Oct 10

Bloomberg tells a good story

After watching Bloomberg’s documentary on Steve Jobs last week (Episode 2 of their Game Changers series), I couldn’t help but think: why hasn’t anyone done this before?

Probably no business figure has been more analyzed, idolized and criticized than Steve. Yet — one tacky made-for-TV movie aside — no one’s really told the Steve Jobs story in broadcast before.

So how’d they do? Pretty good, actually. The show is not a hatchet job, nor is it all glowing. It’s a well-constructed reflection of reality.

Only two problems with this production, and they are more the nature of the beast than anything you can blame on Bloomberg. First, it’s a big story to fit in 47 minutes. Some important moments are either given short shrift or are missing entirely. Second, some of the most qualified and fascinating witnesses weren’t called to the stand. This, of course, is because they’re not allowed to talk. They still work at Apple.

The show follows Steve’s path from starting Apple with Steve Wozniak, to launching Macintosh, founding NeXT, creating Pixar, and finally returning to Apple, where he’s created the triple i-revolutions of iPod, iPhone and iPad. We’re all so used to it, we may lose sight of what a remarkable story it is.

John Sculley has an interesting point of view, since he was key to forcing Jobs out of Apple. In hindsight, he believes that casting Steve out was a terrible mistake. Though it may be blasphemy to suggest, things probably worked out for the best just the way they happened. It’s easy to appreciate how all of us — Steve included — benefitted by the experience, however painful it might have been.

Wozniak’s story was interesting and relevant. But the film stays away from one who was unceremoniously cast aside: the hapless Gil Amelio. Last we heard, Gil was still sticking to his story, and it would have been interesting to hear if the years have changed his view.

Likewise, it would have been interesting to hear from Jon Rubenstein, Steve’s hardware chief at NeXT and Apple, who went on to lead Palm. He had his ups and downs with Steve, and his thoughts would have been revealing.

It was because few of the actual participants were available for comment that Bloomberg had to rely more on known observers of the Apple world. Guy Kawasaki, who hasn’t worked at Apple for eons, is engagingly insightful. The authors and journalists called upon to testify had good points to add, but only as observers.

Considering that the show runs only 47 minutes, it somehow manages to hit a great many of the key stages in Steve’s life, from the beginnings of Apple right up to today. Bloomberg deserves credit for creating a documentary that provides a pretty good view of the man who has shaped so much of the technology we use today.

It’s fascinating to see some of the old footage, including the Apple I and the original mouse (yikes). How far we’ve come. Far more important, it was interesting to see just how far into his career Steve showed up wearing a tie.

One thing the show does not emphasize may be one of the most fascinating bits of all. It’s the fact that Steve somehow managed to lead Pixar in its most exciting days at the same time he was leading the renaissance at Apple. He split his work week between the two companies and created revolutions at both. Simply extraordinary.

One could quibble over the short shrift given NeXT, whose technology was critical to Apple’s resurgence, and the Apple Stores’ important role in Apple’s mega-success. At the time, the expensive move into retail was considered high-risk — yet that move continues to fuel Apple’s stellar performance.

Hats off to Brian Knappenberger and his team at Bloomberg for a job well done. I’m proud to have participated in the production by telling a small part of the story.

See the Steve Jobs episode of Game Changers here.

  • Is it ironic that the video doesn’t play in Safari or an iPad/iPhone?

    Had to open Firefox just to view.

  • Scott

    I enjoyed the show very much. Have it recorded on my Tivo for future viewing as well. It was a very well rounded production with some insight I hadn’t heard before. Not to suck up Ken, but I thought your contribution to the show was great!

  • Ken, you did a fantastic job in the documentary! :)

  • Cory

    I enjoyed it in Safari right where is suppose to be viewed… try installing http://perian.org/

  • Great work indeed, and great to see you as a part of it, Ken.

  • ken segall

    Thanks, all. It was a fun experience, and the Bloomberg people were all first-class. A special thanks to the editors, who somehow managed to make me sound coherent :)