In 2015, before podcast listenership had really exploded, Gimlet Media debuted a new podcast from Starlee Kine — best known then for her work on This American Life (including the greatest This American Life episode ever) — called Mystery Show. Kine devoted each episode to solving mysteries that could not otherwise be solved using the Internet, mysteries like, “What did Britney Spears think of a particular book she has once photographed carrying?” or “How tall is Jake Gyllenhaal?”
Mystery Show was, and probably remains, my favorite podcast ever. Unfortunately, after its first six-episode season, the podcast was canceled. Kine, who had been slowly developing the second season, was given no notice, and after she released her statement confirming the cancellation, Gimlet released its own statement, as well. Their statement basically boiled down to vague business reasons — it was an expensive podcast to produce, there weren’t that many episodes, and it was too amorphous and unpredictable to budget for. By the same token, Alex Blumberg, the head of Gimlet Meda, also stated on his podcast, StartUp — a podcast devoted to the business of creating a podcast network — that, “On this podcast we are transparent about a lot of things, but there are certain things which simply need to remain private. What I can tell you is that I’m really really sad, and that I wish Starlee all the best.”
Blumberg’s decision to keep the reasons for the cancelation of The Mystery Show private never jibed well with Gimlet’s original business-related explanation. The Mystery Show may not have been a huge moneymaker for Gimlet — although, it was hugely popular and incredibly beloved — but in terms of branding and goodwill, Kine’s podcast was a lot more valuable than advertising revenue, especially for a growing podcast network backed by venture capital. Mystery Show seemed liked the kind of podcast one would build their network around. Its cancelation, therefore, never sat particularly well with Gimlet listeners.
More recently, Gimlet Media has come under fire because of the toxic environment behind the scenes at another once-great podcast, Reply All. In seeking to explore what went wrong with the culture at Bon Appétit, Reply All inadvertently surfaced deep-seated problems with its own workplace culture. After its problems surfaced, Reply All co-host PJ Vogt and senior reporter, Sruthi Pinnamaneni, resigned from the podcast, which also opted not to continue with its series on Bon Appétit. The podcast itself is currently on pause.
All of this brings us back to The Mystery Show. In the wake of allegations of more recent workplace toxicity, Starlee Kine — who is now a writer on HBO Max’s Search Party — has been discussing her experiences Gimlet. It’s apparent that, contrary to the public explanation, “business reasons” were not behind the original decision to cancel the podcast.
I’ve been telling you guys @Gimletmedia is toxic for a long time. I’m glad others are speaking out. I know it’s hard. Podcasting didn’t have to be like this. Power and money was given to the wrong, oh so predictable archetypes and they wreaked white male mediocrity accordingly— Starlee Kine (@StarleeKine) February 17, 2021
And to be clear I’m not conflating what happened to me with what @eeddings and @bmluse went through. There are some serious issues with race that @Gimletmedia has never reckoned with (while patting itself on the back for thinking it had.) But it all springs from the same toxicity https://t.co/8OU4ZjIhSG— Starlee Kine (@StarleeKine) February 18, 2021
In fact, a couple of weeks before Eric Eddings tweeted about the culture of Gimlet, Kine publicly recalled the environment there before Eddings’ thread went viral.
You have my blessing to listen. Even though the irony being that it was produced in what I experienced as a toxic work environment— Starlee Kine (@StarleeKine) February 5, 2021
Indeed, the “business decision” excuse sounds flimsier than ever in light of Reply All’s “Case of the Missing Hit” podcast (which was great, admittedly).
I guess before this moment passes I’ll just say that @Gimletmedia funded Case of the Missing Hit and yet cancelled Mystery Show (and fired me) while I was in the process of working on a missing song case. Here’s a link to two of the songs, along with @emmy_the_great’s covers— Starlee Kine (@StarleeKine) February 18, 2021
Kine is right, of course, that the idea of creating a podcast network with the intention of becoming millionaires, and then documenting that process is in its own way gross and invariably leads to these sorts of money-driven outcomes.
As someone who has been anti @Gimletmedia for years, it is sickening to learn how much grosser and more power and money hungry it was than even I thought. Guys if you had seen what it pretended to be when it started— Starlee Kine (@StarleeKine) February 19, 2021
The idea of @abexlumberg and @mlieber being these untouchable presences that lower level employees were not granted access to. It’s a podcasting company for god’s sake. What a disaster to make this medium about becoming millionaires— Starlee Kine (@StarleeKine) February 19, 2021
When the entire motivation of creating a company is to make money, the anti-union sentiment also seems all be inevitable.
The depravity of the anti-union stuff is just now really sinking in, as I read more threads. It’s monstrous. So many people seem to have lost the thread of why they started making audio to begin with. Except for Matt. He always only cared about the money— Starlee Kine (@StarleeKine) February 19, 2021
Starlee Kind was right all along, and if the cancelation of Mystery Show didn’t sit well with you either, it’s only because it shouldn’t have. Kine got screwed over by the same forces that led a culture of toxicity inside of Reply All.
Six years later, however, and people are still discovering how great Mystery Show is. People like Jake Tapper:
obviously some enterprising podcast company needs to hire you to work on Season Two— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) February 22, 2021
In the meantime, fans of Kine can watch Search Party and/or listen to Starlee Kine on her podcast Election Profit Makers, which she co-hosts along with David Rees and Jon Kimball.
Header Image Source: Getty Images