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Halt and Catch Fire (TV series)

Halt and Catch Fire (TV series)

Halt and Catch Fire is an American period drama television series created by Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers. It aired on the cable network AMC in the United States from June 1, 2014, to October 14, 2017, spanning four seasons and 40 episodes.[1][2] Taking place over a period of more than ten years, the series depicts a fictional insider's view of the personal computer revolution of the 1980s and later the growth of the World Wide Web in the early 1990s.[3] The show's title refers to computer machine code instruction Halt and Catch Fire (HCF), the execution of which would cause the computer's central processing unit to stop working (catch fire was a humorous exaggeration).[4]

In season one, the company Cardiff Electric makes its first foray into personal computing, with entrepreneur Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace) running a project to build an IBM PC clone with the help of computer engineer Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy) and prodigy programmer Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis). Seasons two and three shift focus to a startup company, the online community Mutiny, that is headed by Cameron and Gordon's wife Donna (Kerry Bishé), while Joe ventures out on his own. The fourth and final season focuses on competing web search engines involving all the principal characters.

Halt and Catch Fire marked Cantwell's and Rogers's first jobs in television. They wrote the pilot hoping to use it to secure jobs as writers in the industry but instead landed a series of their own from AMC. The story was inspired by Cantwell's childhood in the Silicon Prairie of Dallas–Fort Worth, where his father worked as a software salesman, and the creators' subsequent research into Texas's role in personal computing innovations in the 1980s. Filmed in the Atlanta, Georgia, area and produced by the network, the series is set in the Silicon Prairie for its first two seasons and Silicon Valley for its latter two.[5][6] Though it experienced low viewership ratings throughout its run, Halt and Catch Fire debuted to generally favorable reviews and grew in acclaim in each season.

Halt and Catch Fire
GenrePeriod drama
Created byChristopher Cantwell
Christopher C. Rogers
  • Lee Pace
  • Scoot McNairy
  • Mackenzie Davis
  • Kerry Bishé
  • Toby Huss
  • Aleksa Palladino
Theme music composerTrentemøller
Composer(s)Paul Haslinger
Country of originUnited States
No.of seasons4
No.of episodes40(list of episodes)
  • Christopher Cantwell
  • Christopher C. Rogers
  • Jonathan Lisco
  • Mark Johnson
  • Melissa Bernstein
Production location(s)Atlanta, Georgia
  • Evans Brown
  • Nelson Cragg
  • Jeffrey Jur
Camera setupSingle-camera
Running time41–54 minutes
  • AMC Studios
  • Gran Via Productions
  • Lockjaw Productions
  • 320 Sycamore
Original networkAMC
Original releaseJune 1, 2014 (2014-06-01) –
October 14, 2017 (2017-10-14)
External links
Official website [216]

Cast and characters


Lee Pace portrayed Joe MacMillan, one of the series's protagonists.

Lee Pace portrayed Joe MacMillan, one of the series's protagonists.

  • Lee Pace as Joe MacMillan: a technology entrepreneur and former IBM sales executive, he joins Cardiff Electric, where he provides the impetus for the IBM clone. Later in the series, he initiates projects involving time-sharing, NSFNET, antivirus software, a web browser, and a search engine. He has limited technical expertise and has difficult relationships with other characters, including a complicated romantic relationship with Cameron Howe, and he is estranged from his parents.[7]

  • Scoot McNairy as Gordon Clark: a computer engineer selected by Joe MacMillan to build the IBM clone in the first season after Joe reads an article Gordon wrote on open architecture. Motivated by the failure of Symphonic, a computer he created with his wife Donna,[8] Gordon works with Joe to build the hardware for the new computer. He suffers from a degenerative brain disorder caused by toxic encephalopathy throughout the later seasons, and the breakdown of his marriage.[9]

  • Mackenzie Davis as Cameron Howe (born Catherine Howe): a technology prodigy who is recruited from a university by Joe MacMillan to write the BIOS for the IBM clone. She later forms her own gaming company, Mutiny, with Donna Clark, and creates Space Bike, a successful video game series for Atari.[10] Her father died in the Vietnam War and she has a difficult relationship with her mother.[7]

  • Kerry Bishé as Donna Clark (née Emerson): a computer engineer and Gordon's wife. She originally works for Texas Instruments before joining Mutiny to support Cameron.[11] After Mutiny, she becomes a partner in a top Silicon Valley venture capital firm. She is shown to put her own ambition above her relationships, particularly with Cameron.[12]

  • Toby Huss as John Bosworth: the senior vice president of Cardiff Electric who hires Joe. At the end of the first season, he is incarcerated for illegally funding the PC project. He is shown to be a good salesman, and in season two, he works for Mutiny. He sees himself as a father figure to Cameron Howe.[13]

  • Aleksa Palladino as Sara Wheeler (season two): a freelance journalist and Joe's girlfriend.


  • Morgan Hinkleman (seasons 1–3) and Kathryn Newton (seasons 3–4) as Joanie Clark

  • Alana Cavanaugh (seasons 1–3) and Susanna Skaggs (season 4) as Haley Clark

  • August Emerson as Malcolm "Lev" Levitan (seasons 1–3)

  • Cooper Andrews as Yo-Yo Engberk (seasons 1–3)

  • David Wilson Barnes as Dale Butler (seasons 1, 4)

  • Graham Beckel as Nathan Cardiff (seasons 1–2)

  • Annette O'Toole as Susan Emerson (seasons 1–2)

  • Mike Pniewski as Barry Shields (seasons 1–2)

  • Scott Michael Foster as Hunt Whitmarsh (season 1)

  • John Getz as Joe MacMillan, Sr. (season 1)

  • Bianca Malinowski as Debbie (season 1)

  • Mark O'Brien as Tom Rendon (seasons 2–4)

  • James Cromwell as Jacob Wheeler (season 2)

  • Annabeth Gish as Diane Gould (seasons 3–4)[14]

  • Manish Dayal as Ryan Ray (season 3)[15]

  • Matthew Lillard as Ken Diebold (season 3)[14]

  • Anna Chlumsky as Dr. Katie Herman (season 4)[16]

  • Molly Ephraim as Alexa Vonn (season 4)


Conception and development history

The original IBM Personal Computer. The real-life attempts to reverse engineer it inspired the series's pilot.

