The Sweet Smell of Succession

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HBO’s Succession is one of the most compelling shows on television and it’s returning for a second season on August 11th. And I’m launching a new podcast to recap it with Tara Ariano! You can find the podcast at successionpodcast.com, where we’ve already recapped season 1, and you can support the show at successionkickstarter.com.

For those who aren’t aware, Succession chronicles the power moves of the Roy family and their patriarch, Logan Roy. Logan is the founder of a a gigantic media conglomerate called Waystar Royco which has generated obscene wealth not just for himself, but for his four children. While they each defend against outsiders that would threaten to infiltrate their circle, they must also contend with their biggest obstacle: each other.
Succession’s portrait of the Roy family is funny, biting, tragic, and heartbreaking. It offers so much fodder for discussion and we’re looking forward to breaking it all down with you.

On a personal note, this marks my first real collaboration with Tara Ariano. I first encountered Tara’s work over a decade ago, when I became a huge fan of her website, Television Without Pity, one of the first TV recap sites ever. TWoP managed to combine snark and insight into an irresistible package. It was essential reading for show watchers and showrunners alike (Famously, the site was referred to obliquely in an early West Wing subplot). It’s not an exaggeration to say that sites like Television Without Pity paved the way for some of the work I’ve done with my own TV recap podcasts.

Tara and the founders of TWoP also went on to create the Extra Hot Great podcast, a weekly general interest TV podcast which is a exceptionally well produced. Extra Hot Great manages to capture what makes television wonderful and transcendent but also, occasionally, truly terrible. Still, the podcast itself is always a delight and continues to this day.

In any case, I couldn’t be more excited to work with her on this new venture. I hope you have a chance to check out our first episode at successionpodcast.com. You can also support the show via Kickstarter at successionkickstarter.com.


Some other interesting links from the week:

Announcing Culturally Relevant, a new culture podcast

When I first started podcasting 12 years ago, it came out of a desire to preserve interesting conversations that I had with other people and to put them out into the world. On a fundamental level, I believed that when people can have access to meaningful dialogue about topics they’re passionate about, it makes them feel less alone.

In addition to creating an intangible camaraderie, podcasts also open people up to new perspectives and interesting arguments. If I started podcasting from the position of wanting to find people who affirmed my opinions, I’ve tried to get to the point where I seek out those that challenge my own. Only in the crucible of a blistering, incisive argument can your own point of view be truly tested and validated, I’ve come to conclude. And podcasts are an amazing vector for all of these interactions.

In the intervening years, I’ve been fortunate to meet dozens of fascinating and talented individuals, including filmmakers and writers and authors and artists from all walks of life. But despite all the podcasts I’ve created, there still hasn’t really been a vehicle for the full breadth of these conversations. That’s what I’m hoping Culturally Relevant will be.

Every weekly episode will feature an in-depth conversation about an interesting topic, whether we are discussing a creator’s own work or reviewing something else. I hope it’ll be a mix of the casual and the formal, deliberate and off-the-cuff. I have absolutely no idea if it’ll work but I’m hoping you’ll join me for the journey.

And now our watch is ended

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This week, Joanna Robinson and I released what will likely be the very last episode of “A Cast of Kings,” the Game of Thrones recap podcast we’ve been publishing since April 2012. You can listen to it above. It got emotional.

When I first started podcasting, I was living my post-college years in Boston with my parents, financially supporting them with the money I made from an academic research job. This left me with a lot of spare time, so I started recording podcasts because I enjoyed talking about pop culture and building online communities around films and television. It was how I first encountered the work of Joanna Robinson, who at the time worked for a website called Pajiba.

Joanna’s work was insightful and trenchant, and I soon invited her to guest on the Slashfilmcast. I was impressed by her wit, humor, and perspective. We started collaborating together on a podcast about the FX original series Justified.

