The podcast Serial, a spinoff of the long-running radio program This American Life, debuts on October 3, 2014, and quickly becomes a smash hit.
Producer Sarah Koenig conceived of the show after she was approached by the attorney Rabia Chaudry, who asked Koenig to investigate the case of her friend, Adnan Syed. Syed was convicted in 1999 of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in Baltimore, but Chaudry believed that Syed was innocent and that his attorney had mishandled the case.
The 12-episode podcast, which details the case and Koenig’s attempts to investigate it, shattered records: Serial became the first podcast to reach five million downloads and the first to win a Peabody Award. The same year, media companies had found that podcasts could bring in high ad revenue; podcast listenership soon soared to higher-than-ever levels.
Syed’s conviction, which was imposed without physical evidence and only based on the account of Syed’s friend Jay, was examined critically over the course of the show. Throughout the season, Koenig made clear her suspicion that Syed’s conviction was based on problematic evidence: “I think something went wrong with this case,” she told NPR.
The season renewed interest in Syed’s original trial, and the discovery of previously undisclosed evidence and mishandling by his trial counsel led to Syed’s conviction being overturned in 2016. It was appealed by the Maryland Attorney General and the state Court of Appeals reinstated the conviction in 2019. In 2022, however, a judge vacated the conviction and Syed was released from prison.