The very first podcast I listened to, at the recommendation of my friend and refollow ProFan writer Kituria, was The Night’s Watch by the guys at the Bald Move Network. Hosted by A. Ron and Mad Brew, this Game of Thrones podcast was funny, thoughtful, and honest. In fact, if you’re looking for a podcast where the hosts fanboy all over each episode, this isn’t for you. The Bald Move crew are fans of the shows they cover, and sometimes that means calling writers on sloppy plots and crappy pacing.
It wasn’t long before I spent an embarrassing amount of time catching up on their other shows covering The Walking Dead (Watching Dead), Mad Men (Mad Men Happy Hour), and Breaking Bad (Breaking Good). Along with Jim (who hosts the shows for TWD, BB, and MM with A. Ron), Mad Brew and A. Ron deliver up more than a scene-by-scene recap. Their insights will cause you to take a second look at an episode and their vast knowledge of television will give you a deeper appreciation for some of the best shows on TV. They’ve expanded their podcasting empire to include The Because Show (a no topics is off limits podcast hosted by Susan, Jerilyn, and Amy) Personal Arrogants (a ‘cast bridging the gap between pop culture and nerd culture, hosted by Eric and Jesse), and Up Yours, Downstairs! (a Downton Abbey podcast featuring Kelly and Tom).
I was very happy when A.Ron, Mad Brew, and Jim agreed to an interview for Project Fandom and surprised they were able to get back to me so quickly considering their very popular Breaking Good podcast had to record their pre-season show last week. And they were preparing for the show’s return on the heels of a popular Kickstarter campaign in which they reached a goal that guarantees an even a fuller listening experience for Breaking Bad fans.
Project Fandom: We’ll start with the obvious questions: How long have you been podcasting? How’d you get started?
A.RON: Here’s the long answer. So, around 2006-2007, JIm started a podcast on video games that I followed and enjoyed. I don’t think it lasted more than a year before it went defunct, but that got him some reps and more importantly kind of put podcasting out there in our friend circle as something we “do”. Flash forward to 2010, Jim decided to move to Chicago, and me and another friend wanted a way to keep in touch, because you know how it goes when people move out of town. I floated the idea of resurrecting the Powerplay podcast as something the three of us could do over Skype on a weekly basis. This eventually morphed into a sort of McLaughlin Report for nerds which we launched as the first Bald Move show, “Blue Yonder”. Jim and I have basically been continuously podcasting ever since.
Mad Brew: I’ve podcasted a few one-offs, going back to about 2008. Most about tabletop gaming and few guest spots on other Bald Move shows including Blue Yonder and Justified. The Night’s Watch podcast for Game of Thrones is my first hosting gig. And that started shortly before the 2nd season early 2012. I got started because A.Ron loved the show and Jim infamously hates fantasy. He needed a co-host and I was willing to jump in.
ProFan: I’ve heard Jim and A.Ron do shows together, but I’ve only heard Mad Brew on the Game of Thrones’ ‘cast. Are you all three friends?
A.RON: Jim and I go way back, we met as kids. Mad Brew and I used to work together professionally, and met about 5-6 years ago, and have since become friends. He got tapped to do Game of Thrones because Jim absolutely loathes fantasy/medieval stuff. Mad Brew did a couple of guest spots on our old Blue Yonder show, so he was the first guy I thought of as an alternate co-host. We’re all friendly with each other, but if we were a water molecule, I’d be the hydrogen and they’d be the oxygen, if that makes any sense.
Mad Brew: Yeah, what A.Ron said. Though, I don’t know if the water molecule analogy works for me. Something more like two solar systems connected by a wormhole…. the wormhole being A.Ron. I see Jim sometimes when the wormhole activates. That doesn’t really work either I guess…
ProFan: What type of equipment do you use? What tips do you have for people who want to start a podcast in terms of hosting, equipment, scheduling, etc?
