The creators of Limetown faced an extra, especially meta challenge when adapting their popular podcast into a TV show. There weren't just adapting a podcast, but adapting a podcast within a podcast to a whole new medium, complete with visuals, a longer runtime, and some legitimate stars.
"For us, the hard part was doing the podcast," Skip Bronkie, who co-created the podcast and executive-produces the upcoming Facebook Watch show, tells SYFY WIRE. "Once we had the opportunity to bring visuals into the fold, the whole world opened up to us."
Limetown, which debuted in 2015 when Serial fever was still giving podcasts a big boost, follows a fictional radio reporter named Lia Haddock as she investigates an eerie mystery. Ten years beforehand, all 300 residents of a research facility and accompanying town disappeared under strange circumstances without a trace. Lia is especially driven to figure out what happened because her own uncle, Emile, was one of the residents of the now-infamous Limetown. The first season of the podcast unfolds through six episodes of Lia's podcast as she unravels the mystery and comes into contact with the first known survivors of whatever happened in Limetown.
"In the podcast, it's very much Lia's show and it's very curated," says Zack Akers, Limetown's other co-creator and executive producer. "It's her most public presentation. And for the TV show, we need to reveal her private life and expose who she is as a person."
Whereas listeners of the podcast only got to know Lia through whatever bits of self-reflection and personality she left in the final edit of her fictional podcast, show watchers will get to see her life outside of the recording booth, as brought to life by actress Jessica Biel. Both Bronkie and Akers say Biel, who recently starred in the similarly moody crime-mystery The Sinner (on USA Network, which shares a parent company with SYFY) was the right person to play the character as more than just a podcast host.
"Our vision for Lia was always someone who, off-mic, didn't know how to present herself. We always liked that dichotomy of someone who was very polished and put together publicly but privately everything was sort of a disaster for her," Akers says. "Biel did intensify that."
Bronkie recalls how, when first talking with Biel before she'd officially signed on to star in the series, the actress perfectly captured the turmoil lurking beneath the polished, radio-ready exterior.
"'Lia Haddock is the kind of character who breaks her own finger in anger,'" Bronkie remembers Biel saying. "I was just like, 'Oh my god, that is totally Lia,' and at that moment on the phone call I was like, 'She absolutely has to play Lia Haddock.'"
Beyond just getting to show viewers another side of Lia, the TV series also allowed Akers and Bronkie to revisit their creation and show audiences scenes or details that wouldn't have fit in the original narrative framing device — or the audio-only podcasting medium.
"Writing in podcasting is really hard because you need to say everything. You need to tell everything," Akers says. "It was a relief to just, 'Oh, we can just show this and it's fine.'"
One of the things that the televised Limetown shows is actual life within Limetown prior to the disaster, illustrated with flashbacks and visuals to accompany the narration provided by Lia's interview subjects. Bronkie says the survivors are meant to be "the protagonist of their own episode," rather than just Lia's sources. "That's something that's not really possible in the podcast and was so much fun to build out in [the show]."
Of course, there's always a downside. In an audio-only medium, Bronkie says, "there are really no practical limitations in terms of what you can do."
"You can write about a pig that does whatever you want it to do, and that pig will do it because it's just audio," he says, referring to a pig named Napoleon who has a very upsetting and important role in one episode. "Once you start production, you realize, "Oh, this pig that we want to just sit there for a 10-minute scene might not want to sit there for 10 minutes.'"
We won't spoil the mystery of Limetown here for any readers who didn't catch the original podcast, but Akers and Bronkie say the underlying themes of the series — unexpected social downsides of technology and the blurring lines between the public and private self — are even more relevant in 2019 than they were four years ago, when the podcast premiered.
"We always thought that the interesting thing is not that tech itself would be harmful or that there would be glitches or technological problems, but more 'What are the social side effects of this that would be ignored in the development?'" Because that's always what the biggest consequences are of these technologies, Bronkie says. "It's not that the iPhone is going to blow up in your hand, it's that you stare at it for 10 hours a day and there are consequences of that."
"For all of human existence, there has been a face that you present to people and a face that you keep to yourself, and technology is sort of forcing the merge of these two things," Akers says, admitting later that he's hopefully optimistic and aware of the irony that Limetown will premiere on, yes, Facebook. "I absolutely think that in the years since we've created it, that that has only increased. That sort of conversation feels definitely more vital every passing day to me."
The first two episodes of Limetown will premiere on October 16 on Facebook Watch at 3 p.m., with additional episodes dropping on Wednesdays.