By Darren Johnson
“Missing Richard Simmons” is a new podcast — only logging in about two hours worth of material so far, spread out over four episodes — and has caught fire.
Produced and narrated by filmmaker Dan Taberski, it represents the best and worst of podcasting.
First, let’s get to the good part — this is professionally produced and sounds like something more out of NPR, vs. most podcasts, that are usually recorded as one-shot deals out of someone’s kitchen or other spare room. “Missing Richards Simmons” has smooth transitions, appropriate background music, scripted narration and perfect sound.
The writing is full of suspense — albeit, very gimmicky, affected writing in the typical wry style of an NPR commentary — and stories are structured in a useful way. Taberski packs a lot into a half an hour! This podcast is highly listenable and uses all the tricks to make it addictive.
And I hate this podcast. It is exploiting a person who, from all accounts, is a wonderful human being. It’s cheap and explores various conspiracy theories as to why the extroverted exercise guru Simmons is now holed up in his mansion. He talks to Simmons’ former masseur, who suggests it’s voodoo, cast by Simmons’ longtime maid. This contention consumes a whole episode. At one point, Taberski broaches whether the masseur has a profit motive — considering he is selling a Simmons-inspired fairy tale book on Amazon.
It’s all rather weaselly, as Taberski reads the typical, scammy podcast commercials for mail-order mattresses and dollar razors and such in between segments. Podcast “sponsors” typically kick back money to the podcaster per sale — so he really has no right to challenge the masseur’s integrity.
Duplicity. And Taberski does a lot of that. “I’m not saying Richard Simmons is gay, but …” “I’m not saying Richard Simmons has a right to a quiet retirement, but …” “I’m not saying Richard Simmons’ maid is a witch, but …”
The reality is, Taberski was just a guy who exercised at Simmons’ studio and was one of Simmons’ scores of friends. His “concern” for Simmons’ well-being can’t be all that genuine. If his goal is simply “saving” Simmons from some alleged depression and/or controlling maid, why bother with the commercials and cliffhangers? (Though I guess trips to Simmons’ childhood home in New Orleans — now on a Skid Row of sorts — isn’t cheap.)
The likelihood is, Simmons — now 68 — injured his knee, as the podcast notes, gained some weight, and, considering his famous (and lovable) vanity, he doesn’t want to be seen fat.
Taberski uses this podcast as an excuse to track down Simmons’ friends and relatives in the Deep South, getting doors slammed in his face. At least he’s giving this the college try.
And there’s always the chance that Taberski is in bed with Simmons, and this is all a publicity stunt to reintroduce Simmons to the world after an absence.
But, either way, enough with this podcast. It’s ambulance chasing. It’s just wrong.
But I’ll probably keep listening, unfortunately.
Darren Johnson performed about 60 episodes of an unsuccessful podcast a few years ago, and plans to try again someday. He’s owner of Campus News and a new PR agency called -30- WIRE. If you host a podcast with over 10,000 listeners and would like to be reviewed, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.