‘The perfect fans’: How ‘A Date With Dateline’ podcast hosts won over ‘Dateline NBC’
Back in 2017, Susan Nalle, a senior associate director and coordinating producer at NBC’s true crime newsmagazine “Dateline,” was home on a Saturday night when she noticed a tweet from the co-hosts of a new podcast called “A Date With Dateline.” Only two episodes had been posted, but she gave the show a listen. “Frequently when people have our name in [their tweets] we follow them or at least pay enough attention to see if they’re a good friend or a bad friend,” Nalle says. “They were definitely a good friend.”
On the podcast, co-hosts Kimberly Arnold and Katie Mitchell spend an hour or so walking their listeners through an episode of “Dateline” while offering exceedingly granular observations, and occasionally referencing other TV shows like TLC’s long-distance relationship reality series “90 Day Fiancé.” Nalle, who heads up “Dateline’s” social media team in addition to many other duties (some call her “the final eyes on the show”), immediately sent a direct message requesting Arnold and Mitchell’s home addresses: She wanted to welcome them into the family with series-branded socks and tote bags.
A year later, when Nalle found out that Arnold and Mitchell were attending the 2018 CrimeCon in Nashville, she made sure they were invited to a special “Dateline” screening. When they arrived at the event, the two women were surprised to learn that their podcast had attracted a few other gold-star supporters from the show, including Josh Mankiewicz, one of the newsmagazine’s hard-boiled correspondents. “Hi, we’re the girls from ‘A Date With Dateline,’” is how they introduced themselves to Mankiewicz. His response? “Why haven’t I been on your show yet?”
Mankiewicz, who has since been a guest on the podcast three times, wrote in an email, “Katie and Kimberly are the perfect fans. Totally knowledgeable, always respectful, and they really do their homework. They know the details of every ‘Dateline’ hour absolutely cold — who rolled, who took a plea, who got life, whose hair was a crime all its own. They can — and do — repeat those details back to you, like fans of ‘The Office’ — if Michael Scott were facing time in the slammer.”
The correspondents of NBC’s “Dateline” got a rock star-worthy welcome when they took to the stage in a packed ballroom at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside Hotel last month, and the attendees of CrimeCon, an annual convention for fans of real-life stories of murder and mayhem, were happy to explain why.
The relationship between “Dateline” and “A Date With Dateline” continues to blossom. Before “Dateline” launched “The Thing About Pam” — NBC’s six-part podcast documenting the strange, twisty story of convicted murderer Pam Hupp that dominated the No. 1 position on iTunes’ podcast charts for weeks and has been downloaded more than 6 million times — they sent it to Mitchell and Arnold. In turn, Mitchell and Arnold recorded the two-part companion recap, “What’s Hupp With Pam?”
The love fest that sprung from this year’s CrimeCon in New Orleans necessitated the dropping of a bonus episode featuring a group interview conducted there with Mankiewicz and on-air colleagues Keith Morrison and Dennis Murphy. The only missing participant was the newsmagazine’s lone female host Andrea Canning, a mother of six, whose absence Arnold explained on the podcast with, “Andrea was away having her 17th baby.”
Over the course of seven minutes, Arnold and Mitchell, in shaky “we’re not worthy” voices, lobbed questions at their TV idols: “Do any of you have a go-to karaoke song?” ... “Is cheesecake a cake or a pie?”
“We were very nervous, like, sweaty hands,” says Mitchell. “We’d never used our handheld recorder before. Then there was a room filled with NBC people. It was just terrifying.”
Indeed, part of the co-hosts’ charm is that they are all things: snark-filled, pop-culture-addled, as well as insecure. They shore each other up by congratulating the other for a particularly quick-witted comment. Misfired puns are met with groans or threats of quitting the podcast altogether.
“This is the sound of when I think Kimberly is about to say something inappropriate,” Mitchell says on one episode. Then Mitchell, who actually edits the podcast, makes a wincing noise, like someone sucking air through their teeth. Sitting at a table outside of a Burbank coffee shop, Arnold, who wears a loose black sweater, oversized sunglasses and sparkly sandals, admits, “I like to sometimes body shame the killers and Katie doesn’t like it and edits it out.” Then she turns to Mitchell, who sports tiny safety pin earrings, a leopard print belt, and a pale blue shirt. “And I say, ‘I think it’s OK to body shame a killer,’ but Katie tries to make me nicer than I am.”
