When first introducing the Serial podcast he helped develop, This American Life host Ira Glass said he hoped to give listeners the same experience they might get watching an HBO series. Four years later, the murder case at the center of Serial is getting just that.
HBO announced yesterday (May 16) that it will air a four-hour docuseries called The Case Against Adnan Syed that will re-examine the 1999 murder of 18-year-old Baltimore high school student Hae Min Lee and the conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed. The case was only of local interest until journalists Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder turned it into a wildly popular narrative podcast in 2014.
The documentary promises to provide “new discoveries” and “groundbreaking revelations” that challenge the state’s case against Syed. Directed by the Oscar-nominated documentarian Amy Berg, The Case Against Adnan Syed also boasts an original soundtrack by renowned musicians Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, because this is HBO after all. No release date has yet been announced.
Syed is currently awaiting a new trial after a Maryland appeals court ruled that his original lawyer provided ineffective counsel, failing to bring in a potential alibi witness. That’s in addition to the recent revelations that the crucial cell phone-tower data that placed Syed at the site of Lee’s burial may have been unreliable.
Lee was last seen by classmates leaving school on Jan. 13, 1999. Her body was found a month later, about 15 minutes away in Leakin Park. A mountain of circumstantial evidence, as well as the testimony of Jay Wilds, an associate of Syed’s, proved enough to convict him. Syed has maintained his innocence, however, and he has an army of obsessive supporters working to exonerate him.
The story of Lee’s murder and Syed’s subsequent conviction has enthralled audiences around the world, becoming something of a bourgeois parlor game—the talk of dinner parties and water cooler hangouts. Despite promises of “new discoveries,” it could be difficult for the HBO series to change the minds of those who have followed the saga closely and come to a conclusion about Syed’s guilt or innocence.
Serial has been downloaded almost 200 million times and won numerous awards, including a Peabody, for long-form non-fiction storytelling. Even the podcast’s advertising has become a phenomenon unto itself.
The HBO documentary is the latest step in what may be the most scrutinized murder mystery of the decade. But it won’t be the last: The Lego Movie directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are reportedly adapting the story for a scripted television show.