Welcome to The Poddies: The First True Podcast Awards Show
Starting with the Golden Globes a month ago, the Grammys this past weekend, and the Oscars just a few weeks out, we are in the heart of entertainment “Award Season.” Award shows may seem shallow and vain on the surface, but they do indeed serve a purpose in that they provide a nice snapshot of the year that was in entertainment. Just think about the 1995 Oscars. That was the year in which the Best Picture Nominees included: Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, Forrest Gump, and Quiz Show (along with Four Weddings and a Funeral, but hey, nobody’s perfect.) Among the Best Picture snubs were: Ed Wood, Red, and Hoop Dreams. Shit, The Mask came out that year, too! What a year for movies.
As everyone has been told four hundred million times by now, the entertainment industry is changing. The movie industry isn’t what it used to be (although tell that to the $1+ billion that Rogue One has already made worldwide), and new forms of entertainment are popping up left and right.
One such form of entertainment that has seen its popularity increase by leaps and bounds over the past few years is the podcast. (If you clicked on this article, I’m really hoping that you don’t need an explanation of what a podcast is, because the rest of this article will serve you absolutely no purpose.) Podcasts seem to hit their peak in the national discourse right as the 2015 calendar was flipping into 2016. With an idea that supposedly began in her basement, Sarah Koenig set the world ablaze with her investigation into the disappearance of Hae Min Lee and subsequent conviction of Adnan Syed for homicide in Baltimore over a decade ago. The result was Serial, the first podcast to enter the true pop culture discussion, and, undoubtedly, the podcast that got many, many people to discover this new form of entertainment that had quietly been in existence since 2004.
Suddenly everyone and their brother had a podcast they were doing on the side, and some of those “on the side” podcasts blew up, creating a monster out of this cottage industry. Here are some mind-numbing statistics taken from Hot Pod:
There were more than 10 billion (that’s billion with a “b”) iTunes downloads and streams of podcasts in 2016 alone; there was approximately $200 million in advertising spent on podcasts in 2016; there were 57 million monthly listeners in 2016 in the United States alone.
That’s more than one in every six people in the U.S. counting babies, 90-year-old grandpas and those without the means to own a device to download or stream podcasts. That’s a pretty insane reach for a medium that up until a few years ago was a complete unknown to many people in the United States.
As such, podcasts deserve their own glamorous award show. As far as current podcast awards go, my hard-hitting research (one page of google results) shows that the best they currently have is “The People’s Choice Podcast Awards,” an awards show done over a live-stream video presentation, with the biggest headline coming out of this year’s awards being a potential controversy over voting. Oh, and the website is currently under a site rebuild… The stars of the podcasting world deserve better! Let them put on the fanciest dresses and suits they have and strut the red carpet while dogged reporters ask them asinine questions — they deserve as much.
Of course, I don’t yet have the sway to make something like that happen, so instead, how about they settle for some 26-year-old in Vermont putting them into not-quite-as-clever-as-he-thinks categories and determining the winners. Game on.
Most Balanced Political Show: Left, Right, and Center
Let’s start with a category that is seemingly shrinking by the minute in our increasingly partisan country. It’s easy to find a political podcast where the hosts share the same opinions as you do, and are eloquent in their speech (nods to the formerly Keepin it 1600 boys). What is much harder is finding a podcast in which all opinions on both sides of the aisle are evenly-represented, and “a civil yet provocative antidote to the self-contained opinion bubbles that dominate political debate” ensues. Josh Barro hosts this weekly half-hour with guests from across the political spectrum that leaves every listener leaving the pod a lot more informed and a lot more open-minded.
Best Supporting Actor: Michael Schur (The Poscast)
You are far more likely to know Michael Schur’s work as a writer on The Office, co-creator of Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and creator of The Good Place. (Schur also cameos as Dwight’s cousin Mose on The Office.) If you’re thinking damn those are some pretty funny shows, I wonder if Schur is a funny guy, the answer is hell yes. The perpetual guest of NBC Sports writer Joe Posnanski, the two riff on sports, pop culture and anything else you can think of. The two literally drafted the “best furniture” last week. The podcast is the Seinfeld of podcasts, a self-referential and self-deprecating pod that will show up in your pod feed with seemingly no set schedule. The show never disappoints, and that is in large part thanks to Schur.
Nominees: Paul Sporer (The Sleeper and the Bust) for his perpetual corny dad jokes; Ben Lindbergh (Effectively Wild) for his steady-as-a-rock approach to podcast hosting.
Best Supporting Actress: Juliet Litman (Jam Session)
Litman and Amanda Dobbins co-host Channel 33’s gossip podcast, but since Juliet only got one letter of the “Jam” title, we’ll relegate her to supporting actress and award her a Poddie. If a gossip podcast doesn’t sound like your jam, well it didn’t sound like mine either, but with Litman and Dobbins at the helm, the art of dissecting Matthew Goode’s latest vacation photos or debating the social media presence of Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston has never been more entertaining. Litman can also throw in the perfect sports metaphor (which goes right over Dobbins head) for listeners who like to be constantly thinking about the world in terms of sports.
