Artwork by Valero Doval
|Hosted by||Brian Reed|
|Theme music composed by||Daniel Hart|
|Ending theme||"A Rose for Emily" by The Zombies|
|Audio format||Podcast (via streaming or downloadable MP3)|
|No. of seasons||1|
|No. of episodes||7|
S-Town is an investigative journalism podcast hosted by Brian Reed and created by the producers of Serial and This American Life. All seven chapters were released on March 28, 2017. The podcast was downloaded a record-breaking 10 million times in four days, and had been downloaded over 40 million times by May 2017.
In 2012, horologist John B. McLemore sent an email to the staff of the show This American Life asking them to investigate an alleged murder in his hometown of Woodstock, Alabama, a place he claimed to despise. After a year of exchanging emails and several months of conversation with McLemore, producer Brian Reed traveled to Woodstock to investigate. He investigated the crime and eventually found that no such murder took place, though he struck up a friendship with McLemore, a "depressed but colorful" character. He recorded conversations with McLemore and other people in Woodstock, which are played on the podcast.
McLemore killed himself by drinking potassium cyanide on June 22, 2015, while the podcast was still in production. In the narrative of the podcast, this occurs at the end of the second episode, and subsequent episodes deal with the fallout from McLemore's death while exploring more of McLemore's life and character. Though the podcast was promoted under the name S-Town, Reed reveals in the first episode that this is a euphemism for "Shit-Town", McLemore's derogatory term for Woodstock. Reed generally refers to the podcast by the non-euphemized name in the episodes themselves.
- Brian Reed – host and executive producer
- John B. McLemore – horologist
- Mary Grace McLemore – John's elderly mother
- Tyler Goodson – John's younger friend and employee
- Jake Goodson – John's employee and Tyler's brother
- Kabrahm Burt – rumored to have murdered Dylon Nicols
- Dylon Nicols – purported to have been murdered by Kabrahm
- Allan "Bubba" Cresswell – co-owned a tattoo parlor with Tyler
- Skyler Goodson – Jake's wife
- Allen Bearden – John's friend and a horologist based in Pell City, Alabama
- Reta Lawrence – John's cousin
- Charlie Lawrence – Reta's husband
- Jeff Dodson – mayor of Woodstock and briefly John's business partner
- Cheryl Dodson – John's friend and one time love interest. Worked as Woodstock Town Clerk during John's time of delight with the town and co-owned Woodstock Garden Center with John. Interviewed in Chapter 7.
- Faye Gamble – Woodstock town clerk to whom John spoke on the phone while he committed suicide
- Boozer Downs – The town's and John's attorney.
- Michael Fuller – A former friend of John's who now lives in New York City and is interviewed in Chapter 5.
- Olin Long – A friend of John's, whom John met on a singles' line for men, in 2003. Almost had a love affair with John, but it was never consummated. Interviewed in Chapter 6.
All episodes were released simultaneously on March 28, 2017. The podcast is available to stream or download for free on the official website, iTunes, Stitcher, Radiopublic, or through the RSS feed.
|#||Title||Length (minutes:seconds)||Original release date|
|I||"If you keep your mouth shut, you'll be surprised what you can learn."||51:57||March 28, 2017|
|After more than a year of correspondence, investigative journalist Brian Reed visits John B. McLemore’s small hometown Woodstock, Alabama after John’s request that he investigate the murder and cover up of a young man named Dylan Nichols. John informs Brian that Kabrahm Burt bragged to an acquaintance named Jake Goodson that he had killed Dylan. After many failed attempts to speak to Jake Goodson, Brian begins to suspect that John is hiding something. Brian also meets Jake's brother Tyler, who does work for John and is very good friends with him. After days of searching for evidence with no results, Jake’s wife Skylar drops by John’s on a whim and finally confirms that she was there when Kabrahm admitted to killing Dylan.|
|II||"Has anybody called you?"||41:11||March 28, 2017|
|Brian begins to question the validity of the murder; he goes around probing for more answers from the people of S-town only to find that they are fixed to the idea. Uncertain about directly confronting Kabrahm, he speaks with Tyler, tattoo artist Bubba and other locals to learn a bit more about John. Finally, Brian seeks out Kabrahm to hear from the suspected murderer firsthand. However, he discovers that the murder was completely fabricated. John explains his discontent with the indifference of the people in S-town. A couple of weeks after this discussion, Skylar calls Brian informing him that John committed suicide.|
|III||"Tedious and brief."||53:04||March 28, 2017|
