When it first aired in 2014, journalist Sarah Koenig’s true-crime podcast, Serial, became a global sensation. Through her compelling narrative and detailed analysis of Adnan Syed’s arrest, subsequent murder trials, and eventual conviction for the murder of Hae Min Lee, listeners were left questioning Syed’s involvement. Now, HBO is airing a documentary about the case, and viewers are wondering if The Case Against Adnan Syed is different from the podcast.
According to HBO, while the new documentary focuses on the same case as Season 1 of Serial, it features exclusive new interviews from Syed’s family, Rabia Chaudry, Asia McClain, and Syed’s new attorney, Susan Simpson. The film will also include on-air interviews with Syed’s high school friends — Aisha Pittman, Krista Meyers, Laura Estrada Sandoval and Debbie Warren — and an interview with former Baltimore City police detective Darryl Massey, a key prosecution witness who hasn’t spoken about the case publicly until now.
The documentary started production in 2015, after Serial ended, but it covers Adnan’s case from the beginning. “The Case Against Adnan Syed reinvestigates the case behind the podcast,” HBO revealed in a press release. “From the genesis of their high school relationship to the original police investigation and trial, and moves into the current day as Syed faces the prospect of a new trial after almost 20 years in jail.”
The film comes from Oscar-nominated director Amy Berg, who recently told Decider that after listening to Season 1 of Serial, she was left with questions, and felt like she needed to investigate Syed’s case further. She mentioned that she went on to produce the documentary with Koening’s blessing, but NPR wasn’t involved with the project further than that. “I spoke to Sarah [Koenig] in the beginning and she gave me her blessing, but she had moved on from the story at that point largely,” explained Berg. “She was very supportive and very sweet, I was very passionate about the podcast, so that was the involvement they had.”
Berg also teased that new shocking details will be revealed in the four-part docuseries, but viewers will have to watch to the end to find out what they are. “Major stuff happens in the fourth one,” she said. “We saved a lot until the end, because there was a lot of time that had passed over the three-and-a-half years we were working on this film, and that’s how we chose to do it.”
A lot has happened since Season 1 of Serial aired. Adnan’s case was revisited in court in 2015, as noted in HBO’s press release, and in 2016 his original conviction was overturned by Circuit Court Judge Martin Welch based on Syed’s claim of ineffective counsel. The State of Maryland appealed the lower court judge’s ruling, but in March 2018, the Court of Special Appeals ruled to vacate Syed’s conviction and grant him a retrial. Again, the State of Maryland appealed, this time to the highest court in Maryland, and asked them to review the decision to overturn Syed’s conviction. In Nov. 2018, an appeals panel of seven judges heard oral arguments concerning the appeal and retrial, and they should make a decision sometime this year.
So, it looks like The Case Against Adnan Syed is far different from the podcast. It features updated information and new evidence, but above all, it gives viewers the chance to put a face on the people and facts attached to Syed’s case.
The Case Against Adnan Syed premieres on March 10 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.