In 1938, Orson Welles famously caused panic during what was then called a “radio play” of War of the Worlds. At the time, radio plays or radio dramas were popular in America. Before the advent of TV, the radio play was the leader of in home entertainment. Nowadays, most people have never heard a radio play, but one New York Times Bestselling author might just change that.
At just 29 years old, Allison Raskin is already a comedy powerhouse. Raskin has worked as a writer and actress for Buzzfeed. She has written a bestselling book, I Hate Everyone But You, with comedy partner, Gaby Dunn. Raskin is also a Youtube star with Â 100 million total views and over 750,000 subscribers on the platform.
Most people wouldn’t expect that a 29-year-old would seek to bring a forgotten medium back into homes and headphones, but that is exactly what Raskin is doing, even if she doesn’t call her new podcast, “Gossip,” a radio play.
“Gossip,” released this June, is a weekly scripted, comedy podcast about the rumors that circulate in a small town in New York State with a 12 episode run. It has already been featured in Elle, Entertainment Tonight and Deadline. “Gossip” is 100% scripted with a cast of 32 voice actors telling a fully fictionalized and meticulously planned out story.
“Gossip” focuses on three fictional female friends at their weekly coffee meetup as they tell rumors and stories about their small town and the people who live in it. The friends, Bethany, Mia and Valerie, span ages from early twenties to middle age. Raskin plays Bethany, a young Christian mom. Raskin jokes that it was a stretch since she looks Jewish. As the women tell their stories, the audio cuts to the voices of the townspeople and listens into their salacious or private conversations. From stories of gay Brits cooking meth in the local AirBnb, to Miaâ€™s bossâ€™s newly open marriage, to a fight breaking out at a charity event, the friends jump in between rumors and personal lives and a story on why Bethany hasnâ€™t seen Breaking Bad.
“I am always interested in scripted [comedy], always interested in narrative and really carefully crafting a story,” Raskin explains, “so when I decided to move into the podcast space that is what made the most sense for me and what I was interested in.”
Raskin is quick to crack jokes as you speak to her. When asked about her writing process for “Gossip,” she says, “I wrote a script every three days. My producer was like ‘Okay, Allison.â€™ But I gave myself that deadline I had to do it.” She simply says for the month that she turned the outlines (that she had crafted in a writers room for two weeks) into fully fledged scripts, “I didn’t leave my house much during that time.”
Raskin is a lover of soap operas. There really aren’t any podcasts quite like “Gossip,” so she was “inspired by what [she] saw on TV… Desperate Housewives, Devious Maids, Jane the Virgin. The kind of soaps that have a comedic twist to them.”
“Gossipâ€ť is a comedy, which separates it from other scripted podcasts which are usually, either non-fiction or, as Raskin described, “mystery, supernatural, a genre with some big reveal.â€ť â€śGossipâ€ť is rooted in melodrama explicitly and stays away from mystery. Raskin explains, “the big secret is that scripted podcasts exist and are one of the oldest forms of entertainment in a lot of ways, in the form of radio plays.” Raskin continued, “it used to be a very prominent type of medium…itâ€™s still big in England but for whatever reason it fell off the radar in America.” Later, she says, ” It’s exciting to be a part of the rise.”
“Gossip” feels like a TV show sometimes more than a podcast, mainly because Raskin originally started in TV. “I have sold TV shows. I have been trying to sell TV shows; none of them have made it to air.” Raskin says, “It is such a bigger commitment and there are so [many] fewer spots when it comes to TV.” She continued, “There is so much more control and you can tell much bigger stories for less money because it’s just audio.”
Raskin does something that many comedians and creators do not, she rolls with the punches. She is nonchalant. “I really wanted to have my own show and that wasn’t happening for me in the TV space, but I pitched [a podcast] and suddenly I had a series order.” With a partnership and funding from Stitcher, she finally could make her show and even realized that she had a lot more creative control in the podcasting space than she would in TV.
Raskin is often thinking two steps ahead. Realizing that promoting a podcast on social media is hard because platforms like Twitter and Instagram “arent really audio-driven platforms,” Raskin wanted to do “something more visual.” Raskin enlisted two female cartoonists to create art around each episode and to “build out the world” of “Gossip.” Raskin joked that when she pitched the idea, her marketing department told her they would pay for it, â€śif [she] can pull it off.â€ť
â€” Allison Raskin (@AllisonRaskin) July 19, 2018
The podcast is undeniably female. While there are many male voices in the cast in smaller parts, the creative team is almost entirely female, with all female writers. “I wanted to make a female-driven show,” she went on to say that female audiences are “voracious” for female-driven narratives. “The best thing you can do is have a female audience. They love content. They share content. They are hungry for content.”
Nearly after a century after the heydey of radio plays “Gossip” feels both steeped in tradition and also brand new. Raskin mentioned, “We added the disclaimer at the beginning. This is scripted and comedic and tongue and cheek.”
In a way, this echoes Welles convincing Americans that they were being attacked by aliens 80 years ago. A need to convince the public that these are actors and even more, that this was planned and made so well that for a moment you think it is real. Whether Raskin is ushering in a new era for the episodic audio content or if the genre will fall back into obscurity, â€śGossipâ€ť is worth a listen. Â Raskin herself remains nonchalant as she explained, “you make things the way you want to make [them] and hope people get it.”