In a crowded field of competing film-focused podcasts, Now Playing Podcast has managed to separate itself from the pack via its acclaimed retrospective format, keeping listeners engaged week after week as the show’s panel of critics chronicle decades of Hollywood franchise hits (and misses).
But it wasn’t always the plan. Now Playing Podcast launched in 2007 as a short-form, off-the-cuff movie review program focused on new releases. Early reviews of Spider-Man 3, Iron Man, and The Dark Knight not only lacked the in-depth conversation that listeners are now accustomed to, but the randomness of the chosen reviews prevented the show from gaining a foothold in the budding podcast space.
Format changes were desperately needed if the show were to succeed in attracting a loyal following. On January 9, 2009, Now Playing debuted its first retrospective; a 12-episode exploration of the Friday the 13th franchise, building up to the release of the Platinum Dunes-produced remake.
The revised format struck the right chord with listeners. More than 11 years later, the original trio of Arnie Carvalho, Stuart Atkinson, and Brock have reunited. THIS is an oral history of Now Playing’s Friday the 13th Retrospective Series.
Arnie: As a completist, retrospectives have always appealed to me. I remember the day Star Trek V: The Final Frontier came out; I woke up at 1 a.m. so I could watch the first four Trek films and still make it to the first showing of Final Frontier. In the 90s I did a game site in which I’d review all installments of a game series in order of release. I’d even done some podcasting along those lines, with the Star Wars Action News book club, reviewing every Star Wars novel in order of release. Sadly, I can never watch Leonard Part 6 because I can’t find Leonard Parts 1-5.
Stuart had visited Springfield a few months before, and we saw The Midnight Meat Train, since Barker films were something we often watched together. After, Marjorie pretty much stuck a microphone in Stuart’s face and, without him knowing what was really going on, we had our normal post-movie conversation, but on the mic, and it became a podcast. But I also had real fun doing it.
Released on August 8, 2008, The Midnight Meat Train review marked host Stuart Atkinson’s first appearance on Now Playing Podcast. One week later, Brock would join the rotating panel of hosts for a review of Pineapple Express. The podcast continued to utilize two hosts, rather than the standard three that appear in every new episode.
Arnie: I’d mostly stepped away from hosting Now Playing, letting Brock and his wife Elisha take the reins. I’d always insisted the show review current movies, and Brock and I had discussed if it was worth doing new-to-video releases, etc. But then the Friday the 13th reboot arrived, and I got really hyped.
Brock: I remember having a conversation with Arnie about the download numbers on Midnight Meat Train being something we weren’t seeing on other episodes. The horror genre was clearly needing more podcasting content, yet I never thought I’d be involved there; it wasn’t my preferred genre. With a baby on the way, my wife and I knew we weren’t going to be able to see new releases each week, and so we recorded a few new-to-DVD episodes, like Burn After Reading, as a way to stay current enough. But it all changed when Arnie came to me with an idea that combined all of these ideas.
Arnie: I’d had so much fun with Midnight Meat Train that I thought it would be fun to come back and channel my hype for the new Friday film through a podcast. I really wanted Stuart to be a part of it because of Midnight Meat Train.
Stuart: I thought it was an idea slightly worse than when Arnie and I decided to open a detective agency in sixth grade. I couldn't imagine I'd have 13 minutes of thoughts on the whole franchise, but then I remembered how much I like to talk and it went fine.
Arnie: We’d always had a two-person format, but since Brock had never seen a Friday the 13th film I thought it would be great to bring in that third perspective to balance my fandom and Stuart’s jaded dislike of the series.
Brock: I rented the first Friday the 13th back in high school because I was curious enough to see what spawned all the endless sequels. And I had enough with that first movie. Didn’t feel I was missing anything. I prefer suspense horror movies to slashers. I acknowledged the brilliance of the idea – a fan, a casual or jaded fan, and a newbie discuss each movie in the series leading up to the new movie. But wow, some of those movies felt like I wasted my time watching them, though talking with the guys about the movie didn’t feel like a waste of time at all. Who knew my lack of horror movie experience would pay off?
Arnie: Brock and his wife came to visit us while we were recording the series. As a foursome, Brock, Elisha, Marjorie, and me, we watched Jason Takes Manhattan. I was laughing at the movie, but laughing more at the mortified looks on Brock’s and Elisha’s faces. They weren’t seeing the humor I was in it.
Brock: I found the movie insulting, like it was challenging the viewer to see what depths of dreck they could get us to watch. Being from the suburbs of New York, what nonsense that they think they’d get away with anyone believing that was shot in Manhattan! On a positive side, Arnie and Marjorie were great to have us over to watch the movie, and it was a blast to record with Arnie in person for the first time. Arnie and Marjorie also introduced me to the infamous Springfield culinary concoction known as The Horseshoe!
Arnie: It was never intended to be a long-term thing, just a one-off that wouldn’t even be in the main Now Playing series. Then we saw the download numbers skyrocket, and the rest was history.
Brock: Week after week the numbers kept exploding, getting larger and larger. I remember phone calls with Arnie about the numbers, how the first shows in the series continued to rise, meaning new people were finding the show as we went on, and likely people were returning to listen again. We were just flabbergasted by the response. It was unbelievable.
