In case you missed it – and plenty of people seem to have – Bravo’s loudly hyped, widely eviscerated Start-Ups: Silicon Valley ended with a whimper last week.
After a debut episode last month that netted a reported 700,000 viewers, the “Jersey Shore Meets the Social Network” mashup saw its audience plunge by 25 percent, according to the New York Times. And as my colleague Chuck Barney noted after last week’s finale, Bravo “basically threw in the towel, moving the show out of prime time and essentially burning it off with back-to-back episodes.”
I reached out to a couple of cast members, as well as to executive producer Randi Zuckerberg, to ask if they had any thoughts on the whole experience. They’re keeping mum, which of course could have something to do with the fact that it’s Christmas Eve. (UPDATE: Just got off the phone with Kim Taylor, who offered a thoughtful and spirited defense of the show that I’ll point to shortly at www.mercurynews.com/wiretap.) But Derek Andersen, who runs a network of tech entrepreneurs and “wantrapreneurs” called Startup Grind, wasn’t shy about offering a post-mortem when I asked.
“The biggest problem with “Startups” is that it’s just bad television,” he said. “Forget the fact that there aren’t enough tanning beds in Silicon Valley to support the cast: The show is totally uninteresting to watch.” Of course, he added, that didn’t stop plenty of locals from doing so, if only out of curiosity or to look for familiar faces.
Andersen was hardly the show’s only critic in the valley, but he points up the biggest challenge facing Zuckerberg and anybody else hoping to pull off a similar show. Folks scoffed that most real entrepreneurs spend their time, in Andersen’s words, “cranking night after night trying to launch products – not attending cocktail parties.” I myself have noted how little resemblance the show’s well-coiffed cast bore to the startup CEOs I meet with, who look ready to collapse from exhaustion.
The problem, of course, is that a show about people sitting around coding all night long is inherently boring. Unless, maybe, you get Aaron Sorkin to write the script.
One final point about the show’s final episode: Bravo’s website makes a big deal out of claiming that Dwight Crow – the toga-sporting, shot-swilling and arguably most insufferable member of the cast – had sold his startup, Carsabi, to Facebook. Cast member Kim Taylor is likewise agog on-camera after Crow smugly shares his good fortune. The funny thing is, when Carsabi in September blogged that Crow and co-founder Christopher Berner were joining the social networking giant, they made it clear Facebook wasn’t buying the car-shopping service. In fact, Berner said he and Crow were looking for someone to buy their site.
It’s certainly not uncommon in Silicon Valley for a company to acqui-hire a small startup for the talent and fold the product. But I’m not totally clear that’s what happened in this case. I’m only harping on it because Bravo seems to be trying to paint Carsabi as a huge success; after all, to most folks, getting bought by Facebook would appear to be hitting the jackpot. Conspiracy theorists also might note that Randi Zuckerberg is a former Facebook honcho. Oh yeah, and her brother runs the company.
Crow himself, on the last episode, says only that Facebook has offered to “let us run certain things,” which he describes as “something big.” I sent a note to Facebook’s PR folks seeking clarification as to just what Crow’s role will be there and whether the social network indeed bought Carsabi (which was backed by Y Combinator) or just hired Crow and Berner away. The company, like many, typically doesn’t comment on small M&A deals, but I’ll let you know if I hear back.