PaleyFest LA 2018: Talking TV And Tech With Silicon Valley Cast & Crew

by Gary Catig

PaleyFest LA is an over week-long celebration of television. A variety of shows hold friendly panels with the cast and crew as they discuss their experiences and answer questions from the audience. During the first weekend of the event, one of the invited programs was HBO’s critically acclaimed comedy, Silicon Valley. Those in attendance were treated to the world premiere of season 5. Fans will not be disappointed when the episode airs on March 25th. Afterwards, co-creator, Mike Judge, writer, Alec Berg, and cast members Thomas Middleditch, Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, Amanda Crew, and Zach Woods took the stage.

HOLLYWOOD, CA – MARCH 18: New York Magazine’s Stacy Wilson Hunt with the cast and creatives of Silicon Valley at PaleyFest LA 2018 honoring Silicon Valley, presented by The Paley Center for Media, at the DOLBY THEATRE on March 18, 2018 in Hollywood, California. © Brian To for the Paley Center
The first question everyone was asked was what their big break into the entertainment business was. For some, like Middleditch and Nanjiani, it was this show. On the other hand, Judge had his work, the animated Office Space, shown on Night After Night With Allan Harvey and Berg had a writing gig on a little show called Seinfeld. Starr also began in TV on Freaks and Geeks. The last two, Crew and Woods, broke out in movies with Charlie St. Cloud and In the Loop respectively.
Judge then discussed how he created the show to explore the dynamic of these multi-millionaire tech giants in Northern California, who were introverts and had difficulties interacting with others socially. He was particularly inspired by a Rolling Stone article on Paul Allen.
The show’s co-creator also brought up his surprise when people talked about the gender and race disparity in their portrayal of the industry. He never faced any sensitivity on his 13 seasons of King of the Hill, but perhaps it was a different time. Berg added how the show attended TechCrunch Disrupt and shot actual crowd footage that was incorporated into episodes. Later, he was confronted by a friend who complained about the inaccuracies of the scenes due to the lack of women shown at the conference.
Silicon Valley tries to be as photoreal as possible and thus requires a lot research and working closely with consultants. There can be stuff that the writers really like, but the consultants say would be just wrong, so they can experience lots of constraints. However, there is some payoff as many tech people have commented how they love the show and its authenticity.
As they delved into the industry and interacted with the workers, it lead them in frightening directions. A more serious conversation occurred about ethics. While visiting Amazon, Berg had heard rumors about how Alexa transcribed its users lives and in a sense was bugging people’s houses. The engineers quickly quashed the idea saying they would never do such a thing, not because it was wrong, but because it would be bad for business. These developers were more focused on the novelty of things rather than the morality. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.
The two creatives also talked about the process of phasing out main character Erlich Bachman, for Season Five. Though the circumstances were different, Judge and Berg faced a similar situation between the first and second season when Christopher Evan Welch passed away. Back then, they learned what they needed to do for a smooth transition. They felt this was a good time to write off the character from the show. They found it harder and harder to incorporate Erlich organically since he wasn’t working at the company.

HOLLYWOOD, CA – MARCH 18 (L-R): Co-Creator/Showrunner/EP Mike Judge, Thomas Middleditch, and Zach Woods attend PaleyFest LA 2018 honoring Silicon Valley, presented by The Paley Center for Media, at the DOLBY THEATRE on March 18, 2018 in Hollywood, California. © Michael Bulbenko for the Paley Center
On a lighter note, some of the actors chatted about their characters. Woods sees his Jared as a mother who slaves away in the kitchen to provide a good meal for her family, but then would take her food and eat it over the sink. Crew spoke how Monica is a rarity on television. A woman on a show whose purpose isn’t to be the eye candy or the love interest. She’s another member of the team working hard to make Pied Piper successful and doesn’t need to have romantic relations with her coworkers.
When shooting scenes, sometimes the cast are given liberty to improvise lines. Woods is pretty adept at this and can come up with so many great ones, they can’t all make the final version.  Those that do get cut, help guide the writers as they often come back to them later. Judge and Berg teased that we’ll see more of the normally optimistic and selfless Jared’s dark past this upcoming season.
Finally came the audience Q & A and the panelists were asked many hypothetical situations. If Judge’s Beavis and Butthead were to create an app, they would probably make something close to Big Head’s Nip Alert app. If a Silicon Valley prequel were to be made, Judge would want to explore Jared’s horrible childhood while Berg would look at the past relationship between Peter Gregory and Gavin Belson. Though they have referenced their connection in some episodes, they never really pursued it due to Welch’s passing. For those worried about the show, Judge dispelled the rumors that season six would be the last, but he was unsure when it would actually end.

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