Alphabet’s ‘Moonshot’ Chief Walks Out on ‘Silicon Valley’ Writers: Report

Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit - Day 1
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 08: Entrepreneur, scientist and author Astro Teller speaks onstage during “Slingshots and Moonshots” at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on October 8, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for Vanity Fair)
Photograph by Kimberly White—Getty Images for Vanity Fair

Astro Teller, the head of X, Alphabet’s “moonshot” lab where it tries to invent “breakthrough technology,” has a major issue with popular television series Silicon Valley, according to a new report.

The New Yorker this week published a story on Silicon Valley and how it’s able to capture the characters and culture in the real-world Silicon Valley. In a lengthy interview, the show’s creators and writers said that they often meet with people working in the Valley and use what they glean from those conversations for their show. In the vast majority of cases, those people are happy to even be a part of the show. But Astro Teller was a different story.

According to The New Yorker, six Silicon Valley writers met with Astro Teller in a conference room at X. Immediately, writer Carrie Kemper said the meeting was “uncomfortable.” Based on Kemper’s recollection of the events, Teller said that he had never seen the show, only to recite back specific items that might have taken potshots at his team through HoolyXYZ, the “moonshot factory” the show’s writers created to mimic X, which was formerly known as Google X. He was noticeably displeased with the show, Kemper recalls, and took the opportunity to meet with the writers to tell them so.

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“His message was, ‘We don’t do stupid things here. We do things that actually are going to change the world, whether you choose to make fun of that or not,’ ” Kemper told The New Yorker.

The New Yorker added that Teller left the room “in a huff.” But he had trouble getting out in part because he was wearing Rollerblades to the meeting.

“Then there was this awkward moment of him fumbling with his I.D. badge, trying to get the door to open,” Kemper said in the interview. “It felt like it lasted an hour. We were all trying not to laugh.”

Initially, Google didn’t dispute the account in the New Yorker article. It merely joked in a statement that “we believe in the power of compression to make the world a better place” and that “X even hired Pied Piper’s CEO away between seasons.”

But as the news about the apparent bad blood at the meeting spread, Google’s public relations provided a second statement that challenged The New Yorker‘s version of events.

“While Astro happily confirms an occasional lack of grace on his Rollerblades, he remembers this meeting very differently and it ended perfectly amicably,” Google said. “The New Yorker‘s account of things is incorrect.”

Silicon Valley has quickly become a hit HBO show, depicting the lives of young engineers trying to build a startup known as Pied Piper. The show has a decidedly irreverent tone, often poking fun at Silicon Valley, the companies in it, and its unorthodox culture.

Google has been the target of many Silicon Valley jokes, thanks to the show’s creation of Hooli, a big, brooding company based on the search giant. In the past, Google employees have laughed off the fun, realizing it’s all a joke.

But Teller, whose official title is “Captain of Moonshots,” apparently doesn’t believe that poking fun at Google, or perhaps more specifically, X, is a laughing matter. Indeed, he seems fully committed to X’s mission to create “moonshots,” and told Fortune in an interview in 2014 that he considers three factors when he decides to shoot for the moon: whether the problem is big enough, whether there is a radical solution to the problem, and that it’s actually solvable.

For more on X, watch:

The secretive laboratory has worked on decidedly important things, including Project Loon, an air balloon-based system that would deliver Internet to parts of the world where connectivity isn’t available. The division is also working on clean energy, life sciences, and more. It’s also home to the company’s self-driving car and likely many other things it hasn’t yet revealed. And like Teller, the team takes its job seriously.

“We’re makers, engineers, and scientists with deep technical expertise who’ve come to X to bring our creations out of the lab and into the real world,” X writes on its homepage. “And we love the challenge of the seemingly impossible and the potential to have an impact on millions of people’s lives.”

Most impressively, Teller can apparently do all that in Rollerblades.

Update 06/10/16, 1:15 p.m. ET: Added X spokesperson’s statement. Update 06/10/16, 3:29 p.m. ET: Added Google’s second comment.

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