The original IBM Personal Computer. The real-life attempts to reverse engineer it inspired the series's pilot.

Halt and Catch Fire was created by Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers, who met while working at the Walt Disney Company. Cantwell's online movie company was acquired by Disney and he was moved into its marketing department, while Rogers was hired by Cantwell's team to manage Disney's editorial program for social media. After a year of working together, they learned that they had each graduated from screenwriting programs in college—Cantwell from the University of Southern California as an undergraduate student, and Rogers from the University of California, Los Angeles as a graduate student.[17] Rogers referred to Cantwell and himself as "dream-deferred writers".[18] In August 2010, they agreed to collaborate on screenwriting, and their first script, a pilot about the assassination of John F. Kennedy called The Knoll, appeared on the Black List of popular unproduced screenplays.[18][19] Their talent agents urged them to produce another script they could use as a staffing sample. Since the agents thought it was unlikely a network would option a script from first-time writers, their intent was to use the sample script to land them entry-level writing positions in the industry. The agents advised them to write something in which they were personally invested.[18]

As Cantwell and Rogers brainstormed for their staffing sample, Cantwell recalled his childhood.[18] In 1982, when Cantwell was just six weeks old, his father moved their family from Elgin, Illinois, to Plano, Texas, to take a job as a systems software salesman for UCCEL Corp.[18][20][21] As a child, Cantwell was unaware of Texas's role in the personal computer revolution of the 1980s, but after speaking to his father and researching the era with Rogers, they learned how the Silicon Prairie of Dallas–Fort Worth (in which Plano is located) became a secondary technology hub behind California's Silicon Valley.[18] Companies in the Silicon Prairie included Texas Instruments, Electronic Data Systems, Tandy, and RadioShack, while elsewhere in Texas, Dell (in Austin) and Compaq (in Houston) were also prominent players in the PC industry.[5][17] Executive producer Jonathan Lisco said, "[Texas] was viewed by a lot of people at the time, per our research, as sort of a catch basin for people who had not succeeded [in Silicon Valley]. On the other hand, there was a lot of wonderful tech going on here."[5] Cantwell said that he and Rogers were intrigued by the lesser-known players and settings of the tech industry: "We wanted to find the place you didn't know. Silicon Valley, Boston, New York, IBM, Microsoft, all those stories and companies have been exploited dramatically to great effect."[17] In their research, Cantwell and Rogers came across stories of computer engineers at Compaq taking risks in attempting to reverse engineer the IBM PC.[18][22] They conceived the pilot for Halt and Catch Fire in January 2011.[8] The first eight pages portrayed their protagonist Joe MacMillan at IBM.[23] In May, Cantwell left Disney;[23] Rogers remained until the future of their project was assured.[18]

Cantwell and Rogers finished the draft of their pilot in the summer of 2011.[23] Their agents liked the script, but were not optimistic about selling it. They sent it to several television networks, leading to meetings with HBO and Showtime.[19] In late October,[23] the writers met with AMC. By that point, Cantwell had been out of work for five months and was quickly diminishing his savings. He and Rogers were surprised to find that the AMC executives had a copy of their script at the meeting. One of the executives, Ben Davis, said: "We were really interested in trying to tap into that world — into the spirit of innovation, and the tech world specifically. I loved the idea that it took place in Dallas and that I didn't hear Steve Jobs' or Bill Gates' name. It approached it from the backdoor instead of straight ahead."[18] After a second meeting with Cantwell and Rogers on December 5, AMC optioned the script the next day.[18][23] In March 2012, when Cantwell and his wife had depleted their savings, he learned that AMC would not make a decision about Halt and Catch Fire until autumn. On October 23, 2012, Cantwell and Rogers pitched the network on how they envisioned Halt and Catch Fire as a potential series.[23] The network ordered a pilot the following month.[24] The project was Cantwell's and Rogers's first jobs in the television industry.[19] Cantwell said, "The first writers' room we walked into was our own."[8] The network announced a series order of 10 episodes in July 2013.[25]


In February 2013, it was announced that Lee Pace had been cast in the lead role of Joe MacMillan, and Mackenzie Davis in a co-starring role as Cameron Howe.[26] The following month, Scoot McNairy was cast as Gordon Clark and Kerry Bishé as Gordon's wife Donna;[27][28] it was a reunion for McNairy and Bishé, who had played a married couple in the film Argo a year prior.[28] Also in March, David Wilson Barnes was cast in the pilot as Dale Butler.[29] Barnes was initially credited among the main cast in the first season, but was written out after just two episodes when the story went in a different direction.[30] He reprised the character for the series finale.[31]

For season two, Aleksa Palladino joined the cast as a regular, while James Cromwell and Mark O'Brien joined as recurring characters.[32][33] For season three, Manish Dayal was cast as Ryan Ray, an Indian-American computer programmer native to San Francisco. Cantwell and Rogers created the character to match the change in demographic after the series's setting shifted to Northern California.[34] Matthew Lillard and Annabeth Gish were also cast in recurring roles.[14] For season four, Kathryn Newton and Susanna Skaggs were cast to play teenaged versions of the Clarks' daughters, and Anna Chlumsky joined in a supporting role.[16]

Prior to the fourth season, AMC addressed the gender pay gap among its four leads by giving Davis and Bishé salary raises to match what Pace and McNairy were earning. Davis and Bishé were relatively unknown when they signed their original deals at lower salaries; Davis was earning the minimum rate at the time. Their characters were given more screen time beginning with the second season, but the actresses did not feel they were being equitably compensated for their work. Before Davis and Bishé could renegotiate with AMC, the network gave them unsolicited raises.[35]