Nominees: Katrina vanden Heuvel (Left, Right and Center) for being my favorite guest of the show; Lauren Lapkus (Comedy Bang Bang) for stealing the show each time she makes an (increasingly frequent) stop by the Earwolf Studios.
Best Podcast Your Uncle Listens To: The Rubin Report; Worst Podcast Your Uncle Listens To: Waking Up with Sam Harris
Right around the time Donald Trump won the election and we all agreed we needed to burst out of our little political bubbles, I came across these two podcasts. Neither are what I’m sure Trump voters would call truly republican shows, but they are far more centrist than many of the political podcasts masquerading as centrist. I could not have had more opposite reactions to the two shows. The Rubin Report has become of my favorite podcasts, a show that challenges my preconceived notions with regularity, and a show that makes me disagree with the host and guests on man occasions but in a manner that stimulates growth instead of frustration.
The best way to describe Waking Up with Sam Harris: You know that thing kids do when they are around three or four years where they ask perpetual “why” questions.
“Why does it rain?”
“Well that’s part of a process called the water cycle in which the water we have on earth goes up into the sky and then back down to feed plants and animals.”
“Why do plants and animals need water?”
“Plants need water and sunlight to help them grow, just the way humans need food and water.”
“Why don’t we need sunlight to grow?”
“OK, shut up kid.”
That’s what listening to Waking Up with Sam Harris is like.
Best Hoops Podcast: Open Floor
There is a lot of stiff competition in this category, but the boys from Sports Illustrated take this one. The podcast in its current form — hosted by Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver — is less than a year old, but it has made the ascent into elite podcast level quickly. The contrast in basketball viewing styles of Sharp and Golliver provides a perfect yin-and-yang for basketball fans who love both the effervescence of Dion Waiters as well as the understated beauty of Paul Millsap. Their polar opposite takes are like Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman, except the exact opposite because they don’t make you want to cut your own head off with a plastic knife.
Nominees: The Lowe Post, Limited Upside
Best Baseball Podcast: Effectively Wild
In 30 years when podcast historians are looking back at the podcasts of the 2010s like how we look at movies from the 1970s, there will be an incredible reverence given to the plucky show that could, Effectively Wild. With over 1,000 episodes in tow, this (mostly) daily podcast has powered through career change after career change from its hosts, only just recently losing one of the original two hosts (Sam Miller) because ESPN is a butt and won’t let their talent appear on podcasts outside of their Death Star realm. The original hosts, Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller, are two of the most brilliant minds, baseball or otherwise, you will come across, and the banter between the two is 100 million percent engrossing. The show definitely skews towards the baseball nerd side of the sport, but it has enough regular baseball for even casual fans to enjoy.
Nominees: Ringer MLB Show, The Sleeper and the Bust
Best Cameo(s): Jason Mantzoukas (Comedy Bang Bang, The Watch and others)
If you don’t recognize Jason Mantzoukas by name, you may well by sight, as he has picked up several recurring roles on popular television shows. Mantzoukas most notoriously plays Rafi on The League, but you may also know him as Adrian Pimento (Rosa’s husband) on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Dennis Feinstein on Parks and Recreation, or the fifth-lead in The Dictator (Nadal, the nuclear weapons head). While all of Mantzoukas’ characters on TV and in film act like raging lunatics, the man in real life is about as chill and smart a dude as you’re going to find. Whether he’s bro-ing out on Comedy Bang Bang or sharing some behind-the-scenes secrets with Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald on The Watch, Mantzoukas is the perfect guest for your podcast. He also wins the award of “Guy I’m most convinced we would be real friends if we met in real life,” a truly terrifying, stalker-type award of which I am sure he is very proud.
Nominees: Juliet Litman (Still Processing) for the discussion of read receipts alone; Thomas Middleditch (Comedy Bang Bang) for the most offensive while hilarious cameo of the year in episode 416; Kevin Arnovitz (The Lowe Post) for leading Zach into discussion of European travel; Jeff Van Gundy (The Lowe Post) for being Jeff Van Gundy.
Podcast That Needs to Return: Rembert Explains
There were only 14 episodes of Rembert Browne’s podcast when he was still at Grantland and what a glorious 14 episodes they were. Browne has moved on to work as a writer in the culture section New York Magazine, and one has to imagine it’s only a matter of time before he is back in the world of podcasting. Browne is one of the more nuanced voices we have in our cultural landscape these days, and while I swing by his archives at New York Magazine every week or so, I most certainly need more Rembert in my life.
Nominees: Serial — I still believe.
Best Rapport: Men in Blazers
Rog and Davo (Roger Bennett and Michael Davies) have been chatting Premier League together for a long time, and it shows with their bullet-like back-and-forths careening down their hour-long weekly productions. With sharp writing from Producer JW, and timely jokes week-after-week, the Men in Blazers cover English soccer like none other. The two discuss the Premier League in a manner in which fans who watch every game each week can relate, but also in a manner in which you can merely listen to Rog and Davo instead of watching the games each week and not get lost. The two have numerous (NUMEROUS) running jokes, so the longer you listen to the pod, the funnier it gets.
