Get Ready for Night Vale’s Follow-Up, Alice Isn’t Dead
Joseph Fink is trying to describe Alice Isn’t Dead. Specifically, he is attempting to find a way to set it apart from his other, more well-known podcast, Welcome to Night Vale.
“There’s a lot of humor mixed in that undercuts the creepiness,” Fink says of Night Vale‘s particular tone. “I wanted to try writing something that was more directly creepy.”
Moments later, as he begins to answer another question, our interview is interrupted when another voice gets on the line, says hello, and jumps right into talking about a completely unrelated topic. Fink and I—as well as Alice narrator Jasika Nicole, who’s also on the call—both freeze. Did the three of us somehow eavesdrop on some other meeting? Is there a conversation in a parallel dimension somewhere that crossed that gauzy veil into our own?
Turns out it’s as innocuous as someone misdialing into our conference call—but it’s something that had never happened to any of us. The message was clear: Even when discussing an entirely new show, the mysterious oddities of life in Night Vale can pop up anywhere.
Building on the Night Vale Name
Alice Isn’t Dead, which launched this week, follows Nicole’s unnamed narrator, who works as a truck driver while searching for her wife, whom she believes to be dead. As with its predecessor, Alice features bizarre and frightening phenomena—creatures that eat flesh, towns that reappear in different locations—but it show also marks a structural departure from Night Vale. Rather than being an open-ended episodic tale about the supernatural happenings in one small town, Alice is more contained. The 10 chapters that constitute the first season of the show will be Part 1, creating a podcast that unfolds much like the serialized novels of Charles Dickens.
That format is no accident. Serialized mystery podcasts have spiked in popularity over the past year. Initially spurred on by Serial, listeners have ravenously devoured wholly fictional programs like The Black Tapes and Limetown. Even The Message shot up the iTunes Podcast chart. Alice Isn’t Dead isn’t necessarily out to stomp on the other podcasts that have blended Night Vale and Serial, but it does signal that its creators are out to broaden their reach.
Some of that reach is geographic, and it’s ground first trod by Night Vale, which has performed in 35 states and 11 countries over two years. That means a lot of time on the road for Fink—and experiences that helped shape Alice‘s format. “Every trip the narrator takes in an episode of Alice is a real stretch of road in the US,” he says. “I had specific beginning and ending points in mind for each of them, and the things that she sees along the way are generally things that actually exist along that route.”
Night Vale continues to tour the country for live performances, and Fink and his co-creator Jeffrey Cranor wrote a novel last year. But with Alice, the pair have also founded Night Vale Presents, an overarching brand that will allow them not only to create more shows outside the flagship podcast, but foster others to work in the medium as well. It’s not far off from what companies like Radiotopia and Gimlet have done, forging a system in which many shows can thrive.
Fink says that the process leading to Alice was “a backwards, nonbusiness way of building a podcast network,” but the fact remains that Night Vale Presents is now the most recognizable name in fictional audio content. Alice grew out of ideas Fink had while on the road, but wasn’t written in collaboration with Cranor—he’s got his own projects that will also fall under the Night Vale Presents name. They’re also already working with writers and performers new to podcasting in order to develop additional shows.
While churning out four years of Night Vale episodes has been fantastic for building a loyal fanbase, it can be daunting for new listeners wanting to get into the story. Alice Isn’t Dead offers the perfect point of entry, giving newcomers a similar aesthetic without the daunting back catalog. And the Night Vale name comes with perks. Don’t think so? Go ask Alice—she’s at the top of the iTunes Podcast chart.
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