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'Mystery Show' Host Starlee Kine Tried to Tell Us About Gimlet Media

By Dustin Rowles | Podcasts | March 3, 2021 |

By Dustin Rowles | Podcasts | March 3, 2021 |


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.

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.

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).

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.

When the entire motivation of creating a company is to make money, the anti-union sentiment also seems all be inevitable.

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:

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.