Nominees: Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald (The Watch); Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris (Still Processing); Paul Sporer and Eno Sarris (The Sleeper and the Bust); Ben Golliver and Andrew Sharp (Open Floor); Juliet Litman and Amanda Dobbins (Jam Session); Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller (Effectively Wild)
Best Male Lead: Zach Lowe (The Lowe Post)
Lowe was denied the best basketball podcast, but he can be denied no longer. The only reason The Lowe Post didn’t win best basketball podcast was that this is an incredibly subjective awarding of winners, and I don’t like podcasts that have actual athletes on too much. This is obviously ridiculous, but I find the players just fill the conversations with far too many cliches, and I prefer to hear the Basketball Minds That Be discuss what’s going on rather than the players themselves. As I said, ridiculous, but that’s why we need an actual Poddies with a red carpet and a voting pool of just one 26-year-old white dude. Back to Lowe, he wins Best Male Lead because no matter the episode, you know he is going to be bringing 110 percent. Lowe is arguably (although I don’t know who is arguing) the brightest mind in the NBA media right now, and he shows it off during his regular podcasts. Lowe is also not afraid to get political without being too political and to veer off on tangents while not doing so with the regularity to distract. Simply put, he’s the best.
Nominees: Dave Rubin (Rubin Report); Stephen Dubner (Freakonomics Podcast); Dan Carlin (Hardcore History); Malcolm Gladwell (Revisionist History)
Best Female Lead: Jenna Wortham (Still Processing)
One of the best new podcasts of 2016, Still Processing is a New York Times production starring Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris — a pair of writers for the publication (Wortham is a tech writer and Morris a culture writer). The two discuss any and everything, with the topics veering from politics to tech to pop culture to art to the holidays and everything in between. Their discussion of iPhone read receipts (noted above) was one of the most ridiculous and awesome things I’ve heard from a podcast this year. It speaks a lot to Wortham’s talent that my love of Still Processing is so strong because I have never been a Wesley Morris fan. He tends to be too negative for my taste, but Wortham is able to turn that negativity into a curmudgeonly grandpa-type negativity and put her own positive spin on topics. That doesn’t mean Wortham isn’t capable of skewing negative when the moment demands it, as the post-election episode showed. Wortham is the queen of the podcast landscape right now.
Nominees: Amanda Dobbins (Jam Session); Anne McElvoy (Economist Radio); Anna Faris (Anna Faris is Unqualified)
Most Valuable Podder: Sam Sanders (NPR Politics Podcast)
“Hey y’all.” With two words, Sanders set the tone for the first year of the NPR Politics Podcast. Throughout the last year, Sanders showed his humorous side, his emotional side, his deeply intellectual side, his curious side, his charismatic side and much more. All of which makes the news that he is leaving for a different podcast bittersweet. Bitter in that the NPR Politics Podcast will be far, far worse without him; sweet in that we’ll have a new podcast to listen to Sanders on. If Sanders were a baseball player, his WAR would be at a Mike Trout-level. Let’s just put it this way: the NPR Politics Podcast went from my second-favorite podcast of the week to one where I only download if I think the topics are overly engaging just because of the loss of Sanders.
Nominees: Roger Bennett (Men in Blazers); Sam Miller (Effectively Wild); Emily Bazelon (Slate Political Gabfest); Rich Lowry (Left, Right and Center); Joe House (ShackHOUSE)
OG Podfather: Bill Simmons (The Bill Simmons Podcast)
If you made it this far and were wondering about the suspicious lack of praise being sent the way of Bill Simmons, fear not. Simmons will be walking home with the grandest of the first annual Poddies. Simmons has a theory when discussing the NBA MVP trophy that if a certain year lacks any truly great MVP candidate, the award should roll over to the next year and the trophy should be twice as big. Here at the Poddies, we subscribe to that theory, and as such, are sending home Simmons with a trophy the size of a small Caribbean nation for his early work in the podcast industry. Earlier in this article, it was noted that many listeners came to the world of podcasting thanks to Serial. For many, many, many others, Simmons was the gateway drug. Simmons has been hosting a podcast since 2007 (the first several years under the ESPN umbrella, now under the HBO umbrella), and his fans have never wavered in their diehard dedication to the Boston-turned-L.A. “Podfather.” Simmons help to create the world of sports blog that has now run amok on the interwebs, and if you throw a rock in a crowd you’re likely to hit two or three young men who fashion themselves as “up-and-coming versions of Bill Simmons” right now. Nearly a decade after his first podcast, Simmons still has his fastball (to steal a phrase from Simmons himself), putting out multiple hour-long podcasts a week with big-time guests ranging from former NBA Commissioner David Stern to BARACK OBAMA! It might not have worked out so well for Simmons’ TV show that debuted in 2016, but at least he knows he’s still got it in the world of podcasting.
Nominees: Marc Maron (WTF with Marc Maron)
That’s a wrap on the first official Poddies, hopefully next time we can roll out the red carpet and treat these podcast legends the way they deserve to be treated.