One of the top podcasts on the charts right now imagines the U.S. in a massive blackout - no electricity, no cell phone service, and a potential conspiracy. It's called Blackout, a fictional story that’s set in Berlin, New Hampshire.
Blackout is a production of Endeavor Audio and QCode. It stars Rami Malek who won an Academy Award earlier this year for his role in the film Bohemian Rhapsody. Malek plays local radio DJ Simon Itani who tries to uncover details about the widespread blackout.
Scott Conroy, the writer of the podcast, has spent some time in New Hampshire. He covered the 2008, 2012, and 2016 presidential primaries in New Hampshire for CBS News, RealClearPolitics, and HuffPost.
NHPR’s Peter Biello spoke with Conroy about Blackout on All Things Considered.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What stood out to you about New Hampshire, and the North Country specifically that made you think it would be a good setting for a podcast?
Well, I grew up in Massachusetts and had family in Bedford, N.H., so grew up visiting them quite often -- skiing and just spending a lot of time in the state. And then, I was a political reporter for about 10 years covering presidential campaigns, and really spent more time in New Hampshire, probably, than any other state. I ended up writing a book about New Hampshire politics called Vote First or Die, so the state is very much in my own personal DNA, and I've always been particularly fascinated by the North Country. It just seems like a place that has a really unique feel to it and culture. The people up there are pretty distinct in their outlook on a lot of things, I think.
There's a scene in the third episode where your main character Simon and his wife are arguing. He had gone out the night before to host an impromptu call-in show asking people to call in with their two-way radios. And as his wife is chopping wood and canning stuff, they begin to fight. She’s trying to get her husband to be more aware of what’s going on because, as she says, “There’s all kinds of conspiratorial stuff that goes on in the North Country.”
I loved that scene because it sort of centers Berlin in this whole nationwide crisis, or at least hints that that might be the thing. But I was also curious about what your time in New Hampshire has told you that made you feel like it's believable that this area would be such fertile ground for conspiracy theories.
As any of your listeners know, the Live Free or Die ethos really permeates the state. I think it's the only state motto that anyone outside of the state has ever heard of before, which says something. There's kind of this natural sort of skeptical take on authority and a premium on this independent 'we can do this ourselves' kind of mentality that exists in New Hampshire. Even as the state has morphed politically over the last couple of decades, I think that is something that is pervasive across the traditional ideological spectrum. So there are a few different pockets of that kind of sentiment that I tried to cull from.
I wanted to ask you about accents as well because you've likely encountered in your reporting here, the real New Hampshire accents. And some of the characters try to approach that, and I think some, to some degree, succeed. I mean Madeline the storekeeper has what is meant to sound like a North Country accent. Is that kind of what you were imagining?
Yeah she's the one that really does the full North Country accent, and that was something that the actor that plays that role really just researched on her own, and I thought did really well. Some of the other characters, I think they have what people might traditionally think of as more of a Boston or a Massachusetts accent. Some people in New Hampshire might be kind of defensive about that.
For fans of the podcast, we're waiting on episode five. Any hints of what's going to happen?
I guess to wet the appetite without giving away too much, I'll just say that we'll have a little bit of a time jump for the back half of the season. The first four episodes take place within a very confined period -- three days right after the blackout. So going into the next one we'll have quite a bit of time that has gone by and life will look a little bit different for our characters.