Due to Cantwell's and Rogers's inexperience, the network wanted experienced producers for the project and brought in Melissa Bernstein and Mark Johnson, who were producing AMC's hit television drama Breaking Bad. They guided Cantwell and Rogers through the process of creating the pilot and were, as the writers called them, their "advocates... with the network".[36] AMC also chose to hire someone more experienced in television to be the series' showrunner.[37] As part of a two-year deal with AMC, Jonathan Lisco was chosen in July 2013, having just concluded three seasons as executive producer on the television drama series Southland.[38] Lisco was impressed by the script for the Halt and Catch Fire pilot, but initially was unconvinced that he was best-suited for the showrunner role. He did not view himself as a technophile, and wondered if there would be "enough stakes in the bits and the bytes",[39] saying the subject matter did not "dramatically blow your hair back".[40] The network helped change his mind by telling him the series could not be exclusively about technology, and that they believed he could help them delve deep into the characters to create stakes. When they met, Lisco felt an immediate creative connection with Cantwell and Rogers, and sensing they had a strong vision for the series, signed on as showrunner.[39][41] Leasing office space in Studio City, Los Angeles, he helped Cantwell and Rogers through the process of assessing and hiring writers.[18]

Lisco stepped down as showrunner after the second season to work on the TNT television series Animal Kingdom. Joel Stillerman, AMC's president of original programming and development, called Lisco's departure "completely amicable".[42] Cantwell and Rogers took over as showrunners prior to the third season.[43] Rogers called Lisco the duo's mentor, saying: "He kept us creatively involved and really showed us the ropes, and we felt like it was a master class in how to run a room, both in terms of getting a great story out of people, and in terms of being a really good and decent and fair person in what can sometimes be a brutal industry."[34] All of the series's writers also departed after the second season, as they were each busy working on their own projects, requiring Cantwell and Rogers to build a new writing staff.[36][44] Due to the third season's shift in setting from Dallas to California, they hired a new director of photography, Evans Brown, to give the series a sunnier look.[44]


For research, the production staff and cast studied Robert X. Cringely's documentary Triumph of the Nerds and the books Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder,[45][46] The Nudist on the Late Shift by Po Bronson, and The Silicon Boys by David A. Kaplan.[47]

Due to the production schedule, the actors did not have formal table reads of the scripts. Instead, they organized their own, gathering at Pace's house on weekends to prepare dinner, drink wine, and discuss the scripts and their characters. Davis said of the cast dinners, "it was really nice, because you got to hear other people's point of views about your character."[48][49] For the third season, Pace, Davis, and McNairy lived together in a rented house in Atlanta,[50] with Toby Huss joining them for the fourth season.[51] The arrangement helped foster a camaraderie among the cast members.[50]


Each season, the writers strove to "use up [their] story fast" rather than save the most dramatic moments for later.[52] Rogers said that the uncertainty of the series's fate from season to season "reinforced a hold-nothing-back mindset in the storytelling".[53] They aimed to advance the plot quickly enough that it would not be predictable. Rogers described their approach: "We want to put ourselves into corners and ask ourselves to write out of them."[52] To avoid depicting binary relationships between the characters of either getting along or fighting, the writers took different approaches to changing the dynamics between characters, such as creating new pairings.[54]

Cantwell and Rogers hoped to use the pilot to land writing jobs on series they already liked. Consequently, they wrote it to emulate the "difficult men" dramas, such as The Sopranos, The Wire, and Breaking Bad, that inspired them to get into television. Joe MacMillan was written in the pilot as a traditional antihero, with the world organized around him. When the series was picked up and the staff began writing more episodes, Rogers said they found a "writers' groove" and changed their approach: "We figured out what was our voice, as opposed to the voice that felt like it was emulating the shows we liked."[48] Rogers acknowledged that he and Cantwell were inexperienced writers but said that they were "careful enough to lay in these little grenades into each character" that they were able to "explode" to evolve the characters beyond their archetypes.[36] Bishé said that when the cast signed on, they believed the series would be a "slick corporate thriller", but over time, it evolved into an ensemble-based "real human drama".[50][55] Cantwell said the dynamic between Joe and Gordon in the first season was inspired by his father's experience in software sales in the 1980s; Cantwell's father pitched to clients on sales calls, while the software engineer he would bring along would explain the technical details.[56]

In the second season, the series's focus shifted to the partnership of Donna and Cameron in their startup company, the online gaming service Mutiny.[57] Rogers said the technology of the time period seemed to point to "this proto-internet connectivity" and that as actors, Bishé and Davis deserved more attention.[58] Cantwell said the staff did not consciously refocus the show around the female characters, but that it was developed that way to create "compelling and earned stories for each of those characters based on where [they] left them in season one".[57] Rogers said the first-season partnership between Joe and Gordon was dominated by egos, a need to prove themselves, and a lack of mutual respect. They did not want to repeat that dynamic in the Donna–Cameron partnership, and instead wrote one with a "bedrock" on which a friendship could be built. The theme of connectivity was incorporated into the season as an exploration of whether technology "brings us closer together or pushes us apart", as well as what the characters' motivations were for their involvement in the industry. The second season also isolated Joe and Gordon somewhat from the main storylines to reflect an "absence of connection".[58] Cantwell and Rogers liked making viewers think they were "the worst writers in the world for about five minutes" by creating familiar situations, but subverting expectations with the end result; one example they cited was Joe and Cameron's kiss in the season's penultimate episode.[58]

Prior to the third season, Cantwell and Rogers rented a house in Joshua Tree National Park for three days in October 2015 and discussed how they wanted to plot out the season's story.[44][57] They wanted to reach the advent of the World Wide Web in 1990, which they considered an exciting setting and a natural destination for the series. However, doing so would have required them to advance the plot by four years from the end of season two.[57] They thought they still "had so much story left on the table at the end of season two" with the characters' arrival in California in 1986 that they did not want to skip over with a time jump.[59] Ultimately, they decided that instead of choosing one of the two approaches, they would incorporate both of them; the majority of the season takes place in 1986 before making a time jump to 1990 for the final two episodes.[44][57] With the new setting in Silicon Valley, Cantwell and Rogers wanted to explore if the characters who had demonstrated their potential in Texas could "really pull it off once they're in the big leagues".[34] One of the themes on which they settled for season three was "people with the right idea at the wrong time" who failed due to market or technology forces not aligning.[59]

