Now that every single person on the planet has a podcast, you might have assumed that the industry had reached its saturation point. But you would be wrong, because now characters from films have started to get their own. Leading the pack? None other than Ron Burgundy.
It has been announced that the Anchorman character will next year release 12 episodes of something called The Ron Burgundy Podcast. So far, that is all we know, which is a shame. The assumption is that the podcast will star Will Ferrell as Burgundy, but according to Variety even that has not been clarified.
More to the point, there are logistics of space and time to iron out here. The films were set in the mid-to-late 70s, when Burgundy was middle-aged. Will this podcast comprise lost recordings made in the pre-podcast era when Burgundy was in his prime? Will it be recorded in the present day, featuring Burgundy as an 80-year-old? Will it be revealed that he was frozen in time like Captain America, or sent forward in time like Austin Powers? Is he a quasi-immortal in the style of the Doctor? We just do not know.
Most importantly, will he still be funny? The original Anchorman is remembered with great fondness as an endlessly quotable classic, operating with an internal logic that only made sense when viewed from certain angles. But Anchorman 2 was a swing and a miss, so much patchier than the first instalment that the character seemed spent. Committing to 12 episodes – which could be anything up to 36 hours – of new material may cause more harm than good. Burgundy was running on fumes before; this could finish him off.
The biggest danger is that Burgundy’s backstory gets fleshed out too much. He is a terrific surface-level character and his success hinged on his absurdity, his ability to make leaps of behaviour and understanding seemingly at every turn. Over the course of a podcast series, he could be humanised. Once we see a pattern to his ignorance and illogic – or, worse, once their reasons are explained to us – he will be dead.
However, Ferrell is probably too smart to allow this to happen. Burgundy still makes live appearances now and again and he seems to have spiralled even further into the ether. During Ferrell’s appearance on Conan O’Brien’s new podcast last month, he discussed a recent show in which Burgundy looped off into a 15-minute riff about coyotes before detailing his journey to the theatre in brutally detailed fashion. “It’s great if the audience is laughing, but it’s even better when they’re not, because I just love to punish them,” he told O’Brien.
This is encouraging. More encouraging is the fact that the films functioned as a loose satire on the predominant media consumption of the age: news bulletins in the first and cable in the second. Podcasts are a weird phenomenon – as a form, they are everywhere, but individually they are niche almost to the point of being hand-delivered to individual listeners. Perhaps this is the perfect time to pull them apart. They have been around long enough for their quirks and conventions to solidify into convention. They are sitting there waiting to be smashed apart.
It is a golden opportunity. If Burgundy’s podcast can operate as a satire of the sort of hubris that leads everyone from Katie Couric to Macaulay Culkin to Oprah Winfrey to start their own podcast, in the belief that they are delivering a more authentic version of themselves to fans, then it may end up being more astute and entertaining than his films. If not, it will just be another podcast you never get around to checking out.