Triumph of the Nerds: The Crazy Story Behind the Lost Steve Jobs Interview

Triumph of the Nerds: The Crazy Story Behind the Lost Steve Jobs Interview

It was almost like fate. A 70-minute-long interview with Apple founder Steve Jobs, thought to be lost for 16 years, resurfaces magically just days after the personal computer pioneer's October 5 death from pancreatic cancer. Now that interview, recorded in 1995 as part of a three-part British television series on the advent of personal computing, will screen at the Landmark River Oaks Theatre on November 16 and 17.

The film shows Jobs, much younger and with long dark hair, bashing Microsoft and his former company Apple, which was on the verge of bankruptcy, talking about the Internet as the big new thing in technology, and discussing his own work with NeXT, the company he founded after his ouster from Apple.

The interview was recorded 18 months before Jobs's return to Apple. It was recorded before the Internet was a household staple, before the iMac, iPod, iTunes, iPhone and pretty much everything else one thinks of when they think of Apple.

"It's a snapshot in time," says journalist Robert Cringley, who conducted the interview.

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The story of the lost tape could almost be a movie unto itself.

Cringley had gained fame for a book he'd written in the early '90s called Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can't Get a Date, about the advent of the personal computer. The book became a bestseller, which led to a deal with British television to produce a three-part documentary called "Triumph of the Nerds."

Cringely conducted hours of interviews, 125 of them in all, with various movies and shakers in the personal computer industry. Episode 2 of the series dealt with Compaq in Houston. Episode 3 featured nine minutes of the Jobs interview.

The series was a smash, and was later screened on PBS in the United States. In 1998, Cringely had the idea to do a sequel, and so the original 125 interview tapes were shipped from London to Portland, where they would be edited into the new series. The only trouble? The tapes never arrived.

"Everything was lost," Cringely said. "We had to start from scratch."

Fast forward to early October 2011. Upon hearing of Steve Job's death, Paul Sen, director of the original British series, thinks to himself, I sure would like to rematch that 70-minute Jobs interview from 1995. So he goes out to the garage of his home in the UK and finds the VHS copy of the original interview tape -- the only copy of any of the interviews to survive, and a copy no one but Sen knew existed.

"He'd dubbed it for his own pleasure," Cringely said. "This interview stood out to him. In 16 years, it had never been moved. It had never been viewed."

A few days later, Sen contacted Cringely with the idea of sharing the tape on Cringley's blog, which has half a million readers. But Cringely had a better idea.

"I said, there are better ways to exploit this."

So he called acquaintance Mark Cuban, who owns Landmark Theaters.

Now the full 70-minute interview, cleaned up from that one remaining VHS copy, will be screened in 20 cities as a limited engagement. Cringley said the interview feels especially historic knowing what we do about Jobs' career in the 16 years that followed.

"He was running NeXT, and NeXT was in trouble," Cringley said. "He talks about how Apple was slowly dying. It's not just that he says all this. You really get to sit with Steve for an hour.

"He talks about the Internet like it's the next big thing," Cringely said. "Out of 125 interviews, this was the only interview where the sound man said 'I just watched history.'

"If you watch it now knowing what happens, it's like a whole different interview. Little did we know. I thought he was a failure at the time."

Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview screens at 7:15 p.m. and 9 p.m. November 16 and 17 at the Landmark River Oaks Theatre.


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