In ABC's new comedy Alex, Inc., premiering March 28, a radio journalist quits his more traditional job and tumbles headfirst into the world of podcasting. It's a plot that certainly resonates in the current day and age, and that's for good reason — Alex, Inc. is actually based on a real podcast — Gimlet Media's StartUp.
“[The show] is inspired by a very true story of a man named Alex Blumberg who left This American Life, because he had this idea that no one had quite yet mastered how to monetize a podcast,” star Zach Braff said earlier this year during a Television Critics Association panel, according to Deadline. StartUp actually logged Blumberg's experience in making a significant career change.
Blumberg's StartUp focuses on what it's like to get a small business off the ground, according to IndieWire. The creator, according to the Washington Post, was a producer on NPR shows Planet Money and This American Life prior to creating StartUp, and he also went on to found Gimlet Media. StartUp's website shows available episodes dating all the way back to 2014, and there's a steady stream of content, with new episodes put out as recently as the week of Alex, Inc.'s premiere.
For anyone wanting to dive deeper into the origins of Alex, Inc., StartUp is available on Apple Podcasts in addition to its website, and the producers are even putting out new episodes directly in response to the show, which they seem to be excited about. Bloomberg himself still appears on the podcast and can be heard discussing how the NBC show drew parallels to his own real-life experiences. Apparently when Blumberg realized he had no idea what he was doing as far as podcasting goes, he decided that would be the entire point of the production he was creating.
"He said, I’ve an idea, my very first podcast will be this meta story, I’ll tell the story of a guy with a family who has no idea how to start a business, trying to start a business," Braff continued at the TCA panel, explaining that this aspect of the journey is much of what Alex, Inc. focuses on. "[The character] is so fumbling and bad at it that you can’t believe it’s ever going to work, but that’s what pulls you into the story."
Braff also said in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that part of Alex' fumbling attitude is something he can relate to. “I think I am [awkward] in real life. It’s method acting!" he said. "What makes me laugh is putting myself in situations where I’m in over my head.”
Alex, Inc. is also a timely addition to television — the Chicago Tribune reported that there was an 88 percent increase between 2014 and 2017 of people who listen to podcasts on a weekly basis, a 33 percent jump in people who have ever listened to a podcast, and at the very least, a 25 percent increase in people who even knew what podcasting was. While this show might not have ever made it onto a major network a few years ago when podcasting was more niche and obscure, it seems like a more palatable premise in the current world of media.
Braff is best known for his role on Scrubs, the iconic medical comedy that packed some heavy emotional punches as the series progressed. He's proven that he can stick with a series for the long haul, particularly a comedy, and there may even be some similarities between the two programs. Alex, Inc. features some of the trademark voiceovers that Scrubs used throughout its run, which Alex, Inc. co-creator Matt Tarses said lends to the podcasting vibe of the show. "I’m a fan of voiceover,” he said in the same Deadline piece. “I think there are people that aren’t, but especially in a half-hour show, it’s a really valuable tool. I also think its very organic to this show, because he’s making a podcast so he should be speaking into a mic from time to time.”
Scrubs, for all its poignant moments and character introspection, was downright silly in some regards — something Braff said doesn't necessarily ring true for his new show. “We don’t have crazy, surreal fantasies [like in Scrubs]. It’s just now [the character has] two kids," he said in he same interview with the Atlanta Constitution-Journal. Though this series might not have some of the more outrageous aspects of Scrubs, he said he'll still throw in some classic physical comedy as well. “The occasional person will get hit in the head with something. I’m a sucker for person’s getting hit in the head," Braff added.
So fans of the changing media landscape aren't the only audience who'll be able to appreciate the series, though podcast obsessives do have the added option of getting addicting to the real series that forms the basis for Alex, Inc.