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From Tech News to 'Silicon Valley': An Interview with Writer Dan Lyons

Adam Banner - Thursday, July 23, 2015

Dan Lyons

I love damn near everything Mike Judge creates. His work has a certain blend of college-humor mixed with social commentary...and it speaks to a special part of me. His cartoons are great, and his movies are enjoyable, so I have no real excuse for prolonging my binge-session of his new(est) project Silicon Valley. Much like other forms of media my friends suggest to me, I staved off watching the show in an abundance of caution due to how great it supposedly was.

Part rebel and part ass, I have a flair for failing to listen to my friend’s suggestions. I guess I don't want to ruin the expectation; however, after watching the first episode of the HBO series, I was hooked. Silicon Valley has a hilarious cast of characters, and a plot many young (and old) professionals can relate to. The Trials and tribulations of a new start-up company is refreshing to anyone who has lived (or is living) that reality. As an added bonus, the writing talent Mr. Judge has secured is absolutely top notch.

Recently, the show added a light dose of legalese to the second season. Without giving too much away, there is a bit of an intellectual-property battle in season two, and the boys at Pied Piper find themselves involved in a binding arbitration lawsuit (and subsequent hearing) as a result. Columnist Dan Lyons penned an episode leading up to the hearing. He is an author and a news writer who has worked for some heavy hitters, such as Newsweek, and as a senior editor at Forbes. However, his writing is not limited to news. He is a novelist, a short story author, and a blogger. Among his most famous works is the fictional biography Options: The Secret Life of Steve Jobs, a Parody, which spawned “Fake Steve Jobs” who penned the parody blog The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs.

Mr. Lyons calls his shift from news writing to Hollywood “very uncommon.” Maybe it should become more common though, as the results were highly entertaining.

I had the privilege of asking Dan Lyons about his work with Silicon Valley.   

You have an impressive writing background. What made you interested in writing for an HBO show?

HBO called me kind of out of the blue. But in 2010 I developed a show for the Epix cable network, called Icon, which was based on my Fake Steve Jobs blog and book. The show never got made, but the scripts were floating around in Hollywood. The people who run Silicon Valley saw them and wanted to hire me.

In binding arbitration, two parties in dispute submit that dispute to a neutral party who hears both sides and reaches a decision to which the parties must adhere. Although an arbitration agreement takes the place of a trial before a judge, it is often still enforceable in court. In regard to Silicon Valley, what inspired the “Binding Arbitration” episode?

The best guy to ask would be the head writer on the show, Alec Berg. But my two cents was that the idea mostly came from the need to resolve things quickly, from a plot perspective. We could not have a long drawn-out trial -- or, we could have, but it would not be funny. So once we had set up that there would be a lawsuit filed, then we needed a way to resolve it. One way would be to have the 2 sides settle, and we might have wrung some comedy out of that. But in the end the binding arbitration idea gave us a way to end that plot line and resolve the story without wasting too much time on it.

Did you and your co-writers consult with any lawyers regarding the accuracy of the arbitration scene?

A consultant on the show interviewed some attorneys, asking them for ideas on how this could play out in real life. Although he talked to lawyers about binding arbitration, the comedy writers took a lot of liberties.

I mentioned to Lyons that the Silicon Valley storyline seems to be leading to many future legal wranglings, and asked if he could give us any hints about what is in store for season 3. However, Lyons says he isn’t working on season 3, so he doesn’t know what to expect. From a fan’s perspective, he hopes future episodes give us more Erlich, saying, “I can never get enough of him!”


Indeed, we all need a little more of Erlich the anti-hero in our lives. This interview with Dan Lyons further cemented my endearment for the series. The creators and writers didn't try and get outside of their expertise (laughs) and drag the show through too much uncharted territory (law). In Oklahoma and many other states, you don't even need lawyers for an arbitration hearing, and the show takes an interesting spin on that aspect, and it was the perfect vehicle to add a legal angle without getting too technical. I doubt the legal undertones will complete resolve themselves, but hopefully Silicon Valley will keep them in similar small doses. Do yourself a favor and catch up on HBO's Silicon Valley before the new season hits. 






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