With parts of the Northeast still recovering from the devastation of super-storm Sandy and the presidential election less than a day away, you’d be forgiven for not giving too much thought to the premiere of Bravo’s Start-Ups: Silicon Valley, the entrepreneurship reality series debuting tonight at 10 p.m. EST.
If you are thinking about it, you’re probably the exact sort of tech entrepreneur or journalist featured in the show, to judge from some of the commentary greeting the Randi Zuckerberg-produced reality series. To critics like Pando Daily founder Sarah Lacy who think she’s sold out the Valley’s spirit for Bravo’s cameras, Zuckerberg wanted to make it clear that while Start-Ups may be glossy and a bit soapy, at its core, it shares the goals of the world it’s set in. "We’re doing a lot of the same things that the entrepreneurship community is doing," she told Co.Create before the show’s debut. "Talk about disrupting a community! I think a lot of people have no idea of the grueling hard work that goes into putting a show together, like creating a start-up."
Shown publicly for the first time at a premiere party in San Francisco on Sunday, the show has earned some blunt reviews from the tech press. The harshest may come from Bloomberg Businessweek's Sam Grobart, who wrote, "When I’m on my deathbed, I won’t be accepting of my demise. I’ll be angry because I’ll know there are 44 minutes owed to me from 2012, minutes lost to this sham of a show." After describing some of the players, Grobart wrote, "It’s not just that these people are terrible—terrible can be watchable. Villainy can be delightful. But this crew is like a six-pack of nonalcoholic beer: It’s lousy and doesn’t even get you drunk."
Drinking was also on the mind of Wired writer (and sometime Co.Create contributor) Hugh Hart, who describes the show’s cast as people who "look like supermodels, behave like fools and drink like fish." Somehow, he managed the tiniest of kudos, writing, "taken as a piece of stage-managed entertainment, has its moments."
TechCrunch didn’t even ask any of its writers to review the show, opting instead for a piece by Lynda Harrison, the mother of one of its contributors, who called the show "a weird amalgamation of Big Brother, Jersey Shore, and any high school on any day."
Harrison, whose review calls to mind Kristen Wiig’s cranky, clueless Aunt Linda on Saturday Night Live, harped on the good looks of the Start-Ups gang: "Does everyone in Silicon Valley look like Sarah Austin, Kim & Hermione? Are all the guys wasted and hung over like Dwight? Where are the Wozniaks and Jobses? I am absolutely sure there are smart plain or even ugly people who live and work there. Perhaps they are all kept in the basement hunched over their computers doing the hard work while the 'beautiful people’ have all the marketing and camera time."
The best headline goes to Slate’s Troy Patterson, whose review is titled "I’m Not Here to Make Friendster." His summary judgment, which absent its context could almost be used in a Bravo ad for the series: "This is a reality show of, by, and for Generation 2.0."
It’s unlikely that any of these barbs will actually hurt the show’s producer. As Zuckerberg told Co.Create last month, "I have really thick skin. I don’t really take anything personally." And with the reviews like those, she’d better not.
"I think a lot of people have no idea how hard it is to make a television show," she says. "A lot of people think, you know, Oh, Randi is just selling out doing reality. But, I mean, we have employed probably 50 people on this television show, which is probably far more people than those haters have employed," she said of the show’s advance criticism.
"All I want is for this premiere to be a critical success and so, in some ways, a lot of that controversy is some of the best marketing for the show. And if I have to be a little bit of a scapegoat, then that’s okay."