A.RON: Go with libsyn for hosting. They are by far, the best podcast host you can get, and they’re the only one that does a good job of serving the smaller casts, and will grow with you, and even help line up sponsorships, interviews with insiders, all kinds of things. There are certainly cheaper alternatives, but it’s kind of like gut-check time. Do you want to get a free host, outgrow them when you get successful, and screw over your audience by switching feeds and screwing up your iTunes feeds and turn your fans off? Because it doesn’t take much to outgrow the free guys, 1000 people a week listening will just about do it. So, you have to ask yourself what the goal for you podcast is? If it’s to just to goof with a few friends, do whatever and have fun. If it’s to be successful and grow an audience, build from a foundation that will enable you to get with as few roadblocks as possible.
That’s kind of my general advice, as much as possible, try to get as professional as you can as early as you can, because if you sound like crap or take a casual attitude regarding schedules and content, nobody is going to listen to your cast even if your content is exceptional. Keeping a schedule is an absolute must. If you take a “failure is not an option” approach, the fans will really appreciate it. They’ve got routines too, and if you disrupt them, they’ll find a more stable source to get their fix, so don’t take them for granted. Also, don’t give up. It took years for Jim and I to find a format that worked for us, and an audience, and toiling in obscurity allowed us to hone our format and sound quality so by the time we did have a show that got noticed, it was pretty polished. That’s not to say things have to be stiff, corporate/businesslike. I’d like to think our casts aren’t like that at all, we’re having a lot of fun. But we approach our obligation to deliver content to our fans seriously.
We use a Behringer XENYX 1024 USB mixer, which is a great value for what it does. It’s probably overkill for a 2 person local-only cast, but its one of the least expensive options out there that can handle multiple types of inputs and supports compression, which is a huge help in not blowing out your audience’s ears when someone laughs or me and/or Mad Brew go on a loud rant. We use Shure SM58 mics, because they are just so solid for vocals, and built like a tank. We used to use MXL-990’s when Jim and I had the space to setup a little studio in my house, but they’re almost TOO good. Unless you have an acoustically isolated environment, it’s going to pick up things like the refrigerator running from 3 rooms away. But holy wow we sounded amazing using those things.
ProFan: Is there a show no longer on the air that you wish you could have done a podcast for? Which one and why?
A.RON: The Wire, obviously. It’s my favorite show, and it’s a personal goal to one day do a definitive The Wire podcast. The X-Files would have been fun, too, because of the mythology and how much fan speculation and theorizing that was going around, until the later seasons, when it would have gotten all ranty and shouty.
ProFan: Seriously? You even liked the second season of The Wire?
A.RON: Yes, while The Wire can be enjoyed on so many levels, you can’t ever forget that it is an examination about why the many institutions of America are in decline, and you can’t have a full understanding unless you look at economics. As Frank said, “You know what the trouble is, Brucey? We used to make shit in this country, build shit. Now we just put our hand in the next guy’s pocket.” The loss of manufacturing jobs and the resultant blow to the lower and especially middle classes is something that has poisoned the dream and ideals of social mobility in this country, cuts across racial lines, and makes the escape of drug use and the lure of “easy” drug money appealing.
It also shows us how hollow even a major victory against the likes of the Barksdale or Stanfield operations really are. Bunk and McNulty think they are above the rip and run bullshit tactics of prosecuting the street level small team dealers, but are they really? The Greeks of the world continue to get richer and more powerful while practically immune from prosecution, using men who see themselves as kings, but are in the grand scheme as much pawns as Brodie or Wallace.
Season 2 is one of the major things that makes The Wire so soul crushing. The rot goes to the bones, and even people who mean well and achieve a higher understanding of what’s going on are fighting a hopeless battle against entrenched institutions that don’t care for anything except for maintaining the status quo.
Plus, Ziggy’s dick!? Who can get enough of the Pride of Sobotka popping out every other episode??
Mad Brew: Firefly, The X-Files, or maybe Fringe. Firefly would have been great to do during the lifetime of the show, the follow-up cast after it was cancelled would have been epic. Love The X-Files; I’m a big fan of conspiracy and aliens.
