Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

New PBS Documentary Takes Another Look at Silicon Valley’s History

pbs-oldlogoIt’s kind of cool that the PBS documentary series “American Experience” has plans to air a film called “Silicon Valley” in February. I’ve always liked the series — “American Experience” was the platform through which such ponderous historical TV masterpieces as “The Civil War” and “Baseball” reached the screen. I’ll certainly see this new production before I see a minute of Bravo’s maligned reality series about the Valley.

Here’s the 30-second preview clip:

Watch Silicon Valley Preview on PBS. See more from American Experience.

It’s certainly not the first time that the documentarians of public television have sought to encapsulate for the mainstream audience the story of how the unique place that is Silicon Valley came to be what it is. The new film appears to cover some well-worn territory, mainly involving the creation of Fairchild Semiconductor by the “Traitorous Eight” who decamped from their prior employer, Shockley Semiconductor. Fairchild in turn would incubate numerous other companies that would become known as “Fairchildren,” including Intel and Advanced Micro Devices.

Nor is this offering the only public television effort seeking to do so: Another film, “Something Ventured,” on the history of venture capital, is airing as well.

The first time I saw the story of the “Traitorous Eight” brought to televisions was via another public television documentary, called “Transistorized!,” which covered the invention of the transistor in 1948 by John Bardeen, Walter Brattain and William Shockley. The transistor, as you know, led to the integrated circuit, which in turn led to what we now think of as chips, which gave us modern computing. You can see the first few minutes of it below; you can watch the whole thing in six parts here.

Nor was that even the first go at the history of the Valley by the public TV documentarians. In the mid-’90s there were two series, “Triumph of the Nerds” and “Nerds 2.0,” both narrated by Robert X. Cringley. The first of those was the purpose of the 1995 interview Cringely did with Apple’s late CEO Steve Jobs, which in turn became the basis for “Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview.” There are probably others, but I don’t know about them. Anyway, here’s the first few minutes of “Transistorized”:

Transistorized! from Gino Del Guercio on Vimeo.


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald