The INSIDER Summary:
- “Silicon Valley” showrunner Alec Berg believes the tech world is “an incredibly fertile” area that’s ripe for satire.
- They avoid writing direct caricatures of real people.
- Instead they blend traits and behaviors of multiple leaders in tech.
- The writers keep up with news, but they avoid being too topical.
“Showrunners” is a new podcast from INSIDER, a series where we interview the people responsible for bringing TV shows to life. The following is a highlight from our interview with Alec Berg — the showrunner of HBO’s “Silicon Valley” and previously a writer for “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
HBO’s hit comedy series “Silicon Valley” offers a biting look at the world of startups and major tech companies. Over the course of its four seasons, fans of the show have made connections between the fictional characters shown and real-world CEOs or VC investors.
During INSIDER’s interview with “Silicon Valley” showrunner Alec Berg, we spoke about how the writers find their inspiration for the series’ storylines in real events and people. Berg cowrote the screenplay for Sacha Baron Cohen’s political satire film about a fictional dictator, and that experience closely mimics the process for writing about Silicon Valley CEOs.
“When I was doing ‘The Dictator’ we would just do a lot of research about dictators,” Berg said. “The stuff in real life [about dictators] is crazier than anything you could come up with that’s pretend. We started to feel the same way about the tech business. We started doing research and all of the real stuff we were finding was so much funnier and crazier than the stuff we would make up. That’s why I think early on, we made this decision to hew very closely to reality.”
But Berg and his “Silicon Valley” team make sure not to write characters that are 100% matches for real world people.
“We try not to do one to one corollaries, but we definitely are paying attention,” Berg said. “We were following the Ellen Pao thing closely, the Peter Thiel/Gawker thing, Trump and his views of the H1B Visa. I think those are going to be very relevant to our show — government controls, net neutrality, all of that stuff.”
However, the timing of production often impedes the writers’ ability to address current trends or dramatic events.
“One of the challenges of our show is we can’t really be topical because ideally the show is written before we shoot it, and we shoot it months before it airs,” Berg said. “If we get into something that’s too topical, we run the risk of by the time the show airs, six other people have done commentary on it and it feels stale. We have to be careful to amalgamate a lot of those stories.”
Sometimes “Silicon Valley” accidentally emulates a real tech mogul without directly meaning to.
“Gavin Belson has facets of a lot of theses titans in him, but he’s not a one-for-one of any particular person,” Berg said. “At the end of season one, a lot of people were saying, ‘Oh, Peter Gregory, that’s Peter Thiel.’ The honest answer is we didn’t even really know who Peter Thiel was when we did season one, and then people kept saying that the Peter Thiel character, and we started looking at Peter Thiel videos and were like, ‘Oh, I can see why people are saying that.’ There was no attempt to portray peter Thiel on the show. We just backed into that.”
Berg says it’s safer to stick to general “types” of the people you can find in the real Silicon Valley.
“I think if anything, what we try and do is portray the types,” Berg said. “A lot of people say, ‘Oh yeah, I have Gilfoyle at my company’ or ‘I work with Dinesh.’ That’s always very flattering to hear, because it’s just means that you’ve created what feels like a very real, three-dimensional character.”
For more from Alec Berg, listen to the full episode of “Showrunners” below. Subscribe to “Showrunners” on iTunes here so you can hear new episodes (featuring the showrunners from “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “American Gods,” “Insecure” and more) first.