The Friday the 13th retrospective would establish a number of Now Playing firsts. In addition to establishing the three-host format, it was the first series to receive its own credits – narrated by Brock – with the famed Part III theme used in the introduction and outro. However, longtime listeners recognize the “rawness” of the first retrospective, which lacks the standard plot summary, outtakes, and was plagued by recording challenges.
Brock: I was helping to edit the show back then, and to make it sound as good as it does was a bit of a challenge. Listening now you can clearly hear a difference in sound quality with this first series, but still completely listenable today. The headset mic I had back then wasn’t very good, and my “p’s” would pop something fierce, especially recording the credits. If you listen to the end credits of the Friday the 13th series you can hear how the “p” was edited to be softer on the word “retrospective,” and less noticeably on the ones in “Now Playing Podcast.” It was so hard to not pop my “p’s” saying the name of the show. I recorded those three words over and over and over to get a cleaner recording. The credits back then were so much simpler than what we have today. They were perfunctory, blatantly explaining the format and the concept of the show to the listeners. Arnie was really just starting to skim the surface with interspersing the quotes from the movies into the credits. We took both the podcast concept explanation and movie quotes so much further with the next series, Star Trek.
Arnie: When we recorded the Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan episode, it was a laugh riot, but a mess. I told Stuart and Brock that we had to redo the show because we were all laughing so hard; we were having fun but there wasn’t any context to the jokes -- only those who were intimately familiar with Jason Takes Manhattan could follow along.
Brock: While watching the movie was not so enjoyable, the three of us had such a blast busting on that movie together, making each other laugh. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a cohesive show.
Arnie: So we re-recorded the entire episode (one of only four or five shows that we’ve had to do that with in more than a decade). That second recording was solid and had a great explanation of the film, but not the mirth because we’d told each other the jokes. It was pretty flat.
Brock: To recreate it was no fun, we spent all the jokes. It was like your dad having you tell that same stale joke he likes to another one of his friends.
Arnie: I knew what had to be done. I spent about a dozen hours Frankenstein-ing the two conversations into one. The second recording was the skeleton, giving the conversation structure, and the first recording was the meat, the really good part of the show. So I found a place for all of the first recording to liven up the second, and to this day I still think it’s one of our best shows.
Stuart: It’s hilarious to think about now, but I was actually worried that being so opinionated on the podcast would turn me into a Hollywood pariah. Like, Kane Hodder would totally be asking me to write his big horror movie comeback, but then somehow the Jason Takes Manhattan show would reach his ears and he'd start smashing my face in a typewriter or something. Turns out I was pretty good at getting industry doors slammed in my face without Now Playing's help.
Brock: I too was worried that if I crossed over to the movie critic side of things it would come back to bite me. Like if I ever decided to come out of retirement from performing I would be confronted, chewed out and denied opportunities by angry performers, producers, and filmmakers.
Despite two edits to make the show listenable, there remained some issues that took years to iron out.
Arnie: When I saw Jason Takes Manhattan in theaters I was 14 and my (much) older sister and brother-in-law took me. At that showing my brother-in-law went on and on about how Peter Mark Richman, who plays the McCulloch character, was the guy who played Dr. Smith on Lost in Space. He talked about it endlessly and, him being older and having watched a lot of Lost in Space, I believed him; and I passed that misinformation on to our listeners on the show. Man, did I get lambasted for that. For a decade I’d constantly get emails from new listeners telling me that the actor was Peter Mark Richman, not Jonathan Harris. Finally, in 2019, for that episode’s 10th anniversary, I went back to the original file and edited the show again to remove that error. I hadn’t edited it before because it seemed like a cop out but finally I excised that one sentence that people fixated on.
With no new entries since 2009, Friday the 13th is the oldest Now Playing retrospective without a sequel, remake, or reboot on the horizon. A legal battle between the first film’s director and screenwriter has kept Jason Voorhees off the screen for more than a decade; fortunately the hosts have their favorite entries to fall back on.
Stuart: Sticking with the "proper" entries in the series, Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives is still the most technically proficient and exciting. Plus, that Alice Cooper song was dope!
Arnie: For the solo Jason films, I agree that Part 6 is the best, but I like Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter just a little bit better. Corey Feldman was the best Tommy Jarvis of the three, plus there’s Crispin Glover’s weirdness, Teddy watching vintage porn; it had so many memorable characters and moments that I always enjoyed watching it most. It’s the only Friday the 13th to cast a shadow. No other protagonist returned for any other sequels, only Jarvis came back.
Brock: The one I remember liking the most is Jason X, because it had all sorts of enjoyable moments, I felt I was in on the joke the whole time, and what a fun ending. It is absolutely wonderfully insane enjoyable entry in the series.
Stuart: Freddy vs. Jason is clearly the best movie, though maybe not the best Friday the 13th movie.
Brock: Recording Freddy vs Jason for this series I felt so lost when the guys were talking about how it was more of A Nightmare on Elm Street movie. When we came back to it again for the Nightmare series, it was an entirely different experience.
Arnie: The outhouse death in Part V is classic [but] Freddy vs. Jason is the best movie with Jason in it. It’s funny, fun, and brings a lot of action into the brawl. I think that movie was why I was so excited for a new Jason film.
The Now Playing Podcast Friday the 13th Retrospective Series wrapped on February 20, 2009, with a “wrap-up” episode in which the hosts looked back at the series. To this day, it remains the only “wrap-up” for a retrospective. The state of the Friday the 13th franchise remains in limbo, with no new film in production as of November 2020.