AMC’s new series “Halt and Catch Fire” is set at a technology company in 1983, in the early days of personal computing. At the time, you were as likely to plug a computer into your TV to use it as not, but the show’s three central characters (played by Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy and Mackenzie Davis) have a vision to make something smaller and better.
As it happens, most of the show’s cast, along with co-creators Chris Cantwell and Chris Rogers, were kids or teenagers during the era the show depicts. So in a round of interviews, Zap2it asked everyone for their first memories of a computer in their homes. Here’s what they had to say.
Lee Pace (salesman/visionary Joe McMillan): “I’ve got this great picture of my mother that my dad sent me behind an Osborne … which was one of the first portable computers. It weighed 28 pounds and was like that big [mimes the size of a briefcase], and it had this keyboard that would flip down from the terminal and a couple of disk drives. It could do very few things. The picture of my mom, she’s got a code book opened up and is inputting code to get the computer to do some rudimentary task.
“My mom was convinced that it was a fad and a waste of money … but now she’s got an iPhone like everyone else. I get about 20 texts a day from her. … Personally it was video games. Video games played such a fascinating role in the advent of the personal computer. It was one of the first times technology found its way into people’s homes. In my generation … you kind of grew up with those computers — playing video games turned into doing your documents for school on a word-processing program.”
Scoot McNairy (frustrated engineer Gordon Clark): “It was a word processor. My dad had an IBM, for sure. But I feel like he had an IBM typewriter, you know? … He got this word processor, I don’t remember the company, but it had a digital screen. All it was, was something you could type on it and it would be digital, and it was a typewriter in the back — you’d put the paper in and it would print whatever you typed. But it didn’t have any other functions other than maybe spell-check.”
Kerry Bishe (Gordon’s wife and fellow engineer Donna Clark): “I remember Oregon Trail — do you remember that? — and Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? and all those floppy discs loading. I also remember my grandma had an Atari. Pong [was] my first video-game experience.”
Toby Huss (Joe’s boss John Bosworth): “The Husses didn’t have a computer. We got a color TV in the late ’70s, and it went against so much of what my father believed. Not ethically, he didn’t really have a problem [with computers]. He had a problem with, I think, lazy, worthless children he was raising, to a certain extent, and encouraging that laziness with an even prettier thing to look at.
“… I do remember my friend’s father who taught at the community college in my hometown. He got a computer and we dinked around on that for a while at his home. And it must have been over some phone line — we jiggered the phone up so we called Germany and heard a German guy talking over the computer, or over the phone, something. It was really mind-bending that we were sitting in Marshalltown, Iowa — we didn’t know anybody in a foreign land. Then to hear a German guy’s voice was pretty crazy.”
Chris Cantwell: “I think we had a Tandy 286. My dad brought it home, and I would play Slalom on it, which was just made with text graphics [laughs]. It was in the guest room where my grandmother would stay when she visited us.”
Chris Rogers: “I believe we had a Commodore. I remember going to my dad’s work and playing Donkey Kong on my dad’s secretary’s computer and being like, ‘This is the coolest. Why would you ever not want to be at work when you can do this?'”
“Halt and Catch Fire” premieres at 10 p.m. ET/PT Sunday (June 1) on AMC.