Heading into the fourth season, Cantwell and Rogers knew it would be the series's final one, giving them the opportunity to write a conclusion on their own terms.[60] In researching the tech industry following the inception of the World Wide Web in 1990, they found that there was not "a lot of major business investments and huge development in the web" for several years due to its nascency.[60][54] As a result, they decided to create another time jump in the series's storytelling. The opening sequence in the season's first episode shows the passage of more than three years and was meant to depict the characters in stasis, waiting for the technology world to catch on.[54] In the final season, Cantwell and Rogers wanted the characters to grapple with the existential question of whether their continued pursuits of the next big idea could ever make them feel whole and whether they could break free from the constant cycle of reinvention.[61][62] The creators decided to kill off a major character during the season but did not plan ahead of time in which episode they would write it. Eventually, they plotted it in the seventh episode, allowing them to dedicate the eighth to the characters' grief, before "fold[ing] it in" to the final two episodes in which they wrapped up the series's remaining plot threads.[52] In the finale, Donna hosts a gala at her house for women in the tech industry. For the scene, Cantwell and Rogers wrote a two-page monologue for the character to discuss her experiences in the industry as a woman; the duo called it the most difficult part of creating the finale, as they did not want to "overtly moralize", but felt they had earned the opportunity to make "textual what should be subtextual".[63] The original scripted ending called for Joe to return to IBM, but Cantwell deemed it "much darker and melancholic" and it was scrapped.[64]


AMC paid to restore a neon sign of Big Tex in Dallas for filming the pilot.

AMC paid to restore a neon sign of Big Tex in Dallas for filming the pilot.

Georgia State Capitol

Georgia State Capitol

Plaza Theatre

Plaza Theatre

American Cancer Society Center

American Cancer Society Center

Cobb Galleria Centre

Cobb Galleria Centre

Halt and Catch Fire was produced in-house by AMC Studios.[5] Although the series was set in Dallas and Silicon Valley, it was primarily filmed in the Atlanta, Georgia, area,[17] where the studio has infrastructure and crew due to state tax incentives that are favorable to filming.[5] The writing staff, however, was based in Los Angeles.[8] Many crew members who worked on another Atlanta-based AMC series, The Walking Dead, were borrowed during its offseason to work on Halt and Catch Fire. The series was shot using Arri Alexa cameras, with dailies being delivered by FotoKem Atlanta using their nextLAB system.[65] The series had a budget that various sources estimated between $2–$3 million per episode, which Variety said was on the lower end of cable TV dramas.[66][67]

The pilot was directed by Juan José Campanella[68] and produced over six weeks from April to May 2013.[23] It was primarily shot on location in the Atlanta area, although one set was used as Joe's condominium.[17][65] Additionally, as part of a one-day shoot in Dallas in May,[23] AMC paid to restore a 50-foot-tall neon sign of Big Tex located at a former Centennial Liquors store.[69] After the series was picked up, several scenes from the pilot episode were re-shot.[70][71] Lisco said that the staff wanted to make the tone "a little more jagged, a little more ambiguous" by giving Cameron more edge and by exploring whether Joe is "a visionary or a fraud".[70]

After the series's order, the staff decided that the production facility housing Joe's condo set was too far away from other locations where the crew would need to shoot. As a result, the staff partnered with Mark Henderson, Daniel Minchew, and Glenn Murer, who converted a facility that previously served as a DuPont plant and a dog food factory into a sound stage. The space, named Atlanta Filmworks, comprised two adjacent 20,000-square-foot warehouses and a 17,000-square-foot production office. The soundproofed Studio A, measuring 110 feet wide by 200 feet long by 42 feet high, housed the set for Cardiff Electric's corporate offices, which occupied 9,000 square feet. Initially envisioned as a flex space for set construction, Studio B was also used for filming, housing the set for Joe's condo, among others. As a result, several enhancements were made prior to season two, such as quieter heaters and additional lighting.[65]

Production on the remaining nine episodes of the first season began in October 2013 and lasted until May 2014.[23] The weather was uncharacteristically cold and snowy for Atlanta, complicating outdoor shoots and suspending production for a few days. Location scouting was carried out by location manager Ryan Schaetzle to find settings that would not be anachronistic and would require the least amount of modifications to match the period setting. Strategic framing of shots was also used to avoid anachronisms,[65] as was computer-generated imagery to turn an Urban Outfitters location into a rug store.[72] Scenes set at a Las Vegas hotel hosting COMDEX attendees in the season's penultimate episode were filmed at the American Cancer Society Center in downtown Atlanta.[65] Other first season shooting locations included the Cobb Galleria Centre, Chops Lobster Bar,[73] Northside Tavern, the Plaza Theatre, the Georgia State Capitol,[74] an office building near The Weather Channel's headquarters, and a brick ranch-style house in Conyers.[72]

Production on season two lasted from October 2014 to May 2015.[23] The staff dismantled all of the first-season sets except for the Clark family house,[60] a decision Cantwell said was made to force the series to reinvent itself and to parallel the reinvention common within the technology industry.[53] Production on season three took place from November 2015 to August 2016.[23] Although the series's setting moved to Silicon Valley beginning with that season, production remained in the Atlanta area, with the exception of two scenes from that season that were shot near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.[44]

The series had at least three technical advisors,[21] among them Bill Lowden[39] and industry veteran Carl Ledbetter, the latter of whom worked at IBM, AT&T Consumer Products, and Sun Microsystems. Ledbetter reviewed early scripts for authenticity,[75] wrote sample computer code that appeared on-screen,[47] and helped operate props on set, controlling lights on a breadboard from underneath a table or hand feeding a printout through a dot matrix printer.[8]

The fourth season's first episode opens with a sequence edited to appear to be a "one shot" that covers three years of story. The sequence was conceived by Campanella and filmed over two days, requiring several hairstyle and wardrobe changes to the actors.[60] For the series finale, the gala scene at Donna's house was filmed at a mid-century modern-style home in northeastern Atlanta. It was selected for its minimalist architecture that could be easily decorated to reflect Donna's upscale tastes and the period setting. Due to a slope in the lawn, a wooden platform was built on it and covered with sod to give it a flat appearance. With filming taking place over four hours during a sunny summer evening, a grip cloud and "solids" were required to block light to give the appearance of the scene's dusk setting. Davis only required one take for her character's fall into the pool at the end of the scene.[63] Donna's and Cameron's diner scene featured in the closing moments of the series finale was filmed at the Waffle House Museum in July 2017, prior to the final week of shooting.[76] Donna's idea at the end of the scene is never revealed, but the producers ensured that each camera shot in the diner showed an analog aspect of life for which there would be a future digital innovation.[52][77] Within a week of the series wrapping, the crew transitioned to a new AMC television series, Lodge 49.[78]

