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The True Crime Podcasts That May Have Influenced ‘Only Murders in the Building’
While the characters played by Steve Martin, Selena Gomez and Martin Short are fictional, "Only Murders in the Building" seems to pull inspiration from some very real true crime podcasts.
In Hulu's new series, "Only Murders in the Building", three true crime obsessed New Yorkers come together to solve the murder of a man who lived in their Manhattan high rise. And, as one does these days, they decide to document their investigation as a podcast.
The unlikely trio is made up of former television star Charles, played by Steve Martin, “Hardy Boys” aficionado Mabel, played by Selena Gomez, and a broke theater actor named Oliver, played by Martin Short. It should be noted that their names may be a reference to an adaptation of Oliver Twist, a book written by Charles Dickens and adapted by Mabel Dodge Holmes.
The three initially bond over their love over the super popular (fictional) podcast “All is Not OK in Oklahoma,” and soon enough they begin making their own podcast to investigate their neighbor's murder. The title of their podcast, which is also the name of the show, becomes “Only Murders in the Building” after they decide that they should only focus on homicides that take place within the luxury apartment building.
“I bet every true crime podcaster wishes they were on the case right from the start,” Oliver says, before he begins recording their podcast. He starts recording on his phone as they rummage through their building’s trash receptacles looking for clues. Many of their recording sessions work just like that: on the go, in living rooms, kitchens and on the street.
While clearly a fictional show, “Only Murders in the Building” plays off America’s very real obsession with true crime and true crime podcasts. We at Oxygen.com have rounded up some of the most likely podcast muses as well as references in the show.
The most obvious inspiration is none other than “Serial,” one of the most influential and popular modern-day true crime podcasts. The first season of the podcast, which focused on the murder of teen Hae Min Lee and explored the guilt or innocence of her boyfriend Adnan Syed who was convicted of the crime, made waves when it was released on the scene in 2014. The trio behind “Only Murders in the Building” adores, if not worships, “All is Not OK in Oklahoma” host Cinda Canning, played by Tina Fey. Her voice on the fictional podcast bares a distinctive resemblance to “Serial” host Sarah Koenig’s. Furthermore, Canning brags about getting a Peabody Award for her true crime podcasting which is exactly what “Serial” won in 2014. Koening gave an acceptance speech. In “Only Murders in the Building,” Fey's character notes to the sleuths that she just got bought for $30 million. Last year, the New York Times acquired the production team of “Serial,” including Koenig, for $25 million dollars.
“All is Not Okay in Oklahoma” also resembles "S-Town," which was created in 2017 by the producers of “Serial.” Its host, New Yorker Brian Reed, ventures into a rural area of Alabama to investigate an unsolved murder. Fey’s character, also a New Yorker, ventures into rural Oklahoma to get her Peabody. "S-Town" has been criticized as exploiting uneducated Southern people for the entertainment of educated New Yorkers. For example, Reed refers to John B. McLemore, the man who initially contacted Reed to investigate a murder and whose candid conversations are included generously in the pocast, as a “local Boo Radley." The show was even sued for exploitation in 2018, Vox reported. Like with "Only Murders in the Building," "S-Town" takes unexpected turns: (SPOILERS AHEAD) When Reed finds out the murder he thought was investigating never occurred, and his subject commits suicide, Reed pivots to tell the story of his McLemore's life.
The way that Mabel, Charles and Oliver create their podcast resembles some of the methods used by Mandy Matney, host of the new podcast “Murdaugh Murders.” Like with the trio, Matney focuses on substance and not audio quality. She records her podcast in different spots around her house as the investigation is happening. But as she notes, she’s a journalist and not a podcaster; she focuses on getting her facts straight and isn't worried about vocal fry. It's also a family affair: her fiance produces. And like with the “Only Murders in the Building” crew, Matney is recording in real time as events and her research unfolds. The story is actually still unfolding. Matney, a South Carolina resident, is bravely taking on the Murdaugh family, a powerful and feared legal dynasty in the state, to investigate whether or not they have anything to do with multiple suspicious deaths, including the recent murders of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh. Taking risks is a very Canning thing to do; as Mabel points out she was once buried in raw sewage for eight hours.
The collection of “Dateline NBC” Podcasts, both new and classic, are filled with true-crime mysteries and in-depth investigations. They are a favorite of die hard true crime enthusiasts, just the sort of people that the characters of “Only Murders in the Building" want to associate with. And, just like the characters, sometimes the “Dateline NBC” podcasters get wrapped up in their own story’s timeline. In their 2019 podcast “The Thing About Pam,” notorious killer Pamela Hupp, who is currently on trial for the murder of her best friend Elizabeth ”Betsy” Faria, allegedly tried to lure Louis Gumpenberger to her home while claiming she was a producer for the show. She allegedly made up that she was in need of help reenacting a 911 call. It’s a tale full of twists and turns; Hupp is currently serving life for killing Gumpenberger, who she killed in an alleged attempt to frame him as Faria’s hitman.
“Mystery Show” was an innovative 2015 podcast in which host Starlee Kine would solve a small mystery per episode. It developed a small cult following, just like “Only Murders in the Building.” Mystery Show was a perfect little jewel box of a podcast. It was insightful without being preachy, sweet without being maudlin, and incredibly addicting to listen to.
"Only Murders in the Building" is currently streaming on Hulu.