The pair met almost 20 years ago when they were both theater majors at UCLA and in the same acting class. Says Mitchell, “Kimberly was so funny, I pretty much decided I was going to be her best friend no matter what. So I just kept hanging around until I finally won her over.” Arnold interrupts her friend’s heartfelt reminiscence. “I have zero memory of this,” she says. “I honestly don’t.”
The idea for the podcast came to Mitchell in the spring of 2017, when two facts converged: to her knowledge, no one else was doing a “Dateline” recap podcast and she knew from experience that her friend could talk about absolutely anything.
“Kimberly is an excellent storyteller,” says Mitchell. “We’d go on a long trip or just be sitting around and she’d get on a roll and tell me the entire plot of a ‘Lifetime’ movie and it would feel like I was watching it with her.”
Arnold, a “Dateline” completist, was immediately on board. “I watch them all the time — I’ve seen every single one,” she says, adding that she’s even compiled a list of go-to episodes called “Kimberly’s Favorites.” “I know it’s weird to say ‘favorite one’ because someone was murdered. But I still have.”
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While the podcast is edited to make it seem as if they are recapping in the same room, they actually record from their respective homes while looking at each other on FaceTime. Because they wanted to spare their listeners their early attempts at mastering the digital form, Mitchell says they shelved the first five or six installments. “The sound is horrible,” says Mitchell. “I sound like I’m in a tunnel,” says Arnold adding that another distraction is that Gryffindor, her pet Maltese, can often be heard barking loudly in the background. “I’ve often thought, ‘Why did we keep that in there?” asks Arnold. “Why didn’t you tell me to have him shut up?’”
Since the beginning they have shown a talent for unexpected digressions, but this was something they initially had qualms about after reading an iTunes review that criticized them for not staying on message. Other parts of the internet were more reassuring. “On Instagram and Facebook and Twitter they say, ‘I live for your tangents, like when you spent 20 minutes talking about the time Kimberly got a Q-tip stuck in her ear,’” says Arnold. “So we figured out that they want to hear the story [of the ‘Dateline’ episode], but they also want to just listen to us talk.”
These days, though, they average about 20,000 downloads an episode. Some listeners turn to the podcast looking for real-life murder mystery companionship.
“A lot of people write in and say ‘My friends won’t watch ‘Dateline’ with me. I’m by myself at my apartment screaming to no one. So I go and listen to you guys,’” says Arnold, adding that they have fans in Canada, the United Kingdom, Norway and Australia, a country where “Dateline” isn’t even broadcast.
“I feel like ‘Dateline’ is a universal language,” says Mitchell.
Recently, the pair began what they’ve categorized as a “special project,” a spin-off podcast called “A Date With the Bake,” where they recap episodes of “The Great British Baking Show.” They’ve cobbled together an income stream by way of Patreon subscribers and sponsors like Care/Of vitamins and the organic feminine hygiene company LOLA. By trade, Mitchell is a stylist, and Arnold, who was director Garry Marshall’s personal assistant for 12 years, pays the bills, in part, through her cross-stitch company on Etsy called Stitches Be Krazy. That said, they are now close to quitting their day jobs and making podcasting their full-time occupation.
Along the way, the pair have left a breadcrumb trail of personal details for listeners. For instance, Arnold’s doting mother, Joni, can still do the splits. Mitchell has a husband, Oliver, and an undisclosed number of cats who also interrupt the podcast. But it’s not surprising that after recapping more than 117 episodes of a series that specializes in gruesome murder, abject tragedy, heists and elaborate scams that the pair have absorbed many of its lessons.
“It’s not a good thing to accept a beverage from a spouse,” says Arnold, only half-joking. “Never date online or tell your spouse you have life insurance,” adds Mitchell. “And don’t let your smile light up a room. That’s the kiss of death right there.”
In fact, since the podcast’s inception they identify themselves only as Kimberly and Katie. Why did it take them two years to go public with their last names?
“We’re paranoid,” explains Arnold, with a tiny hint of apology in her voice. “We’ve watched too much ‘Dateline.’”
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