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UCP Gets Into Podcasting; Scripted Podcast From Sam Esmail Starring LaKeith Stanfield Among First Offerings

After adapting four podcasts into high-profile TV series, Homecoming, Dirty John and the upcoming Dr. Death and Joe Exotic, UCP is getting into the podcasting business itself with the launch of UCP Audio.

The podcast network is set to launch in 2020 with The End Up, a scripted podcast starring LaKeith Stanfield (Atlanta, Get Out), from Homecoming executive producer Sam Esmail’s  Esmail Corp. banner and two unscripted podcasts featuring true-crime investigations, House of Prayer and the untitled Troubled Teen Industry Project. The new platform will release episodes weekly.

“After the experience of adapting Dirty John, Homecoming, Dr. Death and more, we are firm believers that audio is as important for IP creation as books, film and television,” said Dawn Olmstead, President, UCP and Wilshire Studios. “With the launch of UCP Audio we can offer storytellers the opportunity to write for multiple platforms, making UCP a one stop shop for whatever story you want to tell.”

In an interview with Deadline, Olmstead, who admitted that “we are big fans of podcasts, and we are obsessed listening to them,” elaborated on the appeal of the podcast model that led to the studio’s foray into the space.

“If there is something you want to say about the moment in society, podcast is allowing you to do that so much more quickly (than film or TV),” she said. “You don’t have to build sets, you don’t have to wait for availability for actors. You can literally write it that night and be in the audio booth the next day. There is something about the ability to get that story out of your head and into the public quickly that I think really resonates with the listeners because they are still in that zeitgeist or ether that created this moment.”

There are also practical advantages.

“Also the economics are really appealing,” Olmstead said.

After she and her team looked into how much it would costs to develop and produce 6-8 episodes of one-hour or half-hour scripted or non-scripted podcast, it is “about the same as a medium-high-cost spec script to create a scripted or non-scripted podcast.”

The upside is that, when pitching a TV adaptation to buyers, instead of giving them a script or an article to read they could have six hours to listen to, getting a better sense what the potential TV show would be. Similarly, actors approached to star in the TV version could listen to the podcast to get more nuanced vision of the characters, which could be appealing when targeting A-list talent.

That has helped UCP attach big names to its podcast adaptations before setting them up at networks/streamers. Homecoming sold to Amazon’s Prime Video with Julia Roberts on board; Dirty John landed at Bravo with Connie Britton as the lead; Dr. Death for Peacock had Jamie Dornan, Alec Baldwin and Christian Slater attached, while Joe Exotic, which is yet to be taken out, stars Kate McKinnon.

Additionally, podcasts are easier to fit into a schedule for actors than film or TV roles, allowing producers to go for talent that may otherwise be unavailable. For instance, UCP had tried casting LaKeith Stanfield in multiple drama series but it had never worked out with his schedule. Now the studio was finally able to get him for its first scripted podcast.

Written, directed and produced by Will Weggel and Danny Luber, and produced by Esmail Corp, The End Up takes place in a tilted near-future where cancer patients who wish to end their suffering must attend a weeklong bootcamp promising an “elegant offramp to life.” Two best friends wrestle with their goodbye after one of them enrolls in the program and discovers that the offramp is not so elegant.

Stanfield plays “Jacob” who helps his terminal best friend navigate the weeklong program and begins to question the clinic’s true intentions. He’s also sort of writing a book about the apocalypse.

Weggel is a screenwriter who got his start on UCP/Esmail Corp’s Homecoming. He recently worked on the series Made For Love and currently writes on HBO Max’s Station Eleven. Luber is a writer and podcast producer. Previously, he worked as a behavioral aide in the LAUSD.

Also factoring into UCP’s decision to launch a podcast division was the rising podcast rights prices. Having bought a slew of them, “each got exponentially more expensive as podcasts got hotter and hotter to option and adapt,” Olmstead said.

“We look at ourselves as a scrappy studio,  part of our DNA is not been given a lot of tools,” she added, noting that they realized that “we would have have produced (a podcast) for so much less that we would’ve optioned it for.” Additionally, “you find new young talent that way, try new things because you are not worried about cost.”

In a saturated podcast market, there is something that sets UCP apart.

“We would never put a podcast in development that we don’t ultimately want to be a TV show,” Olmstead said. “We are only putting into development or production ideas that we definitely feel at the end day could be premium docu or premium scripted series. Our only end game is to create great TV shows.”

The only exception would be podcasts created as companions to an UCP-produced original scripted or docu series that is not affiliated with another podcast entity and there are internal discussions

For instance, UCP recently optioned the rights to Jesse Barron’s 2017 Esquire true crime article The Girl From Plainville on the sexting suicide case for TV series development and already is about doing a docu series tandently and a podcast.

In House Of Prayer, a daughter’s call to police about memories of her mother’s heinous crimes triggers a year-long investigation into an alleged cult, the disappearance of a child and a murder. Former prosecutor and legal analyst Beth Karas (“Unspeakable Crime: The Killing of Jessica Chambers”) will host.

Hosted by journalist Josh Bloch (“Uncover: Escaping NXIVM”), Untitled Troubled Teen Industry Project dives deep into the search for a missing teen, uncovering the dark and twisted business of therapeutic schools and their ties to politicians, Hollywood and one of America’s most dangerous cults.

UCP Audio podcasts can be streamed at UCPAUDIO.com  and will be available on all the major platforms including iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts and more. Additional podcasts will be announced at a later date.

Stanfield will next be seen in “Uncut Gems” opposite Adam Sandler and “Knives Out,“ releasing November 27. Also coming in 2020, he will star in “The Photograph” opposite Issa Rae and “Jesus Was My Home Boy.”

Stanfield is best known for his role as ‘Darius’ in Donald Glover’s series “Atlanta” as well as his role in Jordan Peele’s Academy Award winning hit “Get Out.”

Stanfield was recently nominated for a 2019 Critic’s Choice Award for his starring role in Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You.” He is repped by CAA, Stark Management and Ginsburg Daniels Kallis.