One day, she pitched me on the idea of a Game of Thrones podcast where she would take on the role of a book reader and help explain the show to me, a non-reading heathen. The idea for “A Cast of Kings” was born.

I don’t think we quite understood that we were tapping into three phenomena that would dramatically grow in importance in the years that followed: podcasting, explainer culture, and Game of Thrones. “A Cast of Kings” combined them all into one neat package. At the time, The Ringer wasn’t even glimmer in Bill Simmons’ eye, Vox Media had barely just started, and Game of Thrones was still being compared unfavorably to Boardwalk Empire in the ratings.

There are times when your can feel the tectonic plates in your life shift underneath your feet, when something grows beyond what you could’ve possibly imagined. As “A Cast of Kings” continued, it reconfigured my notions of what was possible with a podcast.


I don’t remember the first time that I realized “A Cast of Kings” was bigger than any other show I’d ever done. It was more of a steady accumulation of little moments: an unknown friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend mentioning the show at a social outing, getting featured on numerous “Best of” podcast lists, appearing on NPR’s “All Things Considered” to discuss the show, hosting a panel at Con of Thrones to chat with some of the great actors from the show. I learned that people who I respected and admired — people whose work I read online, who I regularly watched on television or whose podcasts I enjoyed — listened to “A Cast of Kings.”

These moments filled me with many emotions but the overriding feeling was one of gratitude. It is an extremely rare and beautiful thing to be able to create something that is meaningful to so many people. When something that significant comes along in your life, the best you can do is try to enjoy it for as long as it lasts.

I went through many life changes during my time hosting “A Cast of Kings.” I uprooted the only life I ever knew and moved to Seattle on, hoping it would change things for the better (it did). I got my first ever taste of life in the corporate world, which has enabled me to experience many incredible opportunities. I got married to a lovely woman who I met because she was a “Cast of Kings” listener.

Through it all, the podcast soldiered on. And there was Joanna, whose profile rose along with the popularity of the show. She went from a writer whose work was read by thousands to someone who was read by millions — one of this country’s most trusted experts on one of the most popular cultural properties ever.

It’s rare to find a person whose personality clicks with yours. It’s even rarer to be able to capture that magic, package it up, and put it out into the world in a way that other people can appreciate it too. But, that’s how I felt about my time working with Joanna.

I looked forward to our podcasts because I would always leave with something new — some bit of knowledge or insight that I never would’ve come up with myself. Her diligence, particularly in the first few seasons when I depended on her to illuminate the show and protect me from spoilers, was admirable. It’s that work ethic that has propelled her into becoming an online star in her own right. I was fortunate to be along for the ride.

And that’s where we are today. At the end of a long and crazy journey that has irrevocably altered both of our lives.


One thing I’ve learned over the years is that it’s a miracle any good podcast survives. People’s lives change. People change. Few things stay constant.

Consider your own life: are you still talking to the same people you were 5-10 years ago? Is the state of your day-to-day existence the same? Throw into the mix strong personalities that are the ingredients of any good podcast and you have a recipe for an enterprise that is genetically engineered for a brief lifespan.

Joanna and I both have strong opinions, not just about pop culture but about ways of doing things. We sparred verbally on occasion, both on and off the show. But in the end, I think we understood how blessed we were to be involved in something that was helping to shape how so many people watched and enjoyed this beloved pop cultural artifact. For a brief moment in our lives we shared a partnership and an audience that became more than the sum of its parts. That’s part of what helped get us to the finish line. It’s also ultimately what Game of Thrones tried to do: to transcend its medium and become something more memorable and meaningful than we could’ve possibly predicted.


Note: If you are a fan of my audio work, I’ll be launching a new podcast this month called Culturally Relevant, which will feature many of the conversations I have with interesting people around the internet. Subscribe now to make sure you get the first episode when it goes live.

