The future of true crime will not be TikTokked. One hopes not, anyway.
Back in late September, as doomed influencer Gabby Petito’s disappearance launched a thousand private investigations, the national fascination with true crime seemed to implode. Instead of offering deeply researched and responsibly reported recaps, a fleet of self-styled Sherlocks dabbled with red-yarn mania. Some of these armchair sleuths ended up helping police efforts, but others spread false narratives—and most were ghoulishly exploitive. A more tasteful, less intrusive direction for the next evolution of true crime, though, is courtroom podcasting, which applies the real-time urgency of Murder TikTok to a trial, rather than an ongoing investigation.
The trial of Elizabeth Holmes, disgraced former CEO of defunct fake-unicorn Theranos, started three months ago, and star reporter John Carreyrou has been doggedly covering it on his podcast, Bad Blood: The Final Chapter, ever since. Last week, this show found an unlikely companion. As the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, known associate of alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, got underway, the conspiracy-fluent hosts behind the Epstein-heavy TrueAnon podcast headed to court to launch their own “gavel-to-gavel” coverage.
These two shows couldn’t be more different, but both are perfect marriages between content creator and subject, and each brings something fresh to the world of true crime.
Neither show invented the concept of a podcast reporting on a trial as it unfolds, of course. The Court TV Podcast, for instance, follows high-profile cases with only a little lag time. It’s a no-brainer of an idea: Court TV, after all, helped hook Americans on true crime way back in the mid-’90s. Its podcast somehow didn’t kick off until 2019. Meanwhile, Court Junkie, born in 2016, alternates between some of the most famous trials and mistrials of all time and current cases. These kinds of shows give their listeners more in-depth coverage than a typical newspaper column or TV segment. What the more recent breed of courtroom podcasters offer, however, is the kind of sprawling play-by-play account and insightful expertise that only a dedicated show could provide—with an emphasis on details that might escape other outlets.
Nobody is more qualified to escort observers through the Holmes trial than Carreyrou, the former Wall Street Journal reporter who published Bad Blood in 2018, a definitive account of the Theranos saga. His subscriber-based podcast, cohosted by reporter Emily Saul, fills in listeners on everything that’s come to light since his book came out. The real meat of the podcast, though, are the episodes entitled “This Week in Court.” These bonus dispatches start with the jury selection process, where several prospective jurors turn out to have read Carreyou’s book (humblebrag!), and include all the key moments of the trial as they develop. For instance, even before NPR revealed that Holmes’s father-in-law, William Evans Sr., was secretly feeling out reporters during jury selection incognito, Carreyrou and Saul had already clocked it on the podcast.
There are several other explosive moments, such as when top witness Adam Rosendorff’s testimony suggests that he is the pseudonymous crucial character, Alan Beam, from Carreyrou’s book—which Carreyrou later confirms. As these moments develop and accumulate, the hosts describe the impact they make on the room, along with helpful context. But there are also some quietly revealing moments that go beyond the scope of formal reporting. After a particularly harsh day in court for the defense, Saul spots Holmes and her mother in a Starbucks near the courthouse—her guard down, her poise melted away. She seems like a different person than the one who sat in court.
Having a podcaster as intimately familiar with the material as Carreyrou is a unique opportunity. It’s what separates Bad Blood from something like ABC News’s The Dropout podcast, which also follows the Holmes trial, but it’s not a requirement for ideal courtside podding. As the TrueAnon crew proves, all it takes is an intense passion, bordering on obsession. (Or, perhaps, going just beyond it.)
Brace Belden and Liz Franczak, distinguished avatars of the so-called Dirtbag Left, launched their conspiracy podcast, auspiciously enough, just a couple of weeks before Epstein’s mysterious death in 2019. Over the past two years, their Patreon-supported show has gained a large following, due in no small part to its hosts’ persistent speculation on Maxwell’s role in Epstein’s crimes. This trial represents TrueAnon’s Super Bowl, Christmas, and final boss battle, all rolled into one.
TrueAnon offers more exhaustive coverage of its subject than the Holmes show, with the hosts recording an hour-ish episode after every day of the trial. The show’s approach is more first-person experiential than Bad Blood’s, putting listeners in the (overflow) room right alongside the hosts, and providing frequent updates on Maxwell’s general affect like verbal sketch artists. (Not to be confused with the actual sketch artists, one of whom generated headlines when they depicted Maxwell icily staring them down.) The pair’s frequent vibe checks extend to everyone else in the court as well. They describe a pronounced shift in the defense’s tone on day three, for instance, after the lawyers had come out swinging too hard on cross examination the previous day, and left a chill in the air.
Belden and Franczak may be unbound by the constraints of professional journalism, letting some wild opinions fly about the defense team’s demeanor, but they are also keen observers who have done copious research. A loose comment about Maxwell possibly owning her own jet seems to send Belden’s mind pinballing back through all he knows about Epstein’s infamous flight logs, and all that he doesn’t know. Although the hosts’ dark humor remains intact throughout the trial, their awe at actually being inside the courthouse is transformative. They talk about the difference between all the speculation they have done about Epstein and Maxwell over the past two years, and actually hearing their alleged victims talk about it on the witness stand. Their coverage should similarly serve as a splash of cold water in the faces of their many listeners, some of whom are undoubtedly more lost in the sauce than the hosts.
Taken together, these two shows offer wildly different models that point in the same direction for the future of true crime. Courtroom podcasting seems to be a fruitful way for creators who deal mostly with one topic to keep their audiences up to speed when that topic intersects with a high-profile trial. And considering the abundance of upcoming high-profile trials—and the endless supply of podcasts—it would be a real mystery if more such shows didn’t turn up soon.