Twenty-one episodes. Two seasons and a nod at a third. Tens of millions of downloads. One Peabody Award, for one story, told week by week. And no one expected it.“It’s incredible in the most literal sense of the word,” Julie Snyder, co-creator of Serial and senior producer of This American Life, said Friday at Bovard Auditorium. “We started in Sarah’s basement… and in six weeks we were at five million downloads.”They expected it to be no pressure – nobody listens to podcasts, right?“We were hoping for 300,000 listeners,” Sarah Koenig, host and executive producer of Serial, said, going on to explain that the expected crowd was grad students or public radio listeners that know how to use their phones. Two years ago, Koenig and Snyder launched season one their now widely-acclaimed podcast Serial, investigating the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, an 18-year old from Woodlawn High School in Baltimore. Her classmate and ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed was arrested, charged with her murder and sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years.The story and where their investigation would go wasn’t set in stone from the start. Koenig and Snyder had been looking for some kind of spin-off for This American Life. Having pitched a dud to their boss, This American Life host and executive producer Ira Glass, they went a new way.“We had an idea, but that was not Serial,” Snyder said. “We had done a theme for This American Life called This Week…Sarah and I prepared this whole pitch and we did it at our one and only overnight retreat we’ve ever taken with the show. We’re all in this living room together and there’s a fire…we make our pitch and we’re so enthusiastic and they weren’t into it. [The staff was] picking at the upholstery of the couch, it sucked so much.” Though fully intending to work on This Week, after Glass asked if they had anything else, Koenig brought up the idea of a serialized documentary – coming back to the same story week after week. To her surprise, it passed, and they were working on Serial within the week.“A good idea can be easy because it’s obvious,” Snyder said. “It sort of speaks for itself.”“Like porn,” Koenig said.This sort of complementary back-and-forth prevailed through the talk at Bovard, eliciting heartened applause and laughter from the audience. Through stories about reworking the introduction to the show, where Koenig swears she ripped off all of Snyder’s ideas, to their honesty when discussing how they decided to leave in a lot of Koenig’s own musings about the case, Snyder and Koenig kept the crowd with them, just as they had all their many millions of listeners. They were honest in explaining certain creative choices, just as they were honest about not knowing how best to tell the story.“We wanted Serial to feel like this living, breathing thing that was vital and out in the world that we could be experiencing with the audience,” Snyder said. “The stories are really dense. We need the listeners to understand the significance of the details and we came up with a really genius idea – we should just have Sarah tell us what she thinks.”After playing a clip of Koenig and Dana Chivvis, producer of Serial, driving around and bantering about the unlikely timeline of events put forth by the state against Adnan, Snyder clarified her point.“She was really honest about the fact that she didn’t always know what was right,” Snyder said. “It puts you in a really vulnerable position to admit uncertainty…I think it’s a really ballsy thing to do, to be honest in your reporting.”On the topic of making nonfiction as entertaining as television, Koenig said that that was the only way to get people to come back.“I think part of what happened with Serial is that, when people listen, the part of their brain that reacts to TV…was lighting up,” Koenig said. “People aren’t used to reacting to journalism that way. What is this? It must be something new.”Snyder said she liked playing with the artistry on the show, even wanted to borrow certain aesthetics from television, like cliffhangers, music, a “what next” and a “previously on.”“Artistry is okay as long as you’re sticking to the truth,” Snyder said. This is something she said she learned from Glass when making a spot for Public Radio International.“We should always be looking for the details that reflect life the way it is,” Snyder said. “Try and reflect the world the way it’s really lived. Reporting stories with artistry creates intimacy and empathy. It takes the story from being simply interesting to being meaningful.”And most of the things they did on Serial worked, leading Koenig and Snyder’s show to the crosshairs of popular culture. People started podcasts about their podcast (The Serial Serial) with their own “previously on” sections; they were parodied on Saturday Night Live; and then there was Reddit.“They debated and parsed every single godda-n thing,” Koenig said. “Online discussions of the case filled us with anxiety. The rules of Reddit are not our rules.”Koenig said while reporters carefully consider what information they’re putting out there, the Internet has no accountability – people began posting real names, damaging information, and speculating about real people. The staff felt like they were losing control of the story.Besides keeping all of the facts straight and presenting a compelling story, Koenig and Snyder faced another challenge – ending the season.“Ira helped us end it,” Koenig said. “He said, ‘I think it would be great if you guys solved it.’”Snyder said that they of course wanted to solve the case, but that wasn’t going to happen. What they could do, though, was pose some questions.“Are we okay with the fact that the prosecution’s story is full of holes?” Snyder said. “That someone’s spending their life in prison based on that story?”“And how well can you know someone?” Koenig, the one who had to develop a relationship with Syed to tell the story, added. “How can you tell how much someone’s capable of?”While Koenig cannot in full faith answer her own questions, both Koenig and Snyder are undeterred from telling more stories the way they did Serial. Their second season — investigating the more-publicized case of Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier taken prisoner by the Taliban for nearly five years who came home to mixed public reaction — is on its ninth episode, and they’re not giving up anytime soon.