JIM: LOST. I caught the podcasting bug thanks mostly to Jay and Jack and their LOST podcast. It’s the only show that I’ve ever been caught up in the mystery of and the way they dropped subtle yet meaningful hints about future plot threads had me salivating for the next episode when I picked it up in season 3. I would have enjoyed the speculation for LOST more than any other show we do.
ProFan: What’s the best part of podcasting? The worst?
A.RON: I genuinely enjoy talking with Jim, hardly a day goes by that we don’t start chatting about television and we have to remind ourselves to “save it for the cast!” So the fact that I get to do that AND other people want to listen to it just feels really good. Our fans are really funny and intelligent, so it’s just like we’ve opened our friend circle up to the world. The worst part is definitely GoT/Mad Men season, because Sunday night through Tuesday night I basically have no life but sleeping, eating, watching television, working, and podcasting, and it causes many personal and work conflicts. When we’re just doing one show/week, it’s pretty much pure bliss.
Mad Brew: Heh. The best part is pissing off as many listeners as possible and still have them come back for more. Just kidding, the best part is A.Ron’s reaction when I piss everyone off. Snark aside, the best part of podcasting is having the opportunity to get people to think. While it may be as simple and unimportant as imagining possibilities within a story, sometimes we have opportunities tackle the important stuff (like we did with the S3 Wrap up for the Night’s Watch). Even if people don’t like it. The worst part is listening to people whine about mature language on a podcast dedicated to a show with tons of mature content. WTF people?!
JIM: I agree with A.Ron that the best part is talking about these shows and having people care. I wouldn’t still be doing this without all the encouragement from the fans. I’m less affected by the GoT / Mad Men season than A.Ron so I don’t share his disdain for it. The worst part for me is the steely-eyed determination that it takes to re-record a section of a podcast, or even an entire episode, when something goes wrong. Case in point, this week’s Breaking Bad preview where the audio had so much static that it was unlistenable after we recorded an hour and forty minutes, forcing us to re-record this evening. We’ve also had an occasion or two where we had to go to great lengths (Steak ‘n’ Shake parking lot at 2 a.m.) to get an episode published on time.
ProFan: What has been the best episode of Breaking Bad to date? That’s right. You can only pick one each.
A.RON: For me, it’s Peekaboo. I like television at its best when it makes me feel things, and that episode had me feeling all over the goddamn place. It’s also where I think I started to take Jesse seriously as a character, and not just as comic relief.
JIM: All too easy. It’s episode 411 – Crawlspace. There has never been a more credible and warranted mental breakdown than Bryan Cranston’s performance in that final scene.
ProFan: General consensus has been that the two female characters on the show – Skyler and Marie – started off pretty unlikable and unsympathetic. Would you agree? Have you found that either have become less so as the series has progressed?
A.RON: Yeah, and I still don’t like Marie very much. Skyler’s problem is that the series opens with her being the total opposite of the masculine fantasy of a woman. She’s controlling, dismissive, and sexually unavailable. So you take that, and then cast her as one of the primary antagonists of the show’s “hero” through the first few seasons, and it’s a recipe for an unrelateable, unlikable character. I think a lot of fans are just never going to get over that initial impression. So, here’s my take; Skyler is the product of her relationship with Walt, who is a bitter, vain, passive aggressive, emotionally repressed, socially invisible person. Maybe she’d be less controlling and condescending to Walt and been sexier in the sack if Walt stood up for himself, took ownership of his own life and happiness, and had some passion in life? It’s interesting to me that she actually DID respond favorably to Walt’s new post-demeanor and confidence, it’s just too bad that was built on the back of a criminal enterprise which forced him to endanger their family and tell her an increasingly more wild and baldfaced pack of lies. And now that they’ve come full circle and have a relative appreciation for each other’s personal power and have a modicum of respect and honesty built back up, it seems to be too late. One of the many tragedies that makes Breaking Bad so sublime.