Production design

The series's production designers were Chris Brown,[65] Craig Stearns,[47] and Ola Maslik.[54] Lance Totten, who served as a set decorator, said the 1980s cliches of the "whole neon-pastels and shoulder pad vibe" were not prevalent until 1986, and that he focused on the design period of 1978–1983 at the series's onset. For research, he consulted: back issues of Texas Homes and D Magazine; old Sears and J. C. Penney catalogues; the Interiors books by English designer Terence Conran; and the Malls Across America collection of photographs by Michael Galinsky. These sources were used to identify period-accurate lighting fixtures, televisions, telephones, kitchenware, and curtains. Totten sought items with brass finishes but had difficulty finding them, leading to him buying ones with a different finish and then applying brass spray paint specially ordered from Krylon or gold paint. Other heavily sought after items included: lamp shades with pleats and tapered or bell shapes; furniture with clean, linear lines and upholstery on the arms, legs, and feet; and metal constructed props instead of plastic.[71] The set designers purchased decor items at thrift shops, antique stores, yard sales, office supply companies that were closing, and from individuals through Craigslist, but in some cases they rented items.[65][71] Early 1980s seating and office furniture were difficult to acquire in large quantities, as furniture from that decade was not highly collected, other than high-end pieces by designers, and Totten said the decade marked the beginning of the era of "mass disposability". As a result, he drew from the 1960s and 1970s for certain sets, such as Bosworth's office and the Clark home. Old family photos provided by Totten and other crew members adorned certain sets to give the impression of the characters having extended family, while Totten's children drew the refrigerator art seen in the Clarks' kitchen. Prior to the second season, additional crew members were hired for the production design team to help with their extensive workload.[71]

The architecture and design of Atlanta posed a challenge to the production design staff for achieving period accuracy. Bernstein said, "it's a new city. There are not a lot of buildings from the 1970s and 1980s."[72] Totten said that locations that still existed from that period had been remodeled in the 1990s or 2000s and no longer had 1980s decor or color palettes, thus requiring filming locations to be re-dressed.[71] Storefronts and restaurants were particularly difficult, as small details such as carpeting, window frames, lighting fixtures, chair upholstery patterns, and bathroom fixtures needed to be retrofitted.[65] The season two set for the house that headquartered Mutiny, Cameron's start-up company, was designed to mimic the homes found in the Lakewood neighborhood of Dallas. Modeled after a single-story American Craftsman–style home that was popular in the 1920s, the set's design featured hardwood floors, ample trim moldings, built-in shelving painted white, and curved kitchen woodwork.[79]

At the series's onset, many of the vintage computer props were obtained on eBay or from private collectors through Craigslist.[8][65] One such prop was the original Apple Macintosh, which had become a collector's item and was rare.[65] Many props were also borrowed from the Rhode Island Computer Museum.[80] The Cardiff Giant portable PC depicted onscreen was specially built for the series from molded plastic and was partially functional, as the production staff wanted to ensure the design was "consistent with the visionary thinking of the time and was not sci-fi", according to producer Jeff Freilich.[65] Totten said that in order to build 40 Commodore 64 PC workstations for the Mutiny set in season two, "hundreds of different eBay purchases" were required, since the PCs, monitors, and peripherals all had to be obtained separately.[71][47] One of the series's Atlanta-based technical advisors built the complex network of telephone lines and modems that hung on a wall of the Mutiny house set.[71] From season two onwards, the series's staff collaborated with Living Computers: Museum + Labs in Seattle to obtain vintage equipment. One prop that could not be sourced was an IBM 3033 mainframe computer, requiring a replica to be built in consultation with Living Computers using original plans from IBM's archives.[47][81] Obtaining period accurate corporate signage and logos was a challenge for the staff, as many tech companies had gone out of business or had become part of large conglomerates over the years.[65]

Staff sought out 1980s artwork from antique stores, thrift shops, and online; works with legible artist signatures were submitted to a clearing company, which attempted to obtain approvals from the artists or their estates to use the works on-screen. Some art vendors had the artists' contact information, allowing the buyers to deal with them directly. The designers also rented pieces from local galleries that were able to sign releases on the artists' behalves. Near the end of the first season, Totten began using a local vendor called Elk Creative to digitally create custom paintings in the style of 1970s/1980s mass-produced corporate art.[71]

Freilich said that the early 1980s fashion was "a little bland, a beige time", and that as a result, vintage clothing stores did not carry much merchandise from the period. The wardrobe department ultimately obtained many articles of clothing from shops and rental houses in Los Angeles where inventory was more extensive.[65]


Austrian musician Paul Haslinger, formerly of Tangerine Dream, composed the series's electronic original score.

Austrian musician Paul Haslinger, formerly of Tangerine Dream, composed the series's electronic original score.

The original score was composed by Austrian musician Paul Haslinger, formerly of German electronic music group Tangerine Dream from 1986–1990.[82] He landed the position on the series through its music supervisor, his friend Thomas Golubić.[83] Having previously recorded music during the 1980s, Haslinger was drawn to Halt and Catch Fire as a second chance to write for the decade.[84] However, rather than merely revive 1980s music, he instead wanted to draw from its moodiness,[85] and to combine his favorite retro sounds with modern-day elements.[84] Haslinger's score was electronic, making heavy use of synthesizers;[82] he used his original equipment and samples as well as virtual instruments, creating a blend of "analog and digital sounds from that era and [his] own sound design".[86] He rationalized the restraint he exhibited in his compositions by citing the mid-range spectrum that he believed 1980s music mostly occupied.[83] He sought to emulate "the inaccuracies of the technology of that time", explaining that the music was never perfectly in tune or in sync. Certain characters were accompanied by recurring musical elements; for Joe, Haslinger composed "glassy" tracks with out-of-focus, slightly off-pitch elements to match the character's struggles.[83] However, he eschewed explicit musical themes for each character to avoid sounding "hokey". Instead, he tried to write for the subtext or underlying tension of scenes.[84] Starting with the third season, Haslinger sought to pare down his compositions, often starting with fifteen tracks of audio before scaling down to five. He also incorporated more influences from beyond the 1980s, such as the works of Giorgio Moroder.[87] A compilation of tracks from the first three seasons was released on vinyl record through Lakeshore Records on September 16, 2016.[88] A second volume followed on vinyl, CD, and digital services on April 5, 2019.[89]

