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Marc Andreessen: The secret weapon of HBO's Silicon Valley

Kevin Chupka
·Executive Producer/Writer

An average of 5.7 million people watched each episode of the HBO (TWX) hit comedy Silicon Valley in its first season last spring. The quirky comedy about a group of nerds working on a hot tech startup in Northern California returns for a ten episode second season on April 12.

Besides the gut-busting laughs, audiences were drawn to the show last season because it is satirical and accurate at the same time. Audiences applaud the show the same way my doctor friends argue Scrubs is the most accurate medical show in history. Silicon Valley resonates because it gets it right, and “right” just happens to be hysterical.

Silicon Valley creators Mike Judge and Alec Berg (along with the rest of the writing staff) aimed for accuracy by spending a great deal of time, not on a Los Angeles back lot, but with a whole bunch of tech’s movers and shakers. The two showrunners told me they met with all walks of techie life from VCs to founders and engineers, all of whom helped to add color and a touch of reality to the comedy. “We’ve met more billionaires than I can count,” Judge says, adding that often times they were the poorest people in the room.

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In fact, the pair spent a considerable amount of time with Marc Andreessen, one of the biggest VC names in the business and a key investor in names like Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR), Pinterest, Foursquare and Skype.

Mike Judge and the cast of his new comedy mini-series mingled with Elon Musk and other tech celebrities at a red-carpet event in Silicon Valley.
Mike Judge and the cast of his new comedy mini-series mingled with Elon Musk and other tech celebrities at a red-carpet event in Silicon Valley.

Judge and Berg say Andreessen actually became something of a writing consultant, offering ideas for stories to feature in the series. “Andreessen is a fan,” Judge says. When they first met with him, Berg remembers, Andreessen told the pair “for the next hour I’m going to be a writer on your show” and he peppered them with ideas to make the comedy that much more realistic.

He still emails with new ideas, and continues to be a valuable source for relevant material.

The accuracy Andreessen and others afforded the show became a hot button issue on Reddit last season too. Berg says brainiacs took to the online platform to fight over the accuracy of all the tech jargon and mathematical equations featured in a given episode.

Small spoiler ahead…

And it’s not just tech movers and shakers and comedic accuracy that helped the show succeed last season. “[We’ve been] unbelievably lucky that we keep guessing right,” Berg says, citing the inclusion of live video a la Periscope this season, as well as the creation of a new character, Laurie Bream (played wonderfully by Suzanne Cryer), managing partner at the show's fictitious VC firm, Raviga Capital.

Bream was created out of necessity when the supremely talented Christopher Evan Walsh passed away last year and took his quirky VC-genius character Peter Gregory with him.

Bream, an equally odd and lovable female version, was created just as chatter about gender in the real Silicon Valley grew louder, culminating last week in the completion of the Ellen Pao discrimination trial.

While the show's creators say they didn’t fashion the character specifically out of that debate, they admitted they’d be “derelict in [their] duty” as satirists if they didn’t deal with the issue of women in tech. It sounds like there may be more where Laurie Bream came from throughout this season too.

As the show kicks off season two, keep an eye out for some of those Valley elite to pop up too. The much maligned Winklevoss twins make an appearance early in the season, as do tech journalists Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg. The cameos are sure to keep coming too as the show finds fans inside and outside of the tech corridor.

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