Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere on BBC Radio 4: What Radio Drama Has Been Waiting For

Neil Gaiman Neverwhere Radio Drama

A portion of the radio drama cast of “Neverwhere” remotely says hi to Neil Gaiman

Color me among the crazed fans out there who are waiting with baited breath for Dirk Maggs’ production of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.  The only thing I could imagine enjoying more than hearing the gifted Gaiman read his own work (if you haven’t had a chance to hear Gaiman read his stories, I highly recommend you check out Fragile Things and The Graveyard Book to hear what you’re missing) would be to enjoy this lavish audio drama production by Maggs featuring an all star cast.

Not to be melodramatic, but Neverwhere is exactly the kind of radio drama that needs to exist for the medium to be relevant in the 21st century.  Why?  Because Neil Gaiman fans will follow Neil Gaiman’s work wherever it goes.  Hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of folks are going to experience radio drama for the first time, and what are they going to do?  They are going to look for more material.  They are going to stumble across series like We’re Alive, The Leviathan Chronicles, and (hopefully) The Cleansed.  People come out of the woodwork and say – how can I hear more of this?!

And this is all phenomenal.  My argument for a long time has been that radio drama needs to unite with the thousands of talented writers out there with story ideas that otherwise don’t get off the cutting room floor.  In Neverwhere‘s case, it seems that Gaiman was never quite content with the TV version, so radio drama offered an opportunity to really do the story right. For other stories, it may be that the show never made it past a pilot or never really gained traction with an audience as a television show and so was cut early. It may be a series of brilliant short stories, such the compilation Shadow Show edited by Mort Castle, which has a number of gems that could be audio adaptations. Or, it may be totally original ideas (like the series I listed above) which are being created for the first time as audio originals, as a way to get a story out there for a lot less money than a movie and to a lot wider audience than an ebook.

For less than 10% of the budget of a typical television episode, you can produce 4-5 hours of luxurious audio drama (a typical hour of BBC programming is ~$25,000, approximately 10x what the average American independent is working with).  If you can get the audience to understand that audio drama IS entertainment, that listening to something is just as compelling – perhaps more compelling – than watching something, then you have potentially enormous returns for the investment.  When you’re talking about listenership in the millions, it does not take a lot of paid downloads to repay twenty-fold the investments in a top-notch audio drama. When you do the math, it’s clear that excellent audio dramas have the potential to be excellent money-makers too.

So, this my hope for Neverwhere – that the delicious, absurd alternate reality of “London Underground” is realized so bloody brilliantly, memorably, and imaginatively in audio that everyone who hears it is hungry for more.  They then tell their friends, they start banging down BBC Radio 4 demanding more of the same.  Maybe this leads to more of Gaiman’s works turning into radio drama, maybe it leads to few more brilliantly original story ideas being commissioned by the BBC.  But please, may it lead to something!  Because once people managing entertainment dollars get a clue as to the potential worldwide audience of audio drama in the 21st century, it is going to be a whole new world for us.

Check it Out

Ahhh so you want to hear said drama, you say?  Here’s the scoop:

  • http://profiles.google.com/acetachyon Abner Senires

    Do you feel Neverwhere is coming at a right time for audio drama and that Gaiman’s popularity is part of the equation? Because Maggs also worked on the later Hitchhiker’s shows as well as the Dirk Gently adaptation. Perhaps those didn’t get the right buzz at the time that Neverwhere is getting now?

  • finalrune

    Abner – I do. There have been tectonic shifts in the entertainment landscape since Maggs’ adaptations of Douglas Adams’ pieces (though I do recall a good deal of buzz at the time, and that was even prior to me following radio drama, really). These days the impact of digital distribution on conventional TV, film, and radio models has further registered. There was no digital streaming of TV in the early 2000s and I think most traditional media still scoffed at what the internet would do to shake up their business model. Today, I think the entertainment industry has to really think hard about how to create high-quality programming on a budget, to which end radio drama is an excellent fit. Plus, there are, what, 10,000x more iPhones, iPads, Androids, and other devices since then? So, while MP3 players were catching on and around for the latter HHGTTG shows, today you can really see how millions of people could find these programs and stream them while mobile. In short, I think the digital distribution model has matured and the traditional model been disrupted, offering an opportunity for someone (or some companies) who gets switched on about this to really make a go at reviving radio drama to some chunk of the mainstream

  • finalrune

    And I guess it doesn’t hurt that Gaiman has a kick-ass Twitter following.

  • Derek_anny

    BBC better be prepared to ward off a #NeilWebFail.

  • finalrune

    We’ve love to see that happen!

    - Fred

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephanieconn Stephanie Conn

    Yes! I’m also thinking that the time is right for radio drama, especially if it is available on-demand. It meshes well with the demand for talking books, niche-y podcasts, and portable entertainment of various kinds.

    I clearly remember that 1980s radio production of Hitchhiker’s Guide and wow, it cemented my love for radio drama, although it hasn’t always been easy to find it. Here’s to a revival!

  • Skyboat Media

    Fabulous production. I just directed Ender’s Game Alive The Full Cast Audioplay, and I want to grow up to be Dirk Maggs someday. When I’m a man. And older. And other stuff.

  • Skyboat Media

    Nice points. Well made.