Stranger than fiction

Published date09 November 2021
THE dark new drama The Shrink Next Door tells an almost unbelievable story. Almost, of course, because it actually happened. In 1980s New York, wealthy businessman Martin “Marty” Markowitz fell under the spell of his psychiatrist Isaac “Ike” Herschkopf, who manipulated Marty into giving him his house, handing over his business and cutting off his family for almost 30 years. In an adaptation penned by one of Succession’s writers, Georgia Pritchett, Will Ferrell plays the patient whom many assumed was the handyman in his own home, while Paul Rudd is the smarmy shrink turned cuckoo in the nest.

If the story sounds familiar, that’s because the show is based on the hit podcast of the same name. The Shrink Next Door is the latest in the podcast to TV trend, which includes Julia Roberts’ Homecoming, Dirty John, with Connie Britton as the gaslit victim of “Dirty” John Meehan (Eric Bana), and Dr Death — based on the terrifying tale of sociopathic surgeon Christopher Duntsch — starring Joshua Jackson, Christian Slater and Alec Baldwin.

We’re arguably at peak podcast, and it’s clear that TV studios are now scouring audio for inspiration. “The thing is, TV and film companies don’t like to take big risks — if something has proved itself to be compelling and popular, that’s very reassuring to them,” says Pritchett. “And the great thing about podcasts is that you hear all kinds of unusual, incredible stories that you would never have had access to [before], and that wouldn’t necessarily have been funded otherwise.”

The podcast to TV pipeline shows no sign of stopping, either: Renee Zellweger will soon play killer Pam Hupp, the subject of the Dateline podcast The Thing About Pam — and Pritchett is already adapting the Radio 4 podcast Tunnel 29, about students who escaped Stasi-occupied East Berlin in 1962 by digging a tunnel under the so-called “death strip”.

As for The Shrink Next Door, journalist Joe Nocera — Herschkopf’s former neighbour, who wrote and narrated the podcast — insists he didn’t “expect” the show to be snapped up and turned into TV, but “with Wondery [who produced The Shrink Next Door podcast], part of its business model is finding podcasts that could be turned into TV shows. Dirty John quickly got bought, then Dr Death, so in my mind there was a possibility something could happen”.

The podcast came out in May 2019, topped the charts for three weeks and got bought up for television almost immediately. “I was actually walking through Soho in London when my...

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