Golubić and his team at the firm SuperMusicVision handled music licensing,[54] creating a soundtrack of album-oriented rock, college rock, new wave, and 1980s punk.[53] Golubić said that his team sought to license lesser-known tracks, believing the use of obvious 1980s hits would be "kitschy" and not within the series's budget; explaining their approach, he said, "We want to immerse people in that time period, not distract them".[8][90] The music supervisors were engaged by the writers early in their creative process in an attempt to better integrate music into the series.[91] Golubić and his team started by compiling playlists of songs that were evocative of the show's period setting, before attempting to secure licensing deals.[52] They also curated playlists for each of the main characters after discussing them and their backstories.[92] Golubić said of the process, "This is how we informed ourselves of the world that the characters live in."[91] The playlists were sent to the actors to help them prepare for their roles,[90] and were used by the producers, writers, and editors as a reference for developing the story.[92] For example, Joe was seen as a "futurist looking forward" embodied by acts ahead of their time such as Gary Numan, the Cars, and Wire,[91][93] while Gordon was interpreted as someone whose musical tastes did not evolve past 1970s acts such as Steely Dan and Boz Scaggs due to his preoccupation with work.[91][93] AMC partnered with music streaming service Spotify to share the character playlists online and to promote them on amctv.com and the network's "Story Sync" second screen platform.[90]

Punk rock played a prominent role in the characterization of Cameron, frequently playing through her headphones on-screen or non-diegetically to represent her temperament as a rebellious loner. The scene in which she enters the Cardiff Electric offices for her first day of work is soundtracked by the Clash's "The Magnificent Seven", whose lyrics about the "futility of the capitalist grind underscor[e] her ambivalence about the job", according to Pitchfork.[94] After she founds Mutiny, the company offices are frequently heard playing punk, post-punk, and alternative rock,[95] representing her growing influence in the tech industry.[94] Towards the end of the series, punk music is used in the characterization of the Clarks' teenage daughters. The rebellious, troublemaker Joanie enjoys Shonen Knife, and Haley listens to PJ Harvey and riot grrrl bands while coming to terms with being queer.[94]

Among the tracks licensed for use in the series were "Red Eyes" by the War on Drugs,[96] "Velouria" by Pixies, "So Far Away" by Dire Straits, a cover of the Joy Division's "She's Lost Control" by the Raveonettes,[94] and "Mercy Street" by Peter Gabriel.[52] For the closing sequence of the series finale, the song "Take Me Home" by Phil Collins was originally written into the script, but due to the high cost of licensing it, the producers instead went with Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill".[76]

Title sequence

The opening title sequence was created by the design studio Elastic, with creative direction from Antibody. The title sequence depicts an electrical signal racing across a neon-red digital landscape, leaving a trail as it travels. Along the way it passes digitally distressed images of the main cast members, before it completes its journey to light up an LED indicator.[97] Lead animator Raoul Marks said the signal was depicted "allegorically to illustrate the competing forces driving young tech entrepreneurs towards a new technological dawn".[98]

The animators were tasked with creating an "abstract and symbolic" sequence "about the computer era that was about people, not machines". The sequence originated as a pitch to the showrunners to depict the "birth of an idea". The artists' first inspiration was to show a lightbulb turning on, a common visual metaphor for an idea, and consequently they sought to show the journey of a signal to light up the bulb. Sequence director Patrick Clair said the storyboarding process took longer than usual and went through many iterations. During this stage, Herringson toyed with geometric shapes inspired by Saul Bass art, retro video games, and sex education films; Clair said the team "bounced between digital sperm to missile command and back — all in 8-bit." After several iterations, they replaced the lightbulb with an LED indicator to better evoke the computer era. In the initial pitch, the artists depicted competing signals that ended up disintegrating or being left behind, but these elements were scaled back. The team took artistic license with the appearance of electric and digital signals in the sequence. Due to the need to show the signal in a state of constant motion from shot to shot, precise animation and cuts between shots were required. Serif fonts were used for the credits and were inspired by the mature, classical typography and conservative layout design of personal computing advertisements from the 1980s. The color scheme, inspired by high-saturation 4-bit color computer graphics, was dominated by an "iridescent red that never peaked beyond hot magenta".[97]

To give the title sequence a human element, images of the main cast members were incorporated. Rather than show "beauty shots" of the actors, the animators heavily edited images of them in a glitch art style. Marks "de-rezzed" the character images with Adobe Photoshop by selecting rectangular sections and using the software's average color feature on each; Marks said the process gave each portrait an "interesting facial approximation". Afterwards, the images were built into 3D models, although the artists did not want a "fully immersive 3D scene" but one that still had "more depth than just a graphic". Since the series's story was about "people putting pressure on themselves, and risking self-destruction through their own ambition", the artists wanted to depict them "decaying, breaking under the pressure of velocity and self-destruction". They achieved this by streaking debris, digital artifacts, and facial details away from the portraits in horizontal lines; Marks likened the effect to a person "re-entering the atmosphere from orbit but in a digital world".[97]

The opening theme was composed by Danish electronic musician Trentemøller. Marks described the theme as "straddl[ing] the line between contemporary electronica and more retro-analog" sounds. The theme was provided late in the process of creating the title sequence.[97]

Series synopsis

SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast aired
110June 1, 2014 (2014-06-01)August 3, 2014 (2014-08-03)
210May 31, 2015 (2015-05-31)August 2, 2015 (2015-08-02)
310August 21, 2016 (2016-08-21)October 11, 2016 (2016-10-11)
410August 19, 2017 (2017-08-19)October 14, 2017 (2017-10-14)