JIM: Skyler was pretty unlikable in the beginning because of the way she treated Walt. That was no kind of birthday handjob and it was obviously indicative of the state of their relationship on the whole. Interestingly, I would say that Marie was also not very likable for the way she treated Skyler. Even though I didn’t care much for Skyler at the time, the scenes of Marie giving her crap about her book and the general state of her family’s finances, all the while being a spoiled kleptomaniac, made me dislike her.
Both of them have become much more sympathetic characters as the show has progressed. Skyler is trapped in a house with a certifiable lunatic and murderer with no way out that doesn’t destroy her family and she’s coping with that as best she can. Marie’s care taking when Hank was injured was what really turned her into a sympathetic character, in my opinion. Hank wasn’t being very nice to her (for his own fairly good reasons) and yet she stuck by his side. Those are both very sympathetic situations, if you ask me. (and you did!)
ProFan: Breaking Bad has done a great job of taking someone who was completely likable and sympathetic (Walt) and turned him into a villain who, most times, makes it really hard for you to root for him. What would be the biggest tipping point in making Walt completely break bad: killing Hank or killing Jesse?
A.RON: Killing Jesse, no contest. I could easily imagine myself killing a brother-in-law, especially one who has a penchant for being a prick from time to time like Hank, haha. But Jesse? That would be like killing his adoptive son, one whom you’ve lied to and abused and shaped into a twisted character at this point. It would be the ultimate betrayal of a relationship filled with pretty big fucking betrayals.
JIM: What A.Ron said. Of course, I think Walt has already completely broken bad with the poisoning of Brock. That, to me, crossed the line of breaking bad.
ProFan: Does Walt survive the series?
A.RON: My current thought is no. But I don’t think it’s important to the theme of the show so long as Walt somehow balances his karmic debt.
JIM: Definitely what A.Ron said.
ProFan: Who’s the better father: Don Draper or Walter White? Who’s the better mother: Betty Draper or Skyler White?
A.RON: Great question. I’m struggling to answer the first, because they’re both really, really shitty parents. But, Don, when he is forced to, can relate to, level and empathize with, and deal with his children in an adult level. And he’s never directly put his family’s life in danger like Walt, so there’s that. I actually think Skyler is a fantastic mom. The way she endured her teenage son’s scorn as a result of Walt’s obvious manipulation and grandstanding for his son’s affection without once saying a bad word about Walt? That is impressive. Many parents can’t manage to do that through a nasty divorce, let alone their partner managing a vast criminal empire right beneath their noses. So, clear winner over Betty, who is capricious, inconsistent, and cruel.
JIM: If you ask their kids, Walt is clearly the better father. Objectively, he’s not but he does a much better job of hiding his sins from his children.
The better mother is a no-brainer. Skyler is only sticking by Walt to protect her children. Early on in Mad Men, Betty is actively trying to ruin her daughter’s life out of spite.
Game of Thrones
ProFan: Who do you think will eventually end up on the Iron Throne? Who most deserves it?
A.RON: I think the end will feature some configuration of Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen ruling as king and queen. It is a song of ice and fire, after all, and these are the two characters who are born into low yet still noble situations, are being shaped into effective, strong leaders by the events of the world, so it seems that’s the obvious place it’s going. Almost TOO obvious, haha. I think Tyrion, at this point, most “deserves” it.
Mad Brew: Yup. I’m in agreement with Jon/Dany teamup… and also about Tyrion being the most deserving (and possibly the best outcome Westeros could hope for). I just can’t wait for Joffrey to be fatally removed from the Iron Throne… hopefully early next season.
ProFan: What would be the house sigil/motto for House Bald Move?
A.RON: Four golden pips on a black and maroon field, and our words would be “We Do Not Shave.” But I don’t know what Jerilyn, Amy, Susan (The Because Show) or Kelly (Up Yours, Downstairs!) would say about that, haha.
