Note: I’m fascinated by content forms. I love popping the hood on a piece of content to see how the creators put things together. What choices did they make? What structures did they use? This piece is part of an occasional series I call “content deconstructed.”
“The Rewatchables” is a podcast from the folks at The Ringer that features lively conversations about films that are fun to watch over and over (hence the name). You might take issue with some of their selections—”Mr. Mom”?—but the execution is always strong.
The podcast’s consistency comes from five key attributes.
1. The right number of guests
Each episode of “The Rewatchables” has a host and usually one or two guests. The host participates fully—it’s not a Q&A format. But, there is a host, which is essential. A podcast without a host is a freeform conversation, and freeform conversations are full of wandering and inconsistency. That’s fine in your day-to-day life, but it won’t do for a podcast. Someone needs to drive.
Also important: a podcast with too many guests is a mess. People have a tendency to talk over each other, so it’s tough to figure out who is saying what when there’s a lot of people involved. I’ve never heard more than four people on an episode of “The Rewatchables.”
2. A rotating roster
From what I can tell, the rotating roster of panelists on “The Rewatchables” is determined by level of affection for the movie being discussed. Panelists can, and do, take shots at films, but you can tell everyone involved has an inherent fondness for whatever movie they’re discussing. That’s a big reason why episodes of “The Rewatchables” are welcoming. The joy is authentic.
A rotating roster is an interesting option if you can swing it. It spreads the work across more people, which boosts creativity by minimizing the overall burden. If built and nurtured with intention, a roster can also add new perspectives and diversity. “The Rewatchables” has yet to seize this opportunity in full, however. Even with a roster, episodes tend to lean white and male.
3. An audience-appropriate episode length
Episodes of “The Rewatchables” generally run around 90 minutes, sometimes a bit longer. The length works well for the topic: If you really like a movie, you want to have enough time to talk it through and share all the highlights. But at the same time, you can’t run on too long. Podcasts that crack the two-hour barrier are asking a lot of the listener.
The lesson here is that running time isn’t arbitrary. It’s a reflection of your understanding of, and empathy for, the audience.
4. Use (but not overuse) of regular segments
Episodes of “The Rewatchables” feel loose, and they are, but listen carefully and you’ll pick up the structure. Each episode is built around regular segments known as “the categories.” A few examples:
The Dion Waiters award—Named for a basketball player prone to “heat checks,” this award goes to the actor in the film who had limited screen time but really went for it.
What’s aged the best—Some of these picks are prescient (such as the friction between technology and privacy showcased in 1998’s “Enemy of the State”). Some of them are just silly.
What’s aged the worst—Movies are a product of their times, and those times can carry antiquated viewpoints. This segment highlights small things (why was smoking on planes ever a thing?) and big things (so much entrenched misogyny) that make you cringe on a rewatch.
Apex Mountain—This goes to the star who was at the height of his/her power after the film came out. Or maybe not? The regulars aren’t sure how to define this category, which is something of a running joke.
Who won the movie—The person, people, or things involved in the film that benefitted the most / shined the most.
Categories are useful, but be very careful if you’re going to apply them. Over reliance on visible structure can lead to a going-through-the-motions sensibility. “The Rewatchables” strikes the right balance in its application of categories. Rather than a structural crutch, categories are effectively used by the host to keep the conversation moving.
I’ve never listened to an episode of “The Rewatchables” and thought a host or a panelist was winging it. It’s clear the panelists all watched the movie recently, and intently. I imagine scenes were paused and watched and then rewatched. Copious notes were taken. The panelists thought about the film before they talked about it, which is why the discussion flows.
Takeaways: Things to learn and apply
Here are a few lessons from “The Rewatchables” that can be integrated into your own projects. Some of these are specific to podcasts, while others are applicable to any type of content.
Have a host—Podcasts, like teams, need leaders.
Find the right number of people for your podcast —The optimum number of participants is between two and four.
Passion works—You should double down on authentic joy whenever you can find it. This goes for all types of content.
Mix up your podcast’s guest list—Distribute the workload to keep people fresh and strive for diversity in perspectives and backgrounds.
Running time matters—Give your audience a content length that matches their expectations and availability. This applies across content types.
Consider segments—Scaffolding can provide efficiency and structure to any content form. It’s particularly useful during development. But be mindful: Structure needs to facilitate content, not define it.
Prepare, always—This applies to podcasts, articles, and video. It applies to life itself. You need to take your work seriously before anyone else will.