I listen to only four or so podcasts on a regular basis, and These Are Their Stories is one of them. So just as I had been with The Secret History of Hollywood’s Adam Roche, I was frankly thrilled when I scored an interview with Kevin Flynn. Like the time Tracy Morgan invited me to fist-bump him on 57th Street, or the day I met my half-brother, I felt the frisson of familiarity one has with someone whose long been a part of your life but has no idea you exist.
But I know who Kevin is, because every other Wednesday I look forward to listening to These Are Their Stories, he and his wife’s podcast about the Law & Order franchise. This is because Law & Order is a huge part of my life. It’s been said that “in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” But take it from me, Law & Order, the series and its 60-minute soft-core justice, are just as reliable. As someone who works from home, I can attest to the fact that day or night, at any hour, one can depend upon Law & Order likely being on one channel or another. (If you’re seriously jonesing, there’s always On Demand.) Whether I’m pounding out a blog post, folding laundry, or just looking to go down the rabbit hole of an 8-hour watching the detectives binge-a-thon, I can count on the soothing strains of ambient murders and prosecutions. I’ve seen every episode of Law & Order (the mothership, “Original Recipe” as Kevin calls it) countless times. But just as one already knows who’ll be passive-aggressive and who’ll avoid eye contact each Thanksgiving, you go every year. It’s part of your life, part of our culture — plus there’s pumpkin pie. I can never get enough pumpkin pie, and I’m never sated on Law & Order. I gorge myself because I love the dependable template, love the detectives banter, love Jack McCoy’s Lincolnesque, outraged summations. Those percussive “duh-duns” are practically my days’ heartbeat. (Honestly, I have a great life. I have a husband, I do stuff, I swear. Really.)
Anyway…each These Are Their Stories podcast looks at a single episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Law & Order: SVU, or my fave, “Original Recipe”. Kevin and his wife, Rebecca, are joined by a different guest as they look at what’s great, weird, hilarious, and nuts about that particular episode. As only fans can, the recurring characters and features are celebrated with consistent features and sound effects, e.g., “Oooh, Profaci”. The show even has a great theme song. (“It’s no ordinary police procedural, baby; It’s the f’ing O.G. of police procedurals, baby.”) Each guest confesses to which police and prosecutor teams are their faves (after all, there are dozens to choose from), and each show talks about the real-life crimes, criminals or celebrities that inspired each script. Whether you’re a casual viewer, or an insane fan like me who can gush over Goren at the drop of a hat, These Are Their Stories is definitely worth checking out.
Kevin Flynn and Rebecca Lavoie are actually the creators and co-hosts of several podcasts under their own mini-network, Partners in Crime Media. Their flagship show, Crime Writers On, uses a panel format to offer pop culture commentary on true crime podcasts and “crime-adjacent” TV shows and documentaries. Thinking about murder comes naturally to Kevin and Rebecca, and not just because they are a married couple. In addition to being a podcasting team, Kevin and Rebecca are prolific true crime writers. They’ve even co-authored 4 books including Our Little Secret and Notes on a Killing. Rebecca also works on other podcasts, including the popular Undisclosed and Slate’s non-crime-y (so far) parenting podcasting, Mom and Dad are Fighting. Also, everyone who’s won an Emmy and has written a book about a female serial killer, raise your hand. Not so fast everyone except former television journalist Kevin Flynn! Kevin is the author of six books and was a broadcaster for nearly 20 years.
I was lucky enough to
rope get Kevin to open up about how the podcast started, the work that goes into creating successful podcasts (Kevin and Rebecca actually have several), and lots of tips on the whats and hows that go into podcasting.
Dixie Laite: Kevin, thanks so much for finding time in your crazy busy schedule to talk to me. I guess the obvious forts question is, how and why did you and Rebecca get started as podcasters?
Kevin Flynn: Rebecca and I are true crime authors. She currently works at a public radio station, and I was a broadcaster for 15 years. We were looking for ways to promote ourselves. Meanwhile, when the podcast Serial was all the rage, I commented how her public radio station was missing the boat by not promoting that podcast (e.g., having a listening party, panel discussion). Driving home from Thanksgiving, I turned to her and said, “We should do a podcast about Serial and do it from the perspective of being a crime writer and it should have “Serial” in the name for SEO. And we need to do it by next week or it will never happen.” That’s how it started.
Dixie: How did you come to select the Law & Order universe as your topic? How did you know there were enough L&O-obsessed maniacs like me?
Kevin: I was a just a casual Law & Order fan, though I’ve seen enough re-runs to know who was who. Rebecca thought there were enough fans that we could do a special episode of “Crime Writers On…” dedicated to Law & Order. After that, she suggested we do a separate podcast. I was resistant. She said there ought to be a hook with a tie-in to each episode’s “ripped from the headlines” origin. That really aggravated me, unsure as how I’d ever determine that. Then I found a fan website that listed which shows were RFTH and their real-life cases. Then I thought there might be something.
She wanted to be the host, but I said she (the bigger fan) should be the expert guest. The research into each episode has made me a better, more knowledgeable fan, but I think I’m where I need to be.
Dixie: How did you decide upon the various consistent components [of your podcast]? (The favorite teams, the Hudson University chant, the “Hey, It’s That Girl” etc.)
Kevin: It just seemed like there ought to be regular segments to give it a structure. I thought of it in three parts: guest interview, show analysis, then RFTH. (I’ve since modified the interview so as to get right to discussion…which is why the listener is there.)
