Roots of in­ter­net un­fold in new way

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT - By Rick Bent­ley Rick Bent­ley is a Tri­bune News Ser­vice writer.

The Na­tional Geo­graphic chan­nel’s lim­ited series “Val­ley of the Boom,” which pre­miered Sun­day, Jan. 13, looks at three com­pa­nies whose founders wanted to change the world us­ing the new tech­nol­ogy of the in­ter­net: Netscape, which pi­o­neered the first com­mer­cial web browser, social net­work­ing site The­globe.com and the stream­ing video com­pany Pix­elon.

If all the pro­duc­tion did was tell the story of the three com­pa­nies, it would be lit­tle more than the kind of on­line re­search that can be done with a click or two. Series cre­ator Matthew Car­na­han (“House of Lies”) takes the pro­duc­tion to a dif­fer­ent level by us­ing a blend of nar­ra­tive de­vices and in­ter­views with the real sub­jects and ex­perts wo­ven into scripted drama. His tech­niques in­clude rap bat­tles, ac­tors talk­ing di­rectly to the cam­era, flash mobs, dream bal­lets and pup­pets.

Car­na­han was in­ter­ested in telling the story only if he could do it in this style.

“When I started dig­ging a lit­tle I said, ‘OK, I would like to do this, but I have to be able to just ruin your net­work. I have to be able to blow ev­ery­thing up. I have to be able to try at least to do some­thing as dis­rup­tive, at least try, to do some­thing as dis­rup­tive as the mak­ers and in­no­va­tors who started the in­ter­net and in­vented the browser and cre­ated social net­work­ing,’ ” Car­na­han says.

The style of “Val­ley of the Boom” was one of the main rea­sons Bradley Whit­ford (“The West Wing”) was at­tracted to play James Barks­dale, the pres­i­dent and CEO of Netscape from 1995 to 1999.

“When I say at­trac­tion, I mean fears,” Whit­ford says with a laugh. “I have never seen this form for tele­vi­sion and it is re­ally wild. Did I know this was go­ing to work? No. But I am com­pletely thrilled with it be­cause it is a com­pletely orig­i­nal way of telling a story about a sub­ject where these guys were do­ing some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent them­selves.

“It’s a fun and ap­pro­pri­ate way to do it.”

Ac­tors are of­ten more cau­tious when play­ing a role based on a real per­son be­cause of com­par­isons peo­ple will make. That con­cern was mag­ni­fied for Whit­ford be­cause of how the lim­ited series cuts from the ac­tors play­ing the ma­jor char­ac­ters to in­ter­views with the real peo­ple.

Doc­u­men­tary-style in­ter­views with Barks­dale, Mark Cuban, tech jour­nal­ist Dan Goodin, Netscape founder Jim Clark, and The­globe.com co­founders Stephan Pater­not and Todd Krizel­man are sprin­kled through the pro­duc­tion.

Whit­ford had to find a way to have fun play­ing Barks­dale with­out turn­ing the role into a car­i­ca­ture. Not sur­pris­ingly, the so­lu­tion came through re­search done on the in­ter­net.

“I could sat­u­rate my­self with in­for­ma­tion about Barks­dale. The more I watched, the more I got an idea of how the guy thinks,” Whit­ford says. “The only thing is that you have to be wise or you end up try­ing to do a lit­eral im­i­ta­tion.

“In the end, this was just fun to do. With this kind of sto­ry­telling, where you are break­ing con­ven­tions, makes it in­ter­est­ing be­cause that’s what these guys were do­ing. They were break­ing new ground in this crazy world we live in.”

One of the ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers of the show is Ari­anna Huff­in­g­ton, who has a ma­jor in­ter­est in the in­ter­net with her new com­pany Thrive Global. She’s fas­ci­nated by the im­pact the in­ter­net has on peo­ple’s lives and the un­in­tended con­se­quences of social me­dia’s ad­dic­tive na­ture.

The best way for Huff­in­g­ton to un­der­stand what is hap­pen­ing to­day is to ex­am­ine where it all be­gan.

“Go­ing back to this amaz­ingly ide­al­is­tic time, we are go­ing to see in the series a sense of tri­umph and there was no idea at all about the un­in­tended con­se­quences,” Huff­in­g­ton says.

She says the point of “Val­ley of the Boom” is to stress how im­por­tant it is for peo­ple to take back con­trol of the in­ter­net and use it as a tool for good.

“This is the time for us to de­cide that we need to pro­tect our hu­man­ity, we need to pro­tect the con­nec­tions that mat­ter to us rather than a lot of the er­satz con­nec­tions that the in­ter­net pro­vides. And that re­quires ac­tion. It re­quires, for some of us, in­clud­ing my­self, turn­ing off all no­ti­fi­ca­tions,” Huff­in­g­ton says. “I don’t re­ally care if you started fol­low­ing me on In­sta­gram. I don’t frankly care what Pres­i­dent Trump just tweeted.

“It’s a re­ally im­por­tant ex­is­ten­tial mo­ment, our at­ten­tion, our time, which is re­ally our lives, have been hi­jacked. This is the third stage of the in­ter­net. And all that was not in sight dur­ing the first stage of the in­ter­net.”

Ed Araquel / Na­tional Geo­graphic

Dakota Shapiro (left) as Stephan Pater­not and Oliver Cooper as Todd Krizel­man, co-founders of The­globe.com, in an in­trigu­ing nar­ra­tive about the early days of the in­ter­net.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.