Mad Brew: What about my Dickromancy sigil? Hahaha! Yeah, no. We need to kick those four dots to the curb and come up with something cooler. That being said, I once made my own sigil, it’s a frothy beer mug on a field of blue and white with a silver indented line splitting the colors. “Vita Sine Tristitia” is my motto (I’m sure my Latin is horrible, but it should roughly translate to live without sorrow).
ProFan: Are there any characters who have died in the show, who you wish were given more time in Westeros?
A.RON: Absolutely, Syrio Forel, the First Sword of Bravos… I’d really like to have seen him with Arya more, but it would have been a radically different book/show if he had survived and they’d escaped King’s Landing together. And of course, there are numerous conspiracy theories that Syrio isn’t dead (we never saw him die on screen), and that would tickle me if he came back later.
Mad Brew: Jury’s still out on Syrio, I hope actually returns. Besides Ned, whose non-death surely would have killed half the current drama, I also would have liked to see a better death for Lord Commander Mormont. Getting stabbed by his own men was a bit lackluster.
The Walking Dead
ProFan: What do you think the best episode of the series has been?
A.RON: The Pilot episode, “Days Gone Bye”. I love Lennie James intensity and emotion, and the show has never been creepier for my money than Morgan’s wife stumbling up to the door and looking eye-to-eye with Rick through the peephole. Shivers.
JIM: I really like ‘Clear’ from last season. I thought it did some great character-building with Carl and Michonne and the performance that Lenny James delivered was approaching the heights of Cranston in ‘Crawlspace’.
ProFan: Which character would you most want in your group come the zombie apocalypse? Which character would you absolutely NOT want in your group?
A.RON: Daryl. The runner up isn’t even close, but second place would be Michonne. For the not list, Lori’s pretty much down there, but there’s decent competition with Andrea, and Dale. I don’t consider him a “survivor”, but Ed. Fucking Ed.
JIM: C’mon… it’s Daryl all the way. I would probably start answering imaginary phones if I had to spend more than a couple minutes with Lori. She’s horrible. The Gov is a close 2nd.
More General Questions
ProFan: What’s the key to a good podcast?
A.RON: For me, what’s common in podcasts I enjoy are good audio quality, consistency, humor and honesty.
Mad Brew: Not much to add there besides requiring at least two hosts with good rapport.
JIM: I think number 1 is the schedule. If you can’t release on a regular basis and at least inform your listeners when you plan to take a break, pretty soon you won’t have listeners. That said, if you’re not also at least a little bit entertaining and informative, I won’t be listening long enough for you to disappoint me with your poor scheduling.
ProFan: What are some podcasts you listen to?
A.RON: I’m a legit fan of all of the non-me Bald Move casts. I also love the BS Report on sports, Stuff You Missed in History Class, How Did This Get Made?, Fatman on Batman, Firewall and Iceberg, and a few NPR ones like Science Friday and Fresh Air. I’ll also listen to certain Nerdist or Adam Carolla pods if they have good guests.
Mad Brew: Fatman on Batman, Writing Excuses, Another Castle (game design), and StarTalk (with Neil deGrasse Tyson).
JIM: Oh man… I listen to all of the podcasts. Ok, if I have to name a few, the ones I never miss are:
- The Giant Bombcast
- StarTalk Radio by Neil deGrasse Tyson
- Orange Lounge Radio
- Out of Continues
- The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe
- Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project
and of course I listen to all of the shows on Bald Move like it’s my job.
ProFan: Best show: Mad Men, Game of Thrones, or Breaking Bad?
A.RON: Mad Men > Breaking Bad > Game of Thrones, but it’s a close race.
Mad Brew: Game of Thrones. Our numbers tend to back that up, too (always kicking every other Bald Move television show’s ass).
A.RON: I think it’s more accurate to say that Breaking Bad smashes GoT, then GoT smashes Breaking Bad, etc. Those two audiences duel annually for “biggest podcast”.
JIM: Breaking Bad > Mad Men > Game of Thrones.
Photo Credits: Bald Move
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