This story first appeared in the March 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
When Silicon Valley makes its world premiere at South by Southwest (screening at 1:30 p.m. March 10, before its April 6 bow on HBO), it will do so with comparisons to another HBO comedy, Entourage. In place of movie star Vincent Chase, his three pals and a regular smattering of real-life Hollywood characters are entrepreneur Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch), his three pals and a regular smattering of real-life Silicon Valley characters, from Google’s Eric Schmidt to Re/code’s Kara Swisher. But series creator Mike Judge (Office Space, King of the Hill) and executive producer Alec Berg (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm) suggest the comparisons end there. “That show was more wish-fulfillment,” says Berg. “Our show is much more about guys on the outside trying to get in.”
THR caught up with the duo to discuss the region’s allure, the crazy money and why some viewers inevitably will hate these characters as they do Larry David.
As storytellers, what is the appeal of this world?
BERG: I love oddballs and nerdiness, and it’s a fun world to write in. My brother is an electrical engineer and went to computer science grad school at Stanford, and he’d tell me stories about the happy hours he’d organize. At 3 p.m. on Fridays, the grad students would come out of the small computing facilities. They’d rip off pieces of bread and grab pieces of cheese and stand in a circle facing out so that nobody was looking at anybody else, and they would inhale their cheese sandwiches for five minutes and then go back to work. That was their happy hour.
As viewers, are we laughing at them or with them?
JUDGE: With our guys, I think we’re on their side. With the billionaires, you’re laughing more at their expense.
And the culture?
BERG: We’re taking shots, but at the same time we’re respectful. I don’t think we’re sneering at Silicon Valley. It would be the same thing if you were doing something about show business: There are certain aspects of it that are great and people who genuinely care about what they’re doing and honestly believe in the products they’re making and aren’t just money-grubbing scumbags — and then there are outsize personalities who are parodies as human beings and aspects that are ripe for satire.
Your show is drawing a lot of comparisons to Entourage.
JUDGE: It’s a good comparison. Our characters are completely different, but it’s a similar situation.
BERG: And a lot of people think Entourage got it right, for the most part. Any series that actually has the balls to let Stephen Gaghan play himself deserves credit. (Laughs.) But I don’t want people to think that our show is like Entourage. Those guys were cool guys who drove cool cars, got the girls and were living the life.
JUDGE: Our guys are really kind of the opposite.
What has been the biggest challenge in making this show?
BERG: It’s a show about a group of people who do something for a living that is inherently unfilmable.
JUDGE They’re not crab fishermen or cops bringing down drug lords; they are guys sitting at computers.
BERG: There’s a reason there are 50,000 cop shows and firefighter shows: Watching them is cool. This is not Baywatch.
AMC is premiering its personal-computer-boom drama Halt and Catch Fire at SXSW, and there is a second movie about Steve Jobs in the works. Why now?
BERG: The amounts of money in Silicon Valley are staggering. I just read that WhatsApp is now worth more than Xerox or Campbell’s Soup based on Facebook’s [valuation]. And I can’t actually tell you what it is, but I sure as hell know what Campbell’s Soup is — I’ve been eating it since I was 4.
Getting it “right” would seem paramount. What did the research process entail?
JUDGE: We visited startups; we talked to a lot of venture capitalists and people who run incubators. We brought Jonathan Dotan on board as our master tech consultant. He’s of that world, and he got people like Kara Swisher [to do cameos]. At one point, we had him pitch what our guys were doing to real venture capitalists to get their reactions.
You are depicting a group of people who are on sites like Reddit and stir the online conversation about and criticism of television. Does that create added pressure?
BERG: A certain percentage of people are going to kill you no matter what you do. There’s so much flaming and so much hating out there. I want everybody to like it, but I accept that in order to get a certain number of people to love it, you’re going to get a certain number of people who hate it. It’s just the way it works. I worked on Curb Your Enthusiasm, and people came up to me and were like: “Why is Larry such an asshole? I hate him!”