Hollywood producers like Aaron Sorkin, Kyle Killen, and Mike Judge all have dedicated followings, but that doesn't always translate to success unless you find the right network to support the project. For Judge and HBO (a subsidiary of Time Warner (NYSE:TWX.DL)), Silicon Valley has been a big success. As the series prepares to wrap its first season tonight, it's important to recognize why it's been a big win for both sides.
Many people think of HBO for its top-tier Emmy winning dramas. But the premium heavyweight also has had a lot of success with comedies ranging from the very beginning with The Larry Sanders Show to more recently with Veep.
The problem is that the network hasn't had as much luck in producing hits for that category for the past few years. In fact, if you look at HBO's recent new comic offerings there's nothing funny about it or the ratings the group has produced. Granted this is HBO and they operate on a subscriber business model so ratings don't apply to the same level. But you still want to program shows people will actually watch.
Silicon Valley though represented a giant shift in that paradigm for HBO and it came at just the right time. With the network so focused on dramas and the exiting trio of True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, and The Newsroom, it needed something big to pop organically on the comedy side. The show has been a breath of fresh air for HBO -- paired with the dominating Game of Thrones and Emmy darling Veep, the network's had it most appealing Sunday lineup in a long time.
After bowing to 1.9 million viewers (HBO's best performing rookie comedy premiere since 2009's Hung), Valley suffered a noticeable second week swoon (among live viewing) only to see most of that audience return weeks later before balancing out. It also attracts more affluent viewers, many of who are in the tech industry in which the series is set.
One explanation for that spike could be HBO giving the show an early renewal after just a few episodes. While HBO is one of the better networks in terms of giving its shows a real chance to survive, this is still a culture of trigger-happy executives that has produced gun-shy viewers.
It's hard to gain audiences' trust no matter what your network's track record. What these numbers show though is that Valley could be a series that will bring HBO new subscribers and at a time where the network really needs them.
Silicon Valley could have easily joined the laundry list of flops that came before it. So why did it do so well? Some of the credit could go to having Game of Thrones as its lead-in, but a lot of it should also go to the genius of creator Mike Judge.
Best known for his work on MTV's Beavis & Butthead and Fox's King of the Hill, Judge's comic style has never really been able to translate to the big screen. While Office Space and Idiocracy are cult favorites, both under-performed at the box office and his most recent film Extract just bombed altogether. Still his fans are loyal and his return to the medium that made him famous was welcomed.
A programmer in his pre-Hollywood days, Judge drew upon that experience to craft the series about a group of friends working on a tech start-up, and as a result Valley's also been picking up props for its realism. While there will always be naysayers and people who believe TV can never truly nail the real-life aspect of any job or experience, Valley's gotten more right than it has wrong, according to many experts including Kurt Wagner at Mashable, who said it best when he wrote "for those in tech in the Bay Area, Silicon Valley doesn't just hit home — it is home."
It's also found a home with TV critics who have for the most part fallen in love with its well casted ensemble. Just the other week the Broadcast Television Journalists Association rewarded the series with three Critics Choice Award nominations and many are already suggesting it could even break into the Emmy race next month. In any case Valley is already a winner for HBO and that's something to celebrate.