Podcasts I’ve been listening to recently (March 2019)

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Podcasts have become so sophisticated that they have started to take on the characteristics of their entertainment predecessors. Their production values are often sky high. Many are divided into “seasons,” with lengthy arcs that take time to build and land. And also, as with TV, there are way too many to consume than a single person could possibly do in a lifetime.

As a result, there are some podcasts that I’ve wanted to get around to, but have avoided due to the “commitment” required. Now, a few lengthy road trips later, I am slightly more caught up on all the media I’m behind on.

Here are a few podcasts I’ve been listening to that I’d highly recommend:

The Drop Out – Examining the life and times of Elizabeth Holmes and her catastrophic failure of a company, Theranos, has become a big business. This podcast is one of the latest entrants. While I still think the book Bad Blood is the definitive retelling of the Holmes scandal, this podcast makes for fascinating listening, allowing you to hear fairly extensive interviews with many of the main players. With seven 40-45 minute episodes, they have enough time to dive in depth into some of the key aspects of the story. Overall, this is probably what I’d recommend for people who don’t have time to read the book but want to learn what went wrong at Theranos.

Surviving Y2K – I wasn’t a fan of “Missing Richard Seasons,” which I found to be a bit too creepy and invasive for my tastes, but I quite liked the second season of the Headlong podcast, which dives into the Y2K phenomenon. The show revisits the mania around the Y2K bug, and how people from different walks of life reacted to it. In addition, the host, Dan Taberski, uses the show as an opportunity to reveal how he tried to use Y2K to restart his own life. It’s a bold thing whenever a podcast host bleeds for his art. In this case, it also made for a worthwhile listen.

Slow Burn: Season 2 – “Slow Burn” is a testament to the importance of learning from the mistakes of the past. This politics-focused narrative podcast, whose second season covers the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, is fascinating and gripping.  Listening to it, I am struck by many things: The quaint concerns of both parties at the time (The Republicans were worried about the deficit and about the morals of our President; with time, let’s just say those concerns have been revealed to be not truly embedded in the DNA of the GOP). The cruelty of many of the players involved, who may not have understood that they were destroying a young woman’s life, but were certainly willing to take that risk. Mostly though, I realize how we’re still dealing with many of the same issues today as back then, not to mention many of the same actual individuals. If anything, politics and political coverage have been revealed to be even more venal than we could’ve imagined back then. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Good One – Not a narrative show, but this podcast by Jesse David Fox makes for insightful listening about the nature of comedy. It’s basically Song Exploder, but for jokes. Where else can you find an analysis of the Totino’s pizza sketch on SNL and the “Juan Likes Chicken and Rice” episode of Documentary Now?

I hope you have a chance to check these out. I’d ask for your recommendations, but I have too many other podcasts on deck already to possibly finish them all… (e.g. In The Dark, Caliphate, Serial Season 3, etc.). That said, if you have any must-listens, send them my way!


Some more links from the week:

500

As of this week, I’ve hosted and produced 500 episodes of the Slashfilmcast. You can listen to our 500th episode here. In this episode, my co-hosts and I reflect on how the show began, how the industry has changed, and what our favorite moments and films from the past decade have been.

The podcast has had a profound effect on my life and it seems to have had a strong impact on the lives of others as well. I’ve made so many friends and had so many wonderful conversations and experiences this past decade. It was nice to take a step back and just reflect on how unusual and interesting this entire journey has been.

I had a wonderful time making this episode and hope you enjoy listening to it.

The Daily’s coverage of the Ford-Kavanaugh hearing

I’ve recently become addicted to The Daily, the New York Times podcast hosted by Michael Barbaro. The root of this podcast’s excellence lies not just with the smart questions and inquisitive personality of its host, but also the caliber of guests they are able to get on the show (presumably having the institution of the Times behind it is very persuasive). The Daily interviews the people who are making the news, not just those who are good at commenting on it. The result makes the listener feel like they are getting a “director’s commentary” of the day’s headlines.

