'Scorpion' season 2 exclusive: The real Walter O'Brien on TV adaptation, collaborations, show impact
February 21, 2016
Come Monday night there will be an all-new episode of "Scorpion" airing on CBS, but before that rolls around we have something to bring you that we consider to be a real treat: An in-depth interview with the man whose life made this show possible at all: Walter O'Brien. The real man behind Scorpion Computer Services, Inc. is at the forefront of solving a wide array of software and cyber-security problems, and in many ways he feels like the show is a platform to not just promote his company, but also to reach out and inspire many people who are either thinking about careers in science / technology fields or have extremely high levels of intellect. He's helped solve problems for a wide array of companies, and will continue to do so with his team for many years to come.
We conducted an email interview with O'Brien (who is also an executive producer on the show) recently about how his life has changed since the show began, what some of the collaboration process has been like, being involved in casting a TV version of himself, and a variety of other subjects.
CarterMatt - How has life changed for you and your business with the popularity of "Scorpion"?
Walter O'Brien - I understand and respect the Hollywood machine for how television series' are made from the inside out, far greater than I did when I was just watching them.
I am proud of and aware of the impact the Scorpion television show has had on the millions of viewers through the fan mail I receive. Much of the fan mail I get is from 12-year-old boys and girls who now want to grow up and study "STEM" subjects- and especially mathematics, computer science, and technology. The Scorpion television show has inspired them to pursue careers in the sciences, technology, cybersecurity, and medical forensics.
I learned how common is the issue of-and pain of-having a low emotional quotient or EQ. A low EQ affects many people's lives. It's to the point where people who explain that they self-identify with a low EQ tell me that if this phenomenon had been pointed out to them in their early years they would've changed their whole lives. For example, I get letters from 60-year-old geniuses who, for their whole life, worked in a garage or isolated themselves from others in a room at their workplace. And no one explained to them that they're missing EQ. Had they known, they would've put in the time to identify the issue and focus on compensating for their low EQ.
Acknowledging and identifying EQ deficits-and developing EQ-are a function of skill awareness. Not appreciating the importance of EQ is an issue for many more people than I thought. It is my hope that the issue of low EQ gets its place on the international stage, because addressing it might enable the world to harness much more of human intelligence to benefit the greater good. The impact will be felt by children, who are bullied in the schoolyard, as I and my friends were. It'll also impact the corporate misfit- who is "too smart for their own good"- working in Government or in a corporate office. We can expect more and get more contributions from these people if we are all aware of the impact of low EQ and develop skills to compensate for low EQ.
Last-what we at Scorpion Computer Services call our "sales cycle"-has shortened. There is a real Scorpion Computer Services, Inc., which is mentioned by its full name or evoked as "Team Scorpion" on the television show. At the real company, we provide products and services to companies and people that help them solve problems. For each potential customer we have a sales cycle-which just means a client doesn't typically call in with a problem and start a project on the same day. Instead, it used to take weeks or months to walk through and sell a possible solution to a problem.
The sales cycle at Scorpion Computer Services is different from what it used to be. People are calling us all the time with funded problems that range from business plans to cybersecurity to product development. By the time I meet them they know who we are and what we do. Our sales cycle is now:
" Yes, we are the real Scorpion Computer Services. Yes, we can solve any problem. How can we help? "
Our sales cycle is much shorter because the name recognition provided by the Scorpion television show. In turn, that means we can help more people because we spend more time working on solutions rather than helping them get more familiar with us as a firm. It's been good news, since our ultimate objective is to help as many people solve IT and security problems so they can focus on the work that they know best.
What was the process like working with CBS to make your life into a hit TV series?
The back story is that we needed more brilliant people, who are very hard to find. We also provide a service to the public through ConciergeUp.com, which allows the public to submit any funded problem. Instead of a simple "concierge" or what we call a "concierge down" to handle straight forward tasks, the ConciergeUp.com service is a rent-an-expert machine. Through ConciergeUp.com, people are able to rent the talent of some of the smartest people to solve problems. So we "Concierged Up" our own problem.
We asked ourselves: How do we find more people to work with us? We "Concierged Up" our own problem, and decided a television show would be the best approach to help us recruit talent over the long haul. In contrast, if we wrote a book not too many Millennials would read it. And a movie would be forgotten 6 months later, but a recurring TV show sticks and influences a whole new generation as CSI did.
But if we replaced CSI on air, showing geniuses who have low EQ, and we use the same name as the company and as the founder-and we open the show with the words "inspired by the true life of"-then we'll have people Googling us. Thus, the television show was born. As CBS' number-one rated show it has trumped CSI. And it shows Team Scorpion, which is inspired by an earlier version of the existing Scorpion Computer Services, Inc., with its geniuses, who in some cases have low EQ. It also shows, in detail, what we call Super nannies, or high EQ people, who liase between the high IQ consultants and Scorpion Computer Services' clients who come to us with funded problems.
