James Minchin III/AMC
The morning after Path founder Dave Morin hosted a screening party for them at the Battery, a private social club, two actors and a writer from AMC’s new tech-themed drama, “Halt and Catch Fire,” sat down for pretzel crisps and a chat in San Francisco’s Financial District yesterday.
Set in Texas in 1983, the show, which debuts June 1, follows a group of engineers and salespeople in the days when companies like Compaq, Commodore, Tandy and even ExxonMobil were racing to build personal computers. A darker and more sexed-up production than HBO’s ironic comedy “Silicon Valley,” “Catch Fire” explores the tenuous line that entrepreneurs can walk between brilliance and deranged self-aggrandizement. The characters wear suits and ties (a la “Mad Men”), but roll up their sleeves to solder in suburban garages.
“People build their problems into the machines, and we only remember the success stories,” said co-creator Chris Rogers. “[For the show] we had all these great consultants who were at Apple, at IBM, during the apex of this technology, and they’ll tell you, it could have been anyone.”
“Steve Jobs could have been remembered as just an asshole,” he added, joking.
Kerry Bishé, who starred in the last season of “Scrubs” and now plays an engineer’s savvy wife, leaned in.
“[People in tech have] this really powerful sense of self-assurance and confidence. They’re like, ‘We are giving powerful tools that are making the world a better place. We’re advancing humanity. We’re speeding up evolution,'” Bishé said. “And the tools are incredible, but they are amoral. They’re not tools for good — they’re tools.”
Mackenzie Davis, who plays punky genius engineer Cameron Howe, added: “It’s a bit of a god complex.”
At the Battery the night before, the cast had noticed that the show’s audience was younger than they had expected — and that many were relieved to have another high-production-value tech show alongside the satirical “Silicon Valley.”
“They seemed weirdly victimized by ‘Silicon Valley,’ which I just assumed was kind of a tongue-in-cheek thing, right?” Rogers said. “A lot of them found that show kind of insulting.”
Next on their agenda was a visit to Alcatraz, just for fun.
So they’re not going to tour Facebook HQ?
“Way to kill the mood,” Davis said. “No. But I did get like six contacts last night to go to the Google cafeteria in New York. They were like, ‘Yeah we have 14 cafeterias.'”
The gang started to talk about the gender ratio at the Battery screening — and about how many more women there were in the early days of computers as depicted by the show. Bishé and Davis swapped statistics with each other.
They said that, during the Q&A session after the screening, there had been some strange reactions to their answers.
“Last night,” Rogers said, “Kerry gave another version of that comment about the bravado, and was like, ‘I really like the confidence of men in this industry,’ and you could just see the eyes lighting up around the room, like, ‘You’re getting my business card.'”
Davis began to elaborate on the curious gender dynamics at the party. Bishé pointed to a reporter’s tape recorder. Rogers said, “Turn that off first.”
Watch the trailer here: