Pod People is a regular feature in which Abby Olcese explores the world of podcasts, introducing you to work-friendly listening options beyond This American Life and Radiolab.
One of the things that makes podcasting great is its potential for versatility. Because many podcasts aren’t beholden to a radio network’s broadcast schedule (though some are), and because a listener can pick them up or put them down at will, you can do pretty much anything you want in terms of length or style.
This form of experimentation is particularly fun when it comes to the area of audio drama. In addition to Limetown, which we’ve already covered, fiction-based podcasts include the cult-favorite Welcome to Night Vale, and the late, great The Thrilling Adventure Hour, both of which, like Limetown, utilize existing radio tropes to tell their stories–Night Vale through community bulletins, TAH through old-timey radio serials.
Black List Table Reads is a unique addition to this club. The podcast is an arm of the film industry-famous Black List–an organization that collects and promotes the best currently-unproduced screenplays, and connects filmmakers and production companies with great scripts. They’ve had massive success in their field–former Black List scripts include Slumdog Millionaire, Juno, Argo and The King’s Speech, among others.
In podcast form, Black List Table Reads presents recorded full-cast readings of Black List scripts, with a new episode released every couple of weeks. Interspersed between readings, host and Black List founder Franklin Leonard releases shorter interviews with writers, producers and directors about their craft and creative processes.
The show’s table reads vary from episode to episode, with no specific dominant genre. Previous scripts have included a regency-period romantic comedy, a sci-fi noir featuring robots and a cross-cultural relationship drama.
The most recent entry, Celeritas, is the podcast’s best episode yet. It’s a sci-fi tale about an astronaut who crashes back to Earth forty years after he first launched, not having aged a day, and encountering his Earthbound twin brother, who has. It’s a touching story that switches between present and past to explore the changing nature of relationships and sacrificial love as we age.
The table read episodes generally run close to two hours, making them a better fit for travel, or long, drawn-out tasks at work. The interviews (which offer excellent insight into the film industry and the screenwriting process) are shorter, usually 20 minutes for the writers of featured scripts, or an hour for bonus episodes featuring industry pros.
As a dedicated and enthusiastic advocate of his writers, Leonard makes a genial host and interviewer. His conversations come from a place of helping aspiring writers understand what it takes to get a script written, seen and produced. They’re knowledgeable, but not so inside-baseball that a casual listener won’t understand what’s being talked about.
While not every episode of the podcast will appeal to every listener, Blacklist Table Reads does a great job at communicating the elements of what makes a good script, and how that side of the industry works. Leonard also manages to get a diverse variety of stories and voices on the show, which is now entering its second season. Its next episode, airing in a couple of weeks, will be the holiday-themed The Winter King. Leonard promises that the script makes a great companion to holiday family travel, so it ought to be a good option for listeners looking to get festive.