|While clearly shocked about John's death, Brian admits that John had discussed committing suicide before, usually in relation to his obsession with ecological and economic collapse. Brian returns to Alabama to attend John's funeral and meets Tyler, who informs Brian that he and John had a falling out the day before his suicide. John's mother Mary Grace is taken in by John's cousin Reta and her husband, which Tyler believes is an attempt to get to her and John's assets. Further complicating things is the fact that John intended to leave his assets to Tyler, including a rumored stash of gold, but John didn't leave a will, meaning Tyler has no legal right to claim them. Tyler claims he will take the cousins to court and if that doesn't work, he'll take matters into his own hands.|
|IV||"If anybody could find it, it would be me."||61:34||March 28, 2017|
|V||"Nobody'll ever change my mind about it."||61:25||March 28, 2017|
|VI||"Since everyone around here thinks I'm a queer anyway."||46:02||March 28, 2017|
|VII||"You're beginning to figure it out now, aren't you?"||62:27||March 28, 2017|
S-Town incorporates various specially composed pieces of music throughout the episodes from composers Daniel Hart, Helado Negro, Trey Pollard, and Matt McGinley, including an S-Town theme produced by Hart. The show's closing music, used at the end of each episode, is "A Rose for Emily" by The Zombies.
Shortly after the release of the podcast, John's online obituary was flooded with support and shared reflections from around the world. In an April 2017 interview, Tyler Goodson said that he sometimes regrets "ever speaking into that microphone because [he] was probably upset, or wasn't thinking clearly" since he faced trial for the criminal actions that were described in the podcast. In October 2017, Goodson pleaded guilty to the burglaries that were described in the podcast, and he will serve five years on probation with a ten-year suspended sentence.
In July 2018, McLemore's estate administrator filed a lawsuit against the S-Town's production company, Serial Productions. The suit, which was filed without the knowledge of McLemore's family, alleged that by selling advertisements with the podcast they violated McLemore's personality rights. In March 2019, a judge declined to dismiss the complaint, leading to depositions, a discovery phase, and mediation. Discovery revealed that McLemore actively participated and cooperated with the podcast. The case was settled in May 2020 and subsequently dismissed.
This section may be unbalanced towards certain viewpoints. (October 2018)
S-Town was culturally popular and received mixed[disputed ] critical reviews. The Boston Globe's Ty Burr thought the show was complex and voyeuristic. He asked the question "is S-Town a freak show for the NPR crowd?" and described the series as "seven chapters of provocative red herrings that almost but never quite add up to a place, a people, or a man". Jessica Goudeau from The Atlantic questioned the ethics of the series, asking "is it okay to confess another person's pain for the sake of a good story?". Goudeau also wondered how Flannery O'Connor, Robert Lowell, or Elizabeth Bishop would have reacted to the podcast and the exploration of poor, white, rural America. Slate's Katy Waldman wrote that S-Town feels more like a new genre, "something more like aural literature". Vox's Aja Romano called the podcast "stunning", but suggested the podcast was too invasive and should not have been made.
The podcast's critics claimed that the studio took advantage of John's death in order to gain publicity. Crixeo, an online arts monthly, argues that Reed did not have the right to publicly out John as queer. At the same time, other views contend that S-Town was a way for them to take the story of John's death and shed light on mental health in the U.S. The Atlantic's Spencer Kornhaber praised the series for its journalism, and humanism, as the series "hints at the possibility of cultural reconciliation" within the community. Rebecca Nicholson from The Guardian called the series "a noble attempt at understanding life", as the series showed "the great hope that resides within", by showing a person trying to survive within their surroundings.
The Guardian gave S-Town a critical review. The opinion piece called S-Town “a good story, but an indefensible one.” The article states that the podcast is supposed to leave you feeling positive, however instead it feels forced. The author feels that the podcast doesn’t fully address the main quandary at the center of S-Town.
By May 2017, the podcast series was downloaded over 40 million times. It retained a high ranking in the iTunes chart and continued to be analysed in the press well into 2017. Since then, the podcast remained popular and had been downloaded 77 million times by the anniversary of its release.
- 2017 WBEZ/Chicago, IL, S-Town, “S-Town” breaks new ground for the medium by creating the first audio novel, a non-fiction biography constructed in the style and form of a 7-chapter novel.
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