An illustration of a microphone used in a rewatch podcast.

Rewatch Podcasts

History isn’t only about learning from our mistakes. It’s about learning from our successes.

The beauty of the podcast lies in its accessibility. Anyone with access to a microphone and recording equipment can share conversations about any topic under the sun. In the last few years, podcasts have skyrocketed in popularity; most streaming services accommodate them in their libraries. Over time, whole genres of podcasts would materialize. One of the most recent and fascinating examples is the television rewatch podcast.

According to IndieWire, former “Scrubs” actor Zach Braff had a hand in the rise of the rewatch podcast. Around 2019, Braff had been in talks with iHeart Podcasts Chief Operating Officer Will Pearson about potential rewatch projects. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to stay inside their homes, the timing was right. People needed a source of comfort to get them through this bizarre period, and revisiting old TV favorites did the trick. Braff and former co-star Donald Faison launched the “Scrubs” rewatch podcast, “Fake Doctors, Real Friends.” Although Ani Bundel of Elite Daily noted it was more of a fun reunion for the two men rather than a legitimate deep-dive into “Scrubs” episodes, listeners immensely enjoyed the show. Suffice it to say Braff and Faison helped set the stage for a new subform of entertainment.

Their success would encourage more former television stars to come out of the woodwork and start their own podcasts. Most notably, “The Office” actresses Jenna Fischer and Angela Kisney’s podcast, “Office Ladies,” was a smash hit that helped crystallize the rewatch podcast genre. The genre has expanded so much that iHeart Radio now has an entire page on its website dedicated to rewatch podcasts, although it is just one of the many sites to offer them.

The subjects of these podcasts range from dramas like “One Tree Hill” (“Drama Queens”) and “Friday Night Lights” (“It’s Not Only Football”) to sitcoms such as “New Girl” (“Welcome To Our Show”) and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (“The Always Sunny Podcast”). Even reality show rewatch podcasts (e.g., “Bachelor Happy Hour”) are included in the mix, showing that no television genre is unwelcome.

Rewatch podcasts are the result of an Internet culture that is amused by celebrity reactions to their own work. While it’s true that these podcasts do, as Ariel Shapiro of The Verge describes it, “give former TV stars a new chance at relevance,” (and an opportunity to earn some ad revenue) they have more value than just being self-serving vehicles. Rewatch podcasts are a reminder that old material can be given a new purpose when it inspires new dialogue. They encourage fans to recognize the good aspects of their favorite shows and challenge the bad ones. The role of fans is not just to be viewers, but participants.

As a fairly avid rewatch podcast listener myself, there are two shows I particularly enjoy. One is “Pod Meets World,” which covers the 1990s ABC sitcom “Boy Meets World” (1993-1999) and is hosted by cast members Danielle Fishel, Rider Strong and Will Friedle. The other is “Ned’s Declassified Pod Survival Guide,” which analyzes the 2000s Nickelodeon sitcom “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide” (2004-2008) and is hosted by cast members Devon Werkheiser, Daniel Curtis Lee and Lindsey Shaw.

In both podcasts, the hosts share their memories of being on set as they reconnect with producers, writers and other co-stars and examine how their shows have aged for the modern era. (They’re also just really damn funny, demonstrating how all of these actors successfully delivered the “com” aspect to their sitcoms). Too often, nostalgic media has been created to monetize memories rather than retain emotional value. Nevertheless, rewatch podcasts beautifully demonstrate that revisiting the past can also mean tackling the present and hoping for the future.

These series emphasize the humanity of actors, something people often forget about when watching their work. Their experiences in growing up, finding stability and discovering identity can be similar to our own. They reinvigorate perceptions of their television shows by shedding light on previously unheard perspectives through their podcasts. Listeners hear different accounts of working in television and dealing with fame.

Their choice of platform is also telling. Instead of sharing behind-the-scenes insight through tell-all memoirs or gossipy interviews, these celebrities relate their stories to listeners through lengthy podcast episodes that range from hilariously off-kilter to serious and sober. No matter the tone of their insight, they are always direct in their delivery, which creates a real connection between the listener and the host.

Another way that rewatch podcasts efficiently synthesize the past with the present and future is by reminding listeners of an important truth: social values change over time. The prevalence of “cancel culture” has determined that it is better to eliminate problematic media altogether when the effective solution should be to confront it and place it in context. For instance, the “Zack To The Future” podcast examined the nostalgic NBC sitcom “Saved By The Bell.” Main actor and host Mark-Paul Gosselaar collaborated with Dashiell Driscoll, known for his work on the Funny or Die series “Zack Morris is Trash.”

This particular partnership showed a willingness to confront some of the more dated — and sometimes plain offensive — aspects of the show. Perceptions of the media will change over time, and this is okay. Just because people may find flaws in their beloved television shows does not eliminate the joy they brought them in the past — and the joy they can still can bring.

There are many things to gain from listening to television rewatch podcasts. They allow listeners to reconnect with their favorite shows — as well as the actors who brought them to life — and discover them in brand-new ways. When we can examine the best — and worst — parts of our favorite media with an honest and appreciative view, we get nostalgia at its finest.

Julia Concepcion, Virginia Commonwealth University

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Julia Concepcion

Virgina Commonwealth University
English with a minor in Professional Editing and Writing

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