There was a time when Mike Judge feared that he'd missed the
The writer-director, best known for creating
Fast forward a little more than a decade, with the 51-year-old executive producer and writer poised on Sunday to launch "Silicon Valley," a half-hour, live-action HBO series that lampoons the land of goofy apps, nerd millionaires and the cult worship of tech titans.
"I started out thinking, 'Are we doing this too late?'" Judge said on a recent afternoon in his rather spartan writers' room at the Culver Studios.
A look at the recent headlines of excess and eccentricity rolling out of Northern California seem only to confirm Judge's instinct that the tech culture is ready for mockery. Longtime San Francisco residents are incensed by Google's private bus system, Facebook continues to gobble up small companies for billions of dollars, and venture capitalist Tom Perkins compared the treatment of the richest one percent to that of Jews in
"I think this time is even crazier than the first tech bubble," said Judge, who was also behind the 1999 comedy film classic "Office Space." "Now is an even better time to do it."
The series, which is already collecting early positive reviews, follows the struggles of a small group of programmers as they found a start-up company called Pied Piper in a business landscape where even doctors have an idea for the next billion-dollar app. Thomas Middleditch stars as a panic-attack prone, low-level programmer at tech giant Hooli (think Google) who stumbles onto a compression program that can deliver massive amounts of information online without quality loss. A bidding war among tech giants ensues.
Suddenly, Middleditch and his low-level programmer friends, played by
"One moment where [the series] clicked for me came when we visited an incubator and they brought out a group of guys to pitch us," said Judge, a former software engineer. "They pitched their whole thing, it's making the world a better place, etc. Then it came out they got the whole thing funded for $100,000. Five guys in a two-bedroom apartment. You have this much time before you burn through the money. That's the first season."
Comparisons to HBO's "
"In Hollywood, you sell a script, you become a movie star and suddenly you're driving fancy cars, buying nice houses, going to fancy parties," he said. "[In Silicon Valley] it's just 'How do we have fun? I don't know.' It's all these introverts. It's not the kind of people who used to become rich 80 years ago."
Alec Berg, an executive producer for
"I don't think most people in Hollywood hide behind the mask of 'I'm doing this to make the world a better place,'" Berg says. "To watch people in tech garner billions of dollars and deny that it's about the money at all, there's a disconnect."
With the creative freedom afforded by a premium cable channel, Judge and Berg promise the show isn't going to hew to standard sitcom conventions. Since the characters are completely shaped by the future of their company, from pipe dream to reality, that's where the show will live entirely in the first season. Don't expect any vacations, these guys are all about work.
However, for the task of making code interesting to watch, Judge and Berg recruited Jonathan Dotan, a digital entrepreneur and investor, as their tech consultant. Dotan got the writers into business incubators, helped solicit input on their fictional product from real venture capitalists and even helped facilitate cameo appearances from Google Executive Chairman
"We have tried incredibly hard to get all that stuff right," Berg said.
Along with the laughs, the show runners hope viewers can also become better educated on the finer points of such software development mainstays as Scrum. For those who have never coded a day in their lives, Scrum is a process of managing a software project that, among other things, encourages programmers to interact physically with face-to-face communication.
"We went way deep into Scrum for awhile there," Judge said. "We thought this is just a process no one is going to care about. But the way it works, especially in the sixth episode, it becomes intense drama."
One of the immediate standouts of "Silicon Valley's" cast is
When Welch, a character actor known primarily for this work on Broadway, auditioned for the role, "that kind of tipped the scales for me" in getting excited about the potential of the project, Judge said. "It reminded me of when I was making 'Office Space' and
Sadly, the 48-year-old Welch died of
"I've met tech billionaires just like that," Judge said. "When we show the pilot at tech places, they say Chris really got it right."
As even the show makes fun of itself, the world of "Silicon Valley" is largely male.
Judge has heard the potential criticism before — and rejects it.
"I took a picture of the audience at TechCrunch Disrupt," Judge said. "It's maybe 2% women. Don't shoot the messenger."
Fans seem thrilled to see his keen eye for satire back on TV. Judge, as much as his reserved demeanor will let him, seems equally thrilled to be back, heaping praise on HBO. It seems to be a happy marriage for the
"What's cool about [HBO] is they want and support filmmakers and original voices," Judge said. "I think some of these other networks could learn from them."
He paused. "I won't mention names."
When: 10 p.m. Sunday