Why We Can't Stop Watching TV Shows About Failed Tech CEOs

4 min read|Mar 15, 2022|fbtwitteremail

If you turned on your TV in 2022, then you probably noticed a new subgenre: shows about the rise and fall of some of the biggest tech founders. The latest one, "WeCrashed,'' premieres on Apple TV+ on March 18. (More on that in a sec.) So we're Skimm'ng the real-life drama that’s taking the small screen — and why it’s grabbing everyone’s attention.

The Newest TV Shows About Silicon Valley’s Failed CEOs

Tech startups have given us everything from food delivery apps to opportunities to find an SO to electric cars. Some of them have also given us TV show plotlines. Here are the latest shows to catch up on… 

"WeCrashed”

This one follows the success story that WeWork was…and then wasn’t. Jared Leto plays founder Adam Neumann, who turned some co-working spaces into a company once worth $47 billion. But then lost nearly $40 billion within a year. The show also tells Neumaan’s love story with his wife Rebekah Neumann, played by Anne Hathaway.

“The Dropout”

The mini-series premiered on March 3 on Hulu. And tells the story of Elizabeth Holmes (played by Amanda Seyfried) and her failed health tech startup Theranos (a blood testing company). From dropping out of Stanford and becoming a self-made billionaire…to being convicted of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud.

“Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber”

This limited series premiered on Showtime on Feb. 27. It follows Uber founder Travis Kalanick (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he turned his ride-sharing start-up into a multi-billion-dollar company. And eventually resigned as CEO after multiple controversies. Kyle Chandler and Uma Thurman are also in it.

Why Everyone’s Obsessed With Stories About Failed Tech Founders

Lots of viewers are Super Pumped about these shows. So our "Skimm This" podcast team talked to Kathryn VanArendonk, a critic for Vulture and New York Magazine, about why production companies are taking on these stories. She said that part of the obsession is the fact that we live in a world where tech dominates our lives.

"The last probably five to 10 years has been a slow discovery for a lot of Americans that tech companies have taken over their lives in ways that maybe they did not previously appreciate,” VanArendonk said. “We have had so many incredibly massive changes in the way that we live our daily lives because of [these] companies. I mean, how many people have taken an Uber, which was something that did not exist a very short period of time ago."

These stories have another thing in common too: Each founder had to do something — at the very least shady and at the very most illegal — to get people to believe in their company. And by putting this morally questionable behavior on blast, VanArendonk believes these shows might impact how we think about “founder culture” and tech companies. And how we hold them accountable. 

“The more you have more of these examples, the more this becomes a kind of story that we are familiar with: a figure that is universally recognized, a kind of scam that we can point to and say, ‘oh, that's just like this other thing,’” she explained. "And so we grow more familiar with the dangers, the warning signs, the potential concerns with like one dude who can swear he can disrupt old industries.”

But VanArendonk said it’s too soon to tell what type of impact these stories will have on the industry. “It's a little early to say whether this kind of genre is going to have that same impact that say television did on gay marriage or even race integration, which has been a really key element of how America has understood itself over the last century…But the way that we're so fascinated by these right now, it makes me feel like they probably will have some staying power for us.”

theSkimm

Everyone loves a good TV drama. Especially when it's based on true events. And follows an industry that's taken over our daily lives. But these shows highlight how Silicon Valley needs to take action to prevent similar situations from happening again in the future.

PS: For more on our conversation with Kathryn VanArendonk, listen to our “Skimm This” episode.

Skimm'd by Hannah Parker, Alex Carr, and Maria McCallen


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