Gain: How WGBH created and launched Molly of Denali

Late May 2019 marked the debut of WGBH’s new kids fiction podcast Molly of Denali. We had a sneak peek into their podcast with the launch of their Podsite, thanks to a gorgeous gallery they used to showcase the different characters in the show. We caught up with their production team to learn more about the show they so thoroughly shared on their website.

What’s the origin story of Molly of Denali?

Molly of Denali was dreamed up by Dorothea Gillim, the executive producer for WGBH and her co-creator Kathy Waugh. The story sprang from an idea about a kid living in a store, and its location evolved through inspiration from a Presidential visit by Barack Obama to Alaska to restore the traditional place name of the mountain Denali. From there, the production team partnered with indigenous writers, producers, actors, and advisors to create the world of Molly of Denali. The titular character, Molly Mabray, is an Alaska native girl in the fictional village of Qyah, Alaska. The compelling story and engaging nature of the characters translated nicely as audio, with the help of senior executive producer Carol Greenwald, creative producer Princess Johnson, development producer Priya Desai, managing producer of podcasts Nina Porzucki, and the kids podcasts experts at Gen-Z Media.

Molly of Denali is a podcast and a tv show. How does each one complement the storytelling of the other?

The podcast is an eight-episode prequel to the TV show. It offers a chance for kids and families to get to know Molly and her family before the TV show launches on PBS Kids on July 15, 2019. Each platform—broadcast TV, the podcast, app, and games—offers kids and families new ways to experience Molly of Denali. In the podcast, kids and families can use their imaginations to create scenes in their heads to go along with the sounds of Molly’s adventures. All of the components of the series worked to include traditional Alaska Native storytelling. In the podcast, Molly’s Grandpa Nat shares traditional Alaska Native stories. We had more space to do this in the podcast, which is one continuous story over eight episodes, than in the broadcast TV episodes, which are only 11 minutes long.  

Why did you want a podcast website for Molly of Denali Podcast?

We wanted a site for the Molly of Denali Podcast to allow families to both easily find and listen to new episodes, but also immerse themselves in Molly’s world. We had an opportunity to pair all of the rich sound of the podcast with beautiful illustrations from the animated series. Kids and families can meet the characters of the podcast and learn some extra details on their personalities in the gallery on the homepage.  

There are some exciting dynamic visuals on the homepage of the Molly of Denali Podcast. Tell us more about what you chose to feature in the video trailer and gallery.

Key to what I mentioned before, the podcast is a chance for listeners to get to know some of the key characters of Molly of Denali and their origin stories. In the gallery, we chose to feature the great artwork of Molly of Denali to introduce the characters of Molly, her best friend Tooey, and her family. The trailer also gives listeners a sneak peek at the locations in the podcast, from the Denali Trading Post to Molly’s bedroom. But the site doesn’t give everything away. The sounds of Alaska—from sled dogs to ravens—create a rich audio world on their own. And we’ve left it up to the listener to imagine some of those scenes.

A peek at the gallery page on the Molly of Denali Podcast website

When you record your podcast, you might think about your imaginary listener who will hear this episode soon. What’s your mental image of this listener, and how do you address their needs in your recording?

The Molly of Denali Podcast is aimed at kids and families, but they’re not the only listeners who might love this story. I imagine families listening to this podcast in the car together, on the way to school or on vacation. I especially like to imagine that Alaska Native and other indigenous kids and families can see themselves in the story of the podcast. But it’s also a dog adoption story. I can also see dog owners falling in love with Molly and Suki’s origin story, no matter what their age. For all of these listeners, we’ve relied on the collaboration of Gen-Z, our sound house Koko Productions, and the TV series composers Eggplant Music to create an immersive sound experience of Alaska, including getting Suki’s growl just right, and the help of Alaska Native advisors. Creative producer Princess Daazhraii Johnson assisted in getting all of the Native language pronunciations correct throughout the recording process.

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Molly of Denali Podcast‘s gallery introduces the show through its characters, showcasing the visual dimension to their audio-first universe. Start listening on their website and learn more how to make a gallery on your Podsite.

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