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How LORE Turned a Creepy Podcast Into an Even Creepier Television Show

You may not realize it yet, but we’re in the middle of a tiny wave of television shows based on podcasts. IFC had Maron, which dealt with Marc Maron‘s popular WTF by making it meta. Seeso tried their hand with Throwing Shade and My Brother, My Brother, and Me, which ported the talking heads podcast formula directly into a camera-based form with desks and coffee mugs. ABC is set to air Alex, Inc., which is a fictional version of Alex Blumberg’s company launch-chronicling podcast StartUp. Then there’s Amazon, which has put its faith in breathy psychological thriller Homecoming and the spooky mythology of Aaron Mahnke’s Lore, which starts streaming six episodes Friday, October 13th.

For the uninitiated, the podcast is about the scary truth behind our fictions, delivered with Mahnke’s signature languid vocal tones. Early medicine, mob mentality, and bizarre inventions are just a handful of the catalysts for episodes that delve into a history of mankind’s darker self. Its adaptation is the most fascinating among all the podcast pumpkins turning magically into TV programs because it isn’t an advice show, an audio opinion column, or an old-time radio program easily painted over to look like every police procedural on the map. It’s a documentary series that executive producer Gale Anne Hurd (The Walking Dead) and The X-Files alum/showrunner Glen Morgan weren’t satisfied with giving the Ken Burns treatment.

The Lore series will be an experiment not only in how to transform a podcast into a TV show, but in how to blend documentary elements with staged horrors—while still keeping Mahnke’s voice in the mix. Luckily, we got to visit the Atlanta set of the show (while a May thunderstorm rattled the hollow factory they filmed a lobotomy scene in) to learn the recipe for properly teleporting a popular podcast into a brand new television-style body.

The first concern is the preservation of the podcast’s soul. With 6 million monthly listeners, there’s a reason Amazon chose it for adaptation in the first place, so discovering what makes it special is a key to maintaining the elements that allow it to seize the heart of the audience. The most obvious component is Mahnke himself, who pulls double duty as lead researcher and star performer. He digs up the strange rabbit trails that become engrossing stories, then shares them like an old friend sharing a bad day across a cafe table. Only the bad day is human history.

“He’s the one you want to go through the dark forest with,” Morgan, a nearly 30-year veteran of television writing, tells me about Mahnke before estimating that 40% of the series will be Mahnke’s voice over. As a whole, the series will be a blend of archival footage, animation, and live-action dramatizations.

“I’m trying to do a visual adaptation,” Morgan says. “The stories he tells. The way he tells them. We’re really trying to make it, at the risk of sounding pretentious, a real visual essay. No talking heads. No experts coming on to be interviewed. You can see that elsewhere. So we have documentary segments that might introduce the theme, then we might go into an epilogue that explores that theme before going into scripted stuff, and then go back into documentary stuff. So it’s all weaving in and out.”

In that sense, Lore seeks to be an expansion of the podcast, to spiral out from its success by adding horror film and visual documentary elements into the campfire tale without losing sight of the flames.

“I’ve been on projects where it’s stemmed from a book, and it’s a great book, but then everyone starts to get nervous and they go, ‘Can this book be more like Lost?'” Morgan says with a laugh. “‘Could it be more like Twilight Zone?’ No, this book is this book! You really battle to keep it. That being said, Aaron is doing a lot of research, so he comes across things that are, like, whoa, the story didn’t stop there. And as a storyteller he chose to end it there, and we choose to end it elsewhere. Or maybe a story was a small part of his podcast, because his was primarily about the Danvers State Hospital because he lives nearby, but just getting the facts about the life of [pioneer of the lobotomy] Dr. Walter Freeman, we decided to expand that. Certainly, we’re honoring his podcast, but there’s room to grow.”

Oddly enough, Morgan was in a perfect position to carry what works about the podcast over to television because of his experience in scripted storytelling and because calling himself a fan of the podcast isn’t press tour lip-service; it’s the reason he ended up working on the show.

“I heard Aaron was a fan of The X-Files, and I never do this, but I wrote him and said ‘I hope you enjoyed some of my episodes as much as I like your show,'” Morgan confesses. “They weren’t gonna have a showrunner originally because they were just gonna do documentary, but then that changed, and I got on board.”

So you’ve got the voice, the fan with experience in writing television, the stories, and the research. Now it’s time to add some guest stars.

For Lore, that includes Colm Feore as the aforementioned pioneer of the frontal lobotomy, Robert Patrick as a minister driven to performing a dark seance, and Teen Wolf‘s Holland Roden as an Irish woman whose husband burned her alive because he thought she’d been replaced by a changeling, as well as Adam Goldberg, Campbell Scott, and True Blood‘s Kristin Bauer van Straten.

Watching Feore float around the set as the well-intentioned doom doctor gave a physical presence to Morgan’s concept of carefully expanding Lore‘s tone. Feore carried the responsibility of presenting his character’s belief in himself as a hero while breathing an ice cold chill into the room with every take as Dr. Freeman presented a newly invented tool that would rid the afflicted of their problematic frontal lobes. The moral conflict belonged to Feore’s capable talent, the fear belonged to the tink-tink-tink of the metal sliding into the patient’s ocular cavity.

Which leads, finally, to the invisible problem to adapting this particular kind of podcast. When dealing with spooky stories that go bump in the night, how do you keep things scary? After all, there are dozens of mythology and horror podcasts. Not to mention hundreds of terrifying films and TV shows.

After puzzling over this while strolling around the cavernous set, it made sense that it has to be a combination of all the other ingredients coming together correctly in the recipe. If Morgan, Hurd, and Mahnke could pinpoint the spark of what set Lore apart from other podcasts, what made the stories pop, what made the research connect, and mix those elements with serious actors, unsettling visuals, and a golden voice, then they would watch the dark forest Morgan spoke of walking through naturally emerge.

We’ll get to find out how deeply they can terrify us with the truth when Lore‘s 6 episodes land on Friday, October 13th.

Images: Amazon Prime Video

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