Reality show rankles some in Silicon Valley

  • By Jessica Guynn Los Angeles Times
  • Monday, November 5, 2012 4:31pm
  • Life

It was only a matter of time before reality show producers trained their cameras on Silicon Valley.

High-tech’s promised land has money, power and more ambition per square foot than just about anywhere on the planet.

“Start-ups: Silicon Valley” is a new series chronicling the lives of six young entrepreneurs that debuted on the Bravo network Monday. It airs at 10 p.m.

But tech insiders here are fuming that the reality show is more silicone than silicon.

Unlike New Jersey, which has embraced the tequila-chugging, spray-tan zeitgeist of Snooki and the “Jersey Shore” gang, or Southern California, where every waiter is a reality-show wannabe, Silicon Valley takes itself seriously.

Previews that showed the telegenic “Start-ups” cast cavorting in nightclubs and at toga parties have some people cringing.

“Here Comes Silicon Valley Boo Boo,” snarked TechCrunch co-editor Alexia Tsotsis.

“It is quite literally making us look like ‘The Jersey Shore,’ only without the tans,” raged Silicon Valley blogger Sarah Lacy.

What made Lacy even madder: This wasn’t just entertainment industry types, looking to make a quick buck, but also a connected Silicon Valley insider.

Randi Zuckerberg, Mark Zuckerberg’s sister and an early Facebook Inc. employee, signed on to the show as an executive producer. Now she’s taking heat for selling out Silicon Valley to Hollywood.

Zuckerberg says she’s not surprised at the prickly reaction. “This is the first show that has flung open the doors of this community that tends to be very insular,” she said.

Her message to critics: Lighten up already. It’s cable TV, not a PBS documentary, Zuckerberg said. Viewers expect over-the-top drama; otherwise they wouldn’t tune in. But that doesn’t mean the show can’t inform and inspire, she said.

She promises a mix of the high-tech drama that comes from the tough business of building a start-up from scratch and the claw-your-eyes-out drama that has made rich housewives and master chefs so popular in prime time.

“At the end of the day, we want to make great TV,” Zuckerberg said.

The reality-show formula calls for beauty, style and colorful personalities, and “Start-ups” has all three in spades.

Cast member David Murray is a former Google Inc. employee who, at the ripe old age of 29, has had multiple plastic surgeries, including a hair transplant and a nose job. He moonlights as an opera singer.

Then there’s Sarah Austin, a 26-year-old blogger who provides much of the show’s tension by having a romantic dalliance with one cast member and a falling-out with the rest. Her diva cred was established in the first episode, when she’s shown staying at the Four Seasons hotel in East Palo Alto and ordering a room-service hamburger for her Maltese dog, named Juniper.

Still, the “Start-ups” members insist that they are no different from others who have come to the Bay Area to pursue the Silicon Valley dream, just luckier. More than 7,000 people tried out for the show.

Murray, a programmer who is gay, said he wanted to champion the cause of marriage equality and promote his app, which helps people develop more healthful habits. He insists that there’s far more reality in the Bravo series than skeptics think.

CNNMoney crowd-sourced a drinking game for the show that would have players swill the whole bottle when someone actually writes a line of code.

“They had better get ready to have their stomach pumped. I am coding all the time,” Murray said.

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