Created by Chris Cantwell and Chris Rogers, with Jonathan Lisco (“Southland”) as show runner, AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire,” a 10-episode drama premiering at 10 tonight about the early days of the personal computer business in the 1980s, previewed its pilot in March in Austin, Texas, at South by Southwest, a former music festival that’s become equally well known as a mecca for the latest in entertainment and especially tech.
It was a swing for the fences, and it connected big.
None other than Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak moderated the post-screening panel. An article at TheNextWeb.com said he praised the show’s accuracy and look and said, “I give this show a 10, and that’s so rare for me.”
Said Lisco: “We did nothing that I know of to get the thumbs-up from the Woz. The Woz came in as an invited guest to moderate this panel at South by Southwest. I spent 30 minutes with him behind stage.
“Then he came on, and he asked a bunch of great questions. By the time it was over, of his own accord, at least in my perception, he said, ‘I love this show.’ ”
He pops up at Cardiff Electric in Texas, where he talks his way past boss John Bosworth (Toby Huss) and then enlists the help of frustrated genius engineer Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy) to reverse-engineer IBM’s processor and create a PC clone.
Caught legally between IBM and a hard place, Bosworth has to back MacMillan’s play. MacMillan then recruits maverick programming prodigy Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) to help complete the project.
Along with his enigmatic disappearance, MacMillan also has a fierce internal drive, combined with a certain amount of charisma, but less than his share of personal charm. According to Lisco, resemblances to Steve Jobs are mostly coincidental.
“Chris Cantwell’s father,” he said, “was a salesman related to this business. (Cantwell and Rogers) both had a very organic interest in doing something set during this time, which would in some way be a fictionalized account of the genesis of the personal computing business.
“We didn’t choose to biographize a specific character. Actually it’s kind of wonderful, because that way we get to use fiction to illuminate, we hope, a deeper truth and create very specific characters, which allows us to have a lot of fun.
“And when I say ‘something bigger,’ I mean capital S, capital B.”
“He’s that guy in the real world. He does take risks, but he fails, too. He makes mistakes, misjudgments. Things happen to him that he is unprepared to deal with. He’s not that powerful guy.”