Upcoming Season of ‘Serial’ Will Focus on Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl

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FILE - This undated image provided by the U.S. Army shows Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. U.S. officials say the only American soldier held prisoner in Afghanistan has been freed and is in U.S. custody. The officials say Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's (boh BURG'-dahl) release was part of a negotiation that includes the release of five Afghan detainees held in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  (AP Photo/U.S. Army)
Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Photo: US Army

Those eager to hear “Serial” dig into another little known true-crime story should start adjusting their expectations. Maxim reports (and the Hollywood Reporter has confirmed) that one of the upcoming seasons — either two or three — will focus on the widely covered case of Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant who was held captive by the Taliban for five years after leaving his base in Afghanistan, and freed last year in exchange for five Taliban detainees from Guantánamo Bay.

There have been conflicting reports about why Bergdahl walked off base, and he was charged with desertion and endangering the troops who searched for him. During a trial last week that will determine whether he is court-martialed and sentenced to life imprisonment, Major General Kenneth R. Dahl, who led the Army’s investigation, testified that Bergdahl’s plan was to walk to a larger American base about 18 miles away to report what he considered serious leadership problems in his unit, according to the New York Times. “He absolutely believed that the things he was perceiving were true,” General Dahl said, adding that Bergdahl’s beliefs were “unwarranted but genuinely held.”

Serial” host Sarah Koenig and at least one of the show’s producers were at Bergdahl’s hearing last week, as well as Zero Dark Thirty screenwriter Mark Boal. His company, Page One Productions, is working on a film based on Bergdahl’s story with director Kathryn Bigelow, and sources tell Maxim that Boal has provided “Serial” with research material, including interviews with Bergdahl. Deadline reports that Boal and Page One’s Hugo Lindgren have an even bigger role in the podcast, and will serve as on-air narrators.

Two former members of Bergdahl’s unit told Maxim that they were interviewed by “Serial” producers. Both suggested that they don’t think “Serial” will be able to do the story justice (it’s unclear why they agreed to participate). “I get it that Boal wants to make a movie and ‘Serial’ is trying to make a nifty diorama for hipsters to marvel at, but I think it’s the height of crassness for them to do this when it could potentially affect the legal proceedings,” said one soldier. “I assume it will be a great way to paint us as kooks and sore losers.”

Ironically, though the “Serial” team is in the business of asking questions, they weren’t very receptive to fellow journalists inquiring about their work. When Maxim asked for comment on the Bergdahl project, “Serial” and “This American Life” production manager Emily Condon said via email:

We’d very much appreciate if fellow journalists would give us some room and not feel the need to attempt to dig into and try to figure out what you think we might be doing, especially since we’re actively reporting stories, and having a bunch of wild speculation out there makes our job reporting harder. Doesn’t feel very menschy. In any case, here’s what I can tell you: The ‘Serial’ staff is currently working on several things simultaneously: Season 2, Season 3, and some other podcast projects. For now we’re not talking publicly about anything that we’re working on.