I didn’t want to do a serious, academic analysis. So I embraced the cheesiness. Rebecca wanted to ask everyone their favorite team, so it started from there. The “Hey, It’s That Guy” was an original thought, too. As I’ve streamlined our production, I’ve been able to add way more clips and pick ones on the fly that illustrate what we’re talking about. If there’s some element that I think will come up again (like Hudson U) I thought about making a jingle. The latest is “Sweet Wisdom from Fin.” [Note to the reader: Fin is Ice-T’s character on SVU.] I never got around to doing one for Olivet to the tune of “Aloutte” — “Olivet-ah, Elizabeth Olivet-ah. Olivet-ah, who’s insane today?” [Elizabeth Olivet is a recurring psychiatrist character.]
Dixie: Oooh, I love those! How about one about DA Adam Schiff? His gruff retorts crack me up. Please come up with one for J.K. Simmons too, the world’s most intimidating-slash-sexy psychiatrist. Anyway, enough about me and fantasies. You guys use clips from the series on the podcast. I’ve always wondered, what are the rules when it comes to using TV series clips?
Kevin: They’re hazy. The U.S. Copyrights Act allows for “fair use”, but that’s in the eye of the beholder. Criticism and commentary of a song is allowed (in limited bits); playing the song like a DJ is not. You can stay away from trouble if your actions don’t harm the financial interests of the copyright holder (reselling their work) and by limiting the amount of the work used. You can’t run the full audio of the show and talk about it. I use clips that are 10-25 seconds long, and maybe a dozen of them. That’s a fraction of a 42-minute TV episode, so I feel pretty safe.
I do, however, steer clear of using the Law & Order music, particularly the dun-dunk. I would have a weak defense if ever challenged.
Dixie: That’s good to know. Though you’d think the Dick Wolfs of the world and all the Law & Order people would just love fandom and shows promoting their series. Have you ever received any response or feedback from the Law & Order folk (producers, cast, writers, etc.)?
Kevin: The only “real” Law & Order person who ever weighed in was Vincent D’Onofrio [the actor who played Detective Robert Goren on Law & Order: Criminal Intent]. He heard our first Criminal Intent episode and thought we were too negative, so he said on Twitter he’d never listen again. I didn’t disagree; we were new and I can see where comments could be taken wrong. I sh*t on a reaction shot of Goren & Eames and said it wasn’t an Emmy-award winning performance. Today I would have sh*t on the writers, not the actors doing what they were told.
Anyway, I tried to engage with him on Twitter to say I thought he was right and I took the criticism to heart. But he seemed to think that all of my replies were sarcastic or arch. Even wishing him a Happy Thanksgiving was thrown back at me as “a polite way to say bugger off.”
It’s a small sample size, but it hasn’t been good. At least we haven’t been sued.
Dixie: Wow, I’m really disappointed to hear he was being so thin-skinned. Clearly, I am mixing him up with Goren too much. Goren can really take it; people call him crazy and sh*t to his face and he just smiles quietly to himself and lets the viewer feel bad for him. (Personally, I think you guys are way too hard on Christopher Meloni, but again, maybe I’m not thinking with my brain.)
Well, what has the audience response been? What’s your relationship with your listeners?
Kevin: At first, there was a large part of the audience that didn’t get what we were doing. They didn’t like the music. They wanted more analysis. We only have half the listeners as we did for our first four or five episodes. But the ones that stuck around TOTALLY get it. They have a love of the TV show(s) and they love what we’re doing with it.
Dixie: I’m one of those! I wonder what do they mean by more analysis? Maybe it’s because, like me, they can give a never-ending stream of analysis and repartee as the show rolls. I can see doing 3 hours on each episode, but that’s what editors are for. And I can’t even imagine anyone not loving the music.
Kevin: I honestly think the thing that helps us the most is the theme song. It’s such an ear worm and it was lightning in a bottle. It sets the whole tone for what we’re doing.
As far as the fans, they’re great. I will say I have to keep the Criminal Intent fans at bay because those These Are Their Stories episodes get fewer downloads than SVU or Original Recipe.
Dixie: And I, for one, tend to like the SVU episodes least and the Criminal Intent episodes most, because that’s how I feel about the real-life shows. But I promise you don’t have to keep me at bay. I’m sorry there is anyone needing to be kept at bay. Keeping anyone at bay sucks.
OK, let’s talk about podcasting basics. How tricky is it for newbie podcasters to master the technology and incorporate the kinds of elements and sound design you use? What’s your advice to newbies?
Kevin: I think it probably is hard for newbies. We’re at a slightly higher level of skill. We’re recording two voices locally, one remotely, editing with multitrack, inserting all the elements, and editing the show by taking out things that aren’t great. We’re fine because of our broadcast experience. (But it took me a little time to catch on to the newest software — stuff I didn’t have when I was in radio.)
I’d suggest people not use GarageBand [a line of digital audio workstations for macOS and iOS] and use a professional grade editor like Adobe Audition [instead]. It has ALL the bells. If not, the free version of Audacity seems to work fine. There are good YouTube tutorials for basic and advanced techniques.
Also: get the best microphones you can afford. And script your intro, outro, and outline your questions so you’re not saying, “Hey, um, so this thing…”
Dixie: Thanks for your expert advice, Kevin. And thanks so much for These Are Their Stories. It’s good to know I’m not the only one obsessed with the “L’order” Universe. (Though I may be the only one obsessed with Steven Hill.)