First season

In 1983, former IBM sales executive Joe MacMillan joins Cardiff Electric, a Dallas-based mainframe software company. There, he enlists the help of computer engineer Gordon Clark to reverse engineer an IBM PC and reconstruct the assembly language code of its BIOS. Company owner Nathan Cardiff and vice president John Bosworth confront the two when the company is sued by IBM for copyright infringement. After Joe reveals that he told IBM about the project, Cardiff Electric is forced to legitimize it and enter the personal computing business. Needing a software engineer to write the BIOS for their IBM clone, Joe recruits prodigy college student Cameron Howe to join Cardiff. Joe heads the PC project, with Gordon leading the hardware team and Cameron writing the BIOS in a "clean room". Joe's goal for the PC is to be twice the speed at half the cost of IBM's PC, but much of the company does not buy into his vision or trust him. He further alienates himself from Cardiff and Bosworth by upsetting a potential investor and causing IBM to respond to the project with aggressive undercutting, luring away two-thirds of Cardiff Electric's clients, resulting in layoffs.

Despite her suspicions of Joe, Cameron begins an on-again, off-again relationship with him. Gordon's wife, Donna, an engineer at Texas Instruments, is wary of her husband's involvement in the project after the failure of their PC, the Symphonic, years prior. Eventually she contributes to Cardiff Electric's project, first by leading a data recovery effort (for a data loss event faked by Joe) then inspiring Gordon with the idea for a double-sided printed circuit board. Gordon brokers a deal to procure discounted liquid crystal displays through his father-in-law's connection with a Japanese company. After finishing the BIOS, Cameron is promoted to head of the software engineering team and designs a user-friendly operating system (OS) intended to draw the user in. Joe's ex-lover Simon, an industrial designer, designs the case for the PC, which is named the "Cardiff Giant". Initially hesitant to the project, Bosworth comes around, only to be denied further funding by Cardiff. With Cameron's help, Bosworth embezzles money to sustain the project but is arrested as the company office is raided by the FBI. Having smuggled out the prototype of the Giant, Gordon convinces the others to proceed with their plan to present at the COMDEX trade show.

At COMDEX, the team are shocked to discover the "Slingshot", a copycat of the Giant, being presented by the Clarks' neighbor (a former Cardiff Electric employee) and Donna's former manager from TI. In order to undercut the Slingshot and make the Giant commercially viable, Gordon removes Cameron's OS and the supporting hardware. When Joe supports the decision, a heartbroken Cameron leaves him. Joe and Gordon present the downgraded Giant at COMDEX and secure their first order, but it's a hollow victory for the team. After witnessing a demonstration of the Apple Macintosh at the conference, Joe becomes disillusioned with the Giant. Cameron quits Cardiff Electric and takes most of the software engineering team with her to start an online gaming startup company called Mutiny. After Donna leaves TI, she accepts an offer from Cameron to join Mutiny. The Cardiff Electric team celebrates the completion of the Giant, but Joe sets fire to the truck containing the first shipment and disappears, leaving Gordon to run the company.

Second season

After releasing two models of the Giant, Cardiff Electric is sold to an international conglomerate in 1985. Running Mutiny in a rented house with their developers, Donna and Cameron are frantically dealing with day-to-day crises to keep the company afloat. Gordon collects a six-figure check from Cardiff Electric's sale, but Joe receives nothing due to his arson. Ready to move on from his past, Joe gets engaged to his girlfriend Sara and goes to work at Westgroup Energy, an oil magnate where her father, Jacob Wheeler, is CEO. Starting in data entry, Joe spots an opportunity to use the company's mainframe computers for time-sharing.

Cameron hires a paroled Bosworth, who provides managerial direction for Mutiny. She also hires one of the company's subscribing users, Tom, a game designer whom she begins dating. In his newfound free time, Gordon attempts to map Mutiny's network by writing a computer program called "Sonaris", but it inadvertently acts as malware. Eager to make up for his mistake, Gordon obliges Joe's request to help secretly configure Westgroup's mainframes for time-sharing, on the condition that Mutiny be the first client at a discounted rate. With a stable network, Mutiny thrives, due in part to the service's popular new "Community" chat rooms conceived by Donna. Her dedication to work takes her attention away from home, and after becoming pregnant, she secretly has an abortion. Meanwhile, Gordon hides his toxic encephalopathy diagnosis from Donna.

Jacob supports Joe's time-sharing idea but asks for more lucrative terms. Joe raises the hourly hosting rate, upsetting Cameron, but Donna and Joe negotiate a compromised rate based on Mutiny meeting certain benchmarks. One of those is porting their software to the AT&T Unix PC, which the Mutiny team unsuccessfully fakes during a demo for Joe. Despite the ruse, he is impressed by their innovation to transmit data over coaxial cable. Seeing the potential for broadband network connections, Joe convinces Jacob that Westgroup should acquire Mutiny. Cameron considers their offer but is dissuaded by Joe after he realizes Jacob would corrupt the startup's vision. Joe decides to quit Westgroup and after marrying Sara, plans to move them to California.

Gordon admits to Donna his medical diagnosis, but refuses to let it distract her from Mutiny. However, after his condition worsens following the failure of his homebuilt computer business, he begins stress therapy. Tom and Cameron write a first-person shooter game, but on the night of its planned launch, they discover Westgroup has replaced Mutiny's service on their network with a copycat version called "WestNet". The Mutiny staff disbelieve Joe when he denies involvement. Cameron and Donna are forced to sell the game to sustain the company, a decision that results in Tom breaking up with Cameron and quitting Mutiny. Cameron visits Joe at Westgroup and emotionally manipulates him, allowing her to run the "Sonaris" malware on a computer of theirs, crippling the company's network during Joe's presentation of WestNet at a shareholders meeting.

Losing her trust in Joe, Sara divorces him. Jacob is blamed for the WestNet fiasco and is fired. After Gordon admits to having an affair, Donna gives him an ultimatum to save their marriage: he must purchase and renovate a mainframe computer located in California for Mutiny, move their family there with the company, and take a job with them; he agrees. Gordon writes Joe an antivirus program in hopes it will help Westgroup, but Joe uses it instead to pitch a venture capitalist. He invites Gordon to join him in the endeavor but is refused. Gordon is furious to learn later that Joe has received $10 million in funding for a new company in the San Francisco Bay Area, MacMillan Utility. Having transitioned from games to an online community, Mutiny departs for California.

