In advertising, sex sells. In podcasting, death sells. From humorous shows like Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff's My Favorite Murder to gritty murder mysteries like the first season of Serial (we can just forget about that second one, right?), the podcast-consuming public has a morbid curiosity that isn't easily sated. Really, that's true in all realms of entertainment, and the industry is reacting — for instance, in February, women's network Oxygen announced that it was rebranding as a true-crime network because, as it turns out, that's what women want to watch. At least learning how to successfully murder your husband is more educational than watching Bad Girls Club.
Suffice it to say that when entrepreneur and L.A. native Max Cutler was preparing to launch his podcast network, it wasn't difficult to settle on an angle. “We wanted to go into a hot genre and do it differently,” Cutler explains by phone from the network's headquarters in the Valley. “Every time you think it’s saturated, another show pops up.” In June 2016, Cutler's brand Parcast launched with two shows, Unsolved Murders and Remarkable Lives, Tragic Deaths, both of which focus on salacious crimes, some well known (like the Black Dahlia's gruesome unsolved murder), others way more obscure (like the murder of silent-film director William Taylor, aka “Hollywood's First Murder”).
As for doing it “differently,” Cutler describes the model as “old-time radio meets modern radio.” The shows have hosts who act as narrators, but they also have voice actors re-creating scenes, along with Foley sound-effect work that's a throwback to a time most of us weren't even alive to appreciate the first time around. Cutler says that in an lot of ways, Parcast is run like an old-time Hollywood studio. It employs 21 screenwriters, 28 voice actors, four producers and four engineers.
Cutler, 26, grew up in a “radio household.” His dad, Ron, who serves as the network's creative director, is a former radio executive who created, among other things, a company that produced comedy content that was picked up by most of the popular drive-time morning shows in the '90s. The elder Cutler emerged from retirement to work with his son now that, as the younger Cutler puts it, podcasting is “finally a viable business.”
Of course, there are still challenges. Cutler says “discoverability” is still an issue: “If you’re not at the top of the chart on iTunes, how are people going to find you? It’s a shame that only so many are ever heard.” (Remarkable Lives, Tragic Deaths was lucky enough to appear on iTunes' list of best 2016 podcast premieres.) Another problem, according to Cutler, is that listening to podcasts is still such a private activity for so many people. We listen alone in the car or in public with our earbuds jammed in our ears, blocking out the outside world. People don't sit around and listen to podcasts together. He guesses the relative solitude of the podcast-listening experience is why people don't have a tendency to talk about what they're listening to the same way they talk about what they're watching on TV.
Keeping to the true-crime theme, Parcast just recently launched its third show, Serial Killers, which is relatively self-explanatory. So far it's covered Chicago madman H.H. Holmes, Aileen Wuornos, “Vampire of Dusseldorf” Peter Kurten and the so-called “Ken and Barbie Killers.” Cutler says the network is currently working on branching out from true crime with a kids show and “dramatized, episodic shows” in keeping with the network's old-time style. But murder fanatics can rest assured there will always be something sort of gruesome coming from Parcast.