Through the Scorpion television show we'll grow our own potential hires-people who now watch the show, and are inspired to learn programming, artificial intelligence, and computer science. And Scorpion Computer Services customers are reminded of us every Monday, when the show airs.
How did we get a new show on the air? We used our contacts to bring the story up with Scooter Braun, the number one music manager. Braun helped get the producers of Star Trek, Spider-man, and the writers of Prison Break and Hostages, as well as Justin Lin, director of the Fast and Furious series, and went to the number one network, CBS.
To help produce the story line, I generate story-line ideas by telling them about some of the problems we solved and how we solved them throughout the late eighties, nineties, and 2000s. From there, the script writers just run with it. I help the actors understand what they're saying when it came to the technical jargon. And everyone else worked their magic. Now in its second season and with up to 26 million viewers in total, the show speaks for itself.
"Scorpion" has taken some big risks with their story lines, something that not a lot of other procedural shows do: How involved are you in creating the stories on the show and are any of them based on real life experiences?
At the beginning of every season I give about fifty stories to the writers along with examples of cool gadgets and technology that we've either used or developed, to fashion MacGyver-type solutions. The solutions are grounded in reality. Examples can be found on YouTube here and here. (Author's note: We've also embedded them below.)
The other piece I give writers is the good, the bad, and ugly of how members of Team Scorpion learned to trust each other. I explain the high-IQ dynamic you commonly see among a group of technically minded people or engineers. I also show how the contractors with Scorpion Computer Services get "supernannied" by high-EQ consultants, also at Scorpion Computer Services. Those Supernannies are the great communicators between an engineering team or programmer and the client with the funded need. Those same dynamics apply to Team Scorpion, and aspects of those interpersonal dynamics make their way into the script of each Scorpion series television show.
I've also walked through with the script writers what happens when a genius goes wrong. We had a consultant with Scorpion Computer Services who we won't work with anymore because he kept going down a rabbit hole unrelated to completing the client's project.
Some of the departure from reality is due to time. Because the whole episode has to be told in 43 minutes, some of the science, and many of the more boring, slower activities- like hacking- have to be reduced to thirty seconds rather than thirty hours.
I was involved in the casting for the first season. It was all of us that chose who would play which character and be passable as a genius. In that regard, I found Elyes Gabel to be the most believable to play the part of a younger Walter O'Brien. Elyes came to me with very intelligent questions about how I would behave in certain situations, and ask about how I would interact, react or what I would say. He's done a tremendous job taking a relatively unemotional character and with the same voice he's been able to connect emotionally with the Scorpion audience.
With the main character being based on you and your life, we were curious if Happy, Toby, Sylvester or Cabe were based off of anyone from your life?
All of the characters are inspired by the real Scorpion Computer Services, Inc., and the characters portrayed on the television show were friends of Walter O'Brien. They all have special abilities that are typecast in the show. However, some of the characters depicted as men in the show are inspired by women, and some of the characters depicted as women in the show are inspired by men.
Elyes Gabel is doing a fantastic job on the show: Is his portrayal of you accurate and was it strange at first seeing someone playing you on TV?
Elyes was the most accurate of the people who auditioned to play me. He also asked the best questions and spent the most time trying to understand the character. It's a very difficult character to play because an actor needs to emotionally connect with the audience, and in this case, playing Walter O'Brien, the actor is not supposed to show emotions.
Walter O'Brien is supposed to be a nerd, but also a leader. Elyes did a very convincing job of trying to walk that line as both nerd and leader, and still be likable.
Was having a show based on your life something you ever aspired for or hoped to have happen?
No, If I always wanted to be famous I'd be in my show. What I did hope for was the creation of an inspiration for children and adults to want to be productive and contribute toward the greater good. And one way some of us can contribute is to inspire people through learning, computer science, and technology. Through the Scorpion television show we reach up to 26 million people each week. The television show, by design, brings with it the message that "being smart is cool", that "every problem has a solution" and that "it's okay to be different." Being persistent, divergent, and unconventional- and being willing to challenge conventional wisdom- is noble. I'm happy to be broadcasting these messages as a celebration of intelligence.
Is there anything you would like to see the show focus on or explore going forward into future seasons?
Like the real Scorpion Computer Services company, the show will grow and arc. As the Scorpion television show characters deal with more complex issues and discover other kinds of good and bad, I hope to see it become increasingly realistic and educational for all audiences. Among those, the characters might encounter complex interactions with multiple governments with the politics and moral dilemmas that accompany multi-party relationships. So the show might represent even more of the current real world that Scorpion Computer Services, Inc. operates in today.
Thanks once again to the real Walter O'Brien for providing so much insight into the making of the show, his role in it, and also how his company actually works, evolves, and functions. Hopefully some of you out there found this a fascinating window into the adaptation, and also some of the real problems that the team at Scorpion can fix.
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