Third season

In 1986, Mutiny reaches 100,000 users and celebrates the launch of its mainframe computer. Cameron is living with the Clarks, whose marital tensions flare up in the office, and Gordon is involved in a copyright infringement lawsuit against Joe. After noticing that Mutiny's chat feature is facilitating user-to-user transactions, Donna and Cameron are inspired to build an online trading feature and begin pitching venture capitalists. One of them, Diane Gould, helps them acquire a competitor, Swap Meet. Meanwhile, a Mutiny programmer, Ryan Ray, uncovers a security vulnerability in the chat rooms, but Donna and Cameron pay little attention. Ryan feels underappreciated at Mutiny, and after being inspired by Joe's presentation of MacMillan Utility's no-cost consumer antivirus software, Citadel, he convinces Joe to hire him.

The merger between Swap Meet and Mutiny causes friction, as Cameron is resistant to adapting her code to be compatible with Swap Meet's. She expresses a desire to fire the Swap Meet founders, Doug and Craig; Donna lies to Cameron about Diane's willingness to support such a decision. MacMillan Utility plans to charge users for Citadel, which Ryan views as a betrayal of Joe's principles. In order to keep Citadel free of charge, Joe says they will need another revenue stream. Beginning a special project in Joe's apartment, Ryan maps the ARPANET, an early predecessor to the Internet. Studying the map, they see potential in NSFNET, a backbone network not yet approved for commercial use. The two build their own regional network at MacMillan Utility, but after spending millions of the company's money and making a handshake deal with the NSFNET in defiance of the company's board of directors, Joe is stripped of his executive powers. As a result, he declares in a deposition that Citadel was stolen from Gordon.

Cameron's and Donna's relationship continues to deteriorate; Cameron unilaterally fires Doug and Craig, and the women clash on a solution for implementing credit card transactions, as well as whether to undertake an initial public offering (IPO) after Mutiny receives a $20 million acquisition offer from CompuServe. Cameron wants to delay it 1–2 years to continue developing Mutiny, while Donna sees a window of opportunity of just three months. Cameron is outvoted by Donna, Diane, Bosworth, and Gordon on the IPO; feeling betrayed, she leaves the company, and decides to move to Japan with her newly-wed husband Tom. The Mutiny IPO dramatically underperforms expectations to everyone's shock.

Gordon and Joe preserve the NSFNET deal with Gordon heading MacMillan Utility, but the company is thrown into disarray after Ryan releases Citadel's source code and becomes a fugitive from the FBI for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Due to his association with Ryan, Joe steps away from the project. Months later, Ryan shows up at Joe's apartment and is dismayed to learn his legal options. The next morning, Joe discovers that Ryan has killed himself; his suicide note warns about the ways in which people will use the connectedness of computer networks to hurt each other.

Four years later in 1990, Mutiny has folded. The Clarks are amicably divorced. Donna is a partner at Diane's VC firm, while Gordon is running the regional network. Joe is working out of his apartment. Bosworth is retired and living with Diane. Cameron is a successful video game developer for Atari. While promoting her game Space Bike IV at COMDEX, she reconnects with Joe and sleeps with him. Shortly after, Donna, Joe, Gordon, Cameron, and Tom meet at the former Mutiny office over several days to discuss a memo about the fledgling World Wide Web that Donna sent them. Joe proposes building a web browser, and everyone but Tom is receptive; he and Joe have a physical altercation, halting the meetings. Still hurt by the dissolution of their friendship, Cameron tells Donna she cannot work with her; Donna begrudgingly tells her to take the project and leaves. Huddled around a computer, Gordon, Joe, and Cameron prepare to start their new venture.

Fourth season

Over three years, Gordon and Joe run an internet service provider (ISP) called CalNect, though Joe focuses on logging new website URLs. Meanwhile, Cameron, working from Japan, fails to complete a web browser for the team before they are beaten to market by Mosaic. When CalNect's backbone provider MCI declines to offer them more bandwidth, Gordon and Joe realize MCI is forming its own ISP, causing them to sell CalNect. Cameron's latest game, a cerebral role-playing game called Pilgrim, performs poorly in focus groups and is put on hold by Atari after a negative review is published. During a visit to California, she tells Joe that Tom is divorcing her; she and Joe rekindle a romance. At the VC firm AGGEK, Donna sets up an incubator for a medical database indexing company called Rover to pivot them into web indexing. Needing to dig himself out of debt, Bosworth unretires to oversee the project.

After Gordon's teenage daughter Haley builds a website from Joe's directory of URLs, they form a new startup called Comet to develop it into a human-curated web directory. The team hires a chief ontologist, Katie, whom Gordon begins dating. Donna is surprised to learn her daughter is working on a competing search engine. As Comet grows, Rover's algorithm proves substandard. Desperate for the project to succeed, Bosworth approaches Cameron to ask for help improving the algorithm, which she obliges. Rover's sudden improvement results in Series A funding but Donna is suspicious. During her ensuing argument with Bosworth about the subject, he suffers a heart attack. At the hospital, Donna realizes Cameron was behind the algorithm and tells her to stay out of her life. Cameron admits to Joe her role in helping his competition.

Facing an intellectual property ownership conflict, Donna fires Rover's head programmer but when she refuses to purchase the rights to the algorithm from Cameron, Diane orders her to leave the project; Cameron signs away the algorithm to Rover without accepting compensation. After meeting with a financier named Alexa, Cameron receives funding to work independently and begins developing virtual worlds. When Haley's school grades begin slipping, Gordon tells her she must take time off from Comet, leading to her storming out. Bosworth admits to Diane that he is in debt; the two marry. After Donna tells Gordon she thinks retaining web visitors longer will be the key to their websites' success, he is inspired with an idea to relaunch Comet as a web portal, which Joe excitedly agrees to. However, before they can begin, Gordon dies from a stroke. His friends and