Formats Unpacked: The Rewatchables
How a roundtable discussion format uses categories in a smart way
I was going to write a Formats Unpacked about Big Jet TV, but there were so many articles written over the weekend I thought I’d bank that for a rainy day. Is that something you’d want unpacking?
One thing today’s format has in common with Big Jet TV is both give fans the space to talk in great detail - too much detail for some - about a thing they are hugely passionate about.
What’s it called?
The Rewatchables (podcast)
What’s the format
A podcast featuring a roundtable discussion about movies that, if you came across whilst flicking through channels, you would stop and watch, regardless of how many times you’ve watched them before. It’s hosted by Bill Simmons and features a rotating cast of friends and members of The Ringer family.
Episodes average at 90 minutes but can often go over the two-hour mark. The host and guests are deadly serious about the films they cover - don’t be fooled by the lighthearted tone of a bunch of friends chatting about their favourite movies. These are deep dives, and it’s clear everyone on the show has done their research. One of the real joys is listening to them talk in such detail, not as media critics would, but as obsessive fans with real passion.
What’s the magic that makes it special
Categories. It’s a really simple idea but such a game-changer. Roundtable discussions by their nature are meant to encourage spontaneity and minimal facilitation. But this can be an Achilles heel when the conversation wanders too far off course. I’ve said it before in these newsletters: sometimes the best formats are made by those who can see what ‘Just Enough Format’ really is. Too much scaffolding and your format becomes boring and predictable. Too little and your format becomes a messy free for all. The use of categories puts this show right in the sweetspot. Bill Simmons is the king of the ‘Just Enough Format’ category.
The conversation in The Rewatchables is mostly free-flowing, but the host anchors it around the panel’s responses to each of the categories. Most of the categories are ever-present, such as ‘What aged the best/worst’ and ‘Recasting couch’, but there are a few that make an occasional appearance like ‘Mount Rushmore’. These categories do three things to help structure the format.
First, they guarantee certain subjects or details don’t get lost amongst the flow of the conversation. You’ll frequently hear Bill say “we’ll cover this in more detail later when we do Apex Mountain”.
Second, they give our brains something to hang on to whilst listening to a show that often lasts longer than the movies being discussed. Whenever I think about hitting the stop button before the end of an episode, my brain tells me to hang on a little longer because it needs to know what the ‘Casting What if’s’ are or who’ll win the ‘Overacting’ category.
And third, shows like The Rewatchables and Desert Island Discs have gamelike qualities in that we play along, comparing our answers to theirs. When our answer mirrors theirs we feel validated in our choices. It also provides an opportunity to vent outrage when the categories reveal something you wish you’d never known about a favourite actor or what got the oscar instead of your favourite film. In other words - it’s a list format. We all love lists, and we all love arguing about them. After all, what are the Oscars and the Baftas but lists with a big party at the end?
The Rewatchables categories are:
Most Rewatchable scene - No explanation needed.
Best quote - A show favourite from Heat being “Don't let yourself get attached to anything that you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.”
What aged the best - Parts of the film that still stand up.
What aged the worst - You don’t have to go too far back to see the kind of misogyny that audiences would find unacceptable today. And smoking in indoor public spaces.
Dion Waiters/heat check performance - This is when someone has a small role but really makes the most of it. Not to be confused with the next category.
Overacting award - You know it when you see it.
Casting ‘What if’s’ - What if Travolta hadn’t turned down the starring role in Forest Gump?
Half-assed internet research - Stories about the movie that haven’t been verified.
Unanswerable questions - What was in the box?
Could this be remade as a 10 episode Netflix series? - Great category!
Apex mountain - The actor/director that was at their peak around the time, or just after, the movie came out.
Who won the movie? - It can be an actor, or director, sometimes it’s the studio.
Joey Pants that guy - This goes to the actor who you will have seen in quite a few movies but you would never know his or her name.
Picking Nits - Nitpicking.
Recasting couch - If you were to recast the movie who would replace who.
Is this movie better with Danny Trejo, Steve Buscemi or Michael K Williams in it? - Probably, yes!
For most people, the best episode of The Rewatchables is the one about your favourite movies. So The Godfather and Godfather Part II are up there for me. I also really liked Bridesmaids. You don’t have to love a movie to really love the episode though. The Heat, Re-Heat and Three-Heat episodes are great listens for the obsessive detail and dedication.
I don’t think there is another podcast quite like this, although most hit shows and movies have companion podcasts these days. New Rock Stars have great fandom-specific podcasts, but part of the joy of The Rewatchables is its breath - it’s not about one genre of film. You Must Remember This is a great podcast that goes deep, really deep, into Hollywood’s History. The Mayo and Kermode’s Film Review podcast has the passion and the friendship but not the detail.
I find it really interesting that despite the popularity of list formats in other areas of the media, there seems to be a disproportionately low number of list formats in the world of podcasts. If you’re listening to any interesting podcasts that are list formats let me know in the comments.
Thanks for reading and if you’ve got a favourite format that you’d like to unpack, please do get in touch.
Until next week,
Hi Hugh, quite interesting work, you are doing. Kudos.
Could you unpack for me, humble white belt, what you define as "list formats"?
What do you exactly mean when you say: "...there seems to be a disproportionately low number of list formats in the world of podcasts"?