‘Truth Be Told’: How Sarah Koenig Helped Turn Octavia Spencer into a True Crime Podcast Host

The one podcast that could be credited with popularizing the trend of true crime podcasts is Serial. So it’s no surprise that a scripted show might turn to its host, Sarah Koenig for help when telling a story about a podcast host trying to prove a man’s innocence.

Octavia Spencer plays Poppy Parnell, who has that goal, on Truth Be Told. Showbiz Cheat Sheet talked to showrunner, Nichelle D. Tramble on Dec. 13, 2019 at the PaleyCenter about changes made to adapt the story and how Koenig helped turn Spencer into a true crime podcast host.

‘Serial’ and Poppy’s podcast has a similar goal

Octavia Spencer attends the Premiere Of Apple TV+'s "Truth Be Told"
Octavia Spencer attends the Premiere Of Apple TV+’s “Truth Be Told” | Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Serial became a phenomenon with podcast host, Sarah Koenig revisiting the case of the murder of Hae Min Lee in its first season. Her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Masud Syed became a suspect and his first trial ended as a mistrial. He was found guilty of her murder through his second trial.

Koenig believed he might have been innocent so she revisited the evidence. The host won a Peabody for her work and the podcast returned for a second season.

Poppy’s podcast has a very similar goal of proving Warren’s (Aaron Paul) innocence after being found guilty of murder. That’s probably why the makers of Truth Be Told turned to the one that probably started the true crime podcast trend to get help for the first season.

Sarah Koenig acted as a consultant for ‘Truth Be Told’

Serial was a huge model for us and Sarah Koenig was one of the consultants on the show and just the idea of going over a single crime over the course of one podcast season,” Tramble told Showbiz Cheat Sheet. “So that model is being used quite a few places and we just immersed ourselves in all of it.”

Spencer joked that she had to work on her “podcaster voice” for the show during the event’s panel. Fans of Koenig shouldn’t expect Spencer’s character to be like her. Poppy doesn’t have the same ethics when it comes to uncovering her mystery.

“Well, Poppy does not have as much integrity as Sarah. So we just kind of knew the rules and then we broke them,” admitted Tramble. That also means that people who watch the TV show might not like Poppy. However, the showrunner said she wasn’t worried about making a main character for people to like.

“I’m not constricted by that and I don’t think that any writer should be,” said Tramble. “I think that that should be pretty far down on your list if it doesn’t serve the character that you’re writing.”

There is a reason for those big changes from the book

The show’s story is based on the novel, Are You Sleeping┬áby Kathleen Barber. Poppy and Warren are smaller characters in the book instead of the leads. There is a reason for this change with the TV show.

“I think what we did was we took the side characters and made them lead characters on the show because we wanted to explore the ripple effect of crime of over three different families,” explained Tramble.

She continued, “Having the podcaster be at the center of that was our opportunity to do it. If we had remained with the point of view of Warren or the point of view of the twins, we wouldn’t be able to look at all three because Poppy’s family gets up into also because she digs into this case in a personal way.”

Truth Be Told is now available on AppleTV+.