The show is typically great but its coverage of the Ford-Kvanaugh hearing and its aftermath is superlative. It should become part of the historical document of how this entire sequence of events has gone down. I’d urge anyone interested to listen to all of it.

I’ve linked to every major episode thus far below but you can subscribe to the show on iTunes or via Radio Public.

Five things I’ve learned from podcasting for over 10 years

There are only a handful of movie podcasts that have been going concerns for more than 10 years, and Filmspotting is one of them. Not only are they one of the longest running, they are also one of the best. I remember when I first started podcasting, I held them up as the gold standard in my mind. I’ve always looked up to their eloquence, their slick production, and their ability to build community around moviegoing.

So it was an absolute delight when they invited me on this week to discuss two of my favorite topics: Crazy Rich Asians and podcasting. We all reflected back on 10+ years of doing this, and how it’s changed our view of the world. I hope you can check out the episode.

As part of the show, we each shared the top five things we’ve learned from podcasting (Filmspotting host Adam Kempenaar has been doing this for 13 years, Josh for 6, me for 10). Adam decided to give his list in the form of movie quotes, so I joined in on the fun. Below is my list in written form.

5. “Well, whatever you do, however terrible, however hurtful, it all makes sense, doesn’t it? In your head. You never meet anybody that thinks they’re a bad person.” -Tom Ripley, The Talented Mr. Ripley

Everyone is just out here trying to do their best and be a good person. But one thing I’ve noticed is that when people are enjoying your work over a long period of time, they tend not to vocalize their enjoyment to you on a regular basis, whereas people who don’t enjoy it tend to vocalize it frequently. This is intuitive and reasonable; most people who love TV shows, podcasts, advice columns, or other regular publications don’t write to them regularly to express their appreciation. When you’ve enjoyed something for a long time, you tend to start taking it for granted as a part of your life.

But as a creator, this can lead to a skewed perspective of whether/how people are actually enjoying your work. On a long enough timeline, negative messages can come in with a significant frequency in relation to positive messages. It’s important to remember that the vast majority of people consuming your work are the silent majority, still enjoying and valuing what you do. Typically, looking at things like download numbers and other forms of engagement will bear this out.

4. “I mean, I got everything I need right here with me. I got air in my lungs, a few blank sheets of paper. I mean, I love waking up in the morning not knowing what’s gonna happen or, who I’m gonna meet, where I’m gonna wind up. Just the other night I was sleeping under a bridge and now here I am on the grandest ship in the world having champagne with you fine people.” -Jack Dawson, Titanic.

This quote illustrates two points for me. Firstly, podcasting has been a huge blessing to my life. It’s allowed me to meet interesting filmmakers and fascinating people. It’s let me interview my heroes. In some ways, it was an entry point into my professional career. When you create something that people find valuable, you can never predict what the next steps in your life will hold.

The other notion this quote brings to mind is how in Titanic, there were many different classes of people on the same boat. Likewise, there are many different levels of success for podcasting. Most people probably think of the wildly successful ones (e.g. Adam Carolla, Marc Maron, etc.), or conjure more simple images of a few friends podcasting on a laptop for an audience of a dozen or so (AKA how I got my start). But there is a vast “middle class” of podcasters. These are podcasts are too large to quit, but too small to make a living off of. It can be challenging for people to wrap their head around this.

3. “I wish I knew how to quit you.” – Jack Twist, Brokeback Mountain.

Many podcasts are extremely delicate creations and survive only because they are labors of love. The ones that aren’t created by a media company or journalistic in nature (i.e. the ones that are podcasts like the ones I do) depend on two or more people being interested in a specific topic, and being willing to talk about that topic regularly and thoughtfully over the course of many years.

Typically these people have strong opinions and large personalities — otherwise the podcast wouldn’t be super interesting. And it can be difficult for strong personalities to continue wanting to interact with each other over a long period of time. Furthermore, minor things can disrupt this balance: a change in life circumstance, a move across the country, a new job, having a child.

When you hear a podcast that sounds professionally done, it can be tempting to assume that the people on it are professionals who earn a huge portion of their income from podcasting. More often than not, this isn’t the case, and an extremely specific set of circumstances is what allows the podcast to exist. Too many podcasts I’ve loved have vanished overnight (RIP Filmspotting SVU).

Podcasts are delicate things. Treasure them for as long as they’re around.

2. “Kelsey, in this terrifying world, all we have are the connections that we make.” -Bojack Horseman, Bojack Horseman.

The internet can be a fetid cesspool, but it’s also allowed me to make meaningful connections that I still treasure. Through my podcast work, I’ve met listeners who have become close friends, important collaborators, and just folks whose work brings value to my life. Many of these are relationships that will last me the foreseeable future. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

1. “Neither the flower nor the insect will ever understand the significance of their lovemaking. I mean, how could they know that because of their little dance the world lives? But it does. By simply doing what they’re designed to do, something large and magnificent happens.” -Jon Laroche, Adaptation.

In the past few weeks, I’ve received extremely moving emails from some of my listeners. I’ve heard from Andrew in Canada about how the podcast helped him through Stage 4 cancer. I’ve heard from Hiren who fought an auto-immune disease and found the podcast helped him stayed connected to the world of movies. And there’ve been many more over the course of the last decade.

None of this is what I could’ve possibly expected when I started the podcast. All of it is gratifying and humbling.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from podcasting: Things you do that may have little to moderate significance for you may have enormous significance for other people. I don’t have any illusions about what I do when I podcast; it’s mostly just messing around on Skype with some really interesting folks who have great opinions about movies. But what has become clear is that even though it’s just a weekly quasi-obligation for me, other people can find a lot of value in it.

You can extend this lesson to other aspects of your own life. The things you do may not mean that much to you but can impact others in big ways. A kind word said to someone having a difficult day. An expression of gratitude for someone who’s done you a favor. A moment of silent sympathy for a friend in need. People value things in different ways. It’s incumbent upon us to respect that. That’s the biggest thing that I’ve learned over all these years.


  • Since I quit Twitter, I’ve been really interested in how large social platforms moderate their content. This week saw two blockbuster pieces that covered just that. Radiolab did a fascinating episode about how Facebook wrote its code for moderation. Motherboard also had a written piece on the topic. Both show that Facebook is struggling with an impossible task. But at least it’s struggling with it.
  • Thanks for reading this week’s blog posts and for replying to them via my email list! One piece of feedback I’ve received is that emails don’t allow for the level of interaction that platforms like Twitter do. So, one thing I can offer from now on is if you reply or email me at davechen(AT)davechen(DOT)net with your questions, I’ll try to make one weekly email/blog post dedicated (or partially dedicated) to publishing your replies and my responses to them.

My five favorite podcasts (right now)

I was recently featured in an alumni magazine for my work in podcasting, and I was asked what my five favorite podcasts are. When you listen to dozens of different podcasts at differing frequency, it can be difficult to distill your list to only five (particularly when your preferences can change over time). Moreover, it feels pointless to list podcasts that are already extremely popular — why not give love to shows that need it?

I tried to strike a balance between longtime shows that I love and shows that are relatively new that could use more attention. Here were my submissions:

Reply All – A show about the internet that manages to take major trends and online obscura alike to create compelling, emotional stories.
The Next Picture Show – A movie review podcast that evaluates older films and their newer analogues. It’s a must-listen for folks interested in how the past has inspired the present.
On The Media – A show about the media that looks past the headlines to explore how coverage is influenced and deployed.
Death Sex & Money – Anna Sale interviews people from all walks of life and has in-depth discussions on topics that we all think about but don’t usually talk about: death, sex, and money.
Today Explained – This relatively new daily podcast explores the biggest news topics of the day via interviews with experts and other people impacted by world events. Impressive production value for a show that is produced so frequently.