release, is back for Season 4. This time, coming during the show’s 10th anniversary, it’s covering the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in a season simply titled “Guantánamo.” It’s a project that Koenig almost turned into a scripted TV series.

The effort to do a story about Guantánamo has been an ongoing project for Koenig and Dana Chivvis since 2015. That’s when they were able to go on a tour of the military base, home to the makeshift prison and court system set up in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Koenig cohosts this season with Chivvis for the first time. Chivvis previously served as a producer on the show, notably featured as part of Season 1’s investigation into the murder of Hae Min Lee and her alleged killer Adnan Syed.

The hosts explain in Season 4’s first episode that they never did a story on Guantánamo because they couldn’t get anyone at the time to open up to them — at least, not on the record.

“But, even as Guantánamo faded as a topic of national discussion, we kept thinking about it, wondering what was going on down there. We figured, there has got to be a way to do this story,” Koenig said.

She then talked briefly about a project she worked on that never saw the light of day. “We even tried writing a TV show about it, a fictionalized version of Guantánamo — which, humbling,” the podcaster added.

She left it at that on the show, but in a piece from their parent organization the New York Times, they noted that “Serial” producer Julie Snyder had the idea of developing a pilot inspired by Guantánamo. It allowed them to get people to speak with them on background rather than as named sources.

“That was when crazy, debauched stories started coming up,” Koenig told the Times.

Their faux-Guantánamo pilot script attracted interest from a production company in 2020, but Koenig instead decided to take another run at telling the longform radio version of the story. With some distance, they’ve been able to get people who worked at the base to detail their experiences — thus, “Serial” Season 4.

The series began as a spinoff of popular NPR series “This American Life,” ultimately being acquired by the New York Times in 2020. While this is the first season of the original podcast released since that acquisition, Serial Productions has released the shows “Nice White Parents,” “The Improvement Association” and “The Coldest Case in Laramie” over the past few years.

“Serial” has prompted a number of parodies of its true crime style over the years, from “Saturday Night Live” sketches to SNL’s Tina Fey playing Cinda Canning on “Only Murders in the Building,” a character clearly riffing off of Koenig and her public radio persona. Canning hosts the “Serial” soundalike “All Is Not Okay in Oklahoma.”

The new season appears somewhat reminiscent of the show’s second season, which covered former Taliban captive Bowe Bergdahl and his own return to the U.S. as part of a prisoner exchange for five Taliban members held at Guantánamo. It also followed his prosecution and dishonorable discharge from the military. The season received negative critical attention compared with its acclaimed first season as it shifted away from its initial true crime genre.

The show’s first season was previously developed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller for a potential behind-the-scenes series. The third season, which focused on the Cleveland criminal justice system, has been in development from HBO and LeBron James.

Comments

One response to “‘Serial’ Podcast Returns With Guantánamo Bay Story Developed as a TV Series”

  1. Montgomery J Granger Avatar

    Not a lot of content here, but after looking at this mess it is truly disturbing and disgusting how two people who claim to have spent years interviewing people, detainees and US personnel about Gitmo, they still don’t have a clue, nor tell truths about the place in context. The context they miss is 9/11/2001. Tens of thousands of unlawful combatant Islamists who want to kill us were captured in the first several years of the hot Global War on Terror, but only just under 800 ever showed up at the US military detention facility (not “prison”) at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Over 745 have been released, and none beheaded, executed, blown up, hacked to death, dragged naked and lifeless through the streets, drowned or burned alive. All things our enemies have done to us and/or our allies. There is no moral comparison between Gitmo and how our enemies treat their captives. Gitmo is the finest military detention facility on earth. ICRC physicians I worked with there told me, “No one does [detention operations] better than the US.” That said, is it perfect? No. Was there abuse? Yes, but minor and addressed swiftly and firmly. Only a handful of detainees were waterboarded, which was approved and legal at the time and did not meet the Internationally accepted definition of torture at the time, in order to obtain valuable information that saved many lives. This series aims to perpetuate myths and lies about Gitmo, and says nothing about the fact that even lawful combatant POWs can be held without charge or trail “until the end of hostilities,” according to the Geneva Conventions and Law of War. Instead, they talk about “indefinite detention” (lie), rendition and “torture,” which has a definition, but no one wants to discuss it because, well, they are apparently Islamist apologists, and what the terrorists do to us doesn’t matter because they are an oppressed class of people, just like Palestinians and Hamas, right/ Gimme a break! Sincerely, MAJ (RET) Montgomery J. Granger, author, “Saving Grace at Guantanamo Bay,” and narrator of the YouTube short documentary film, “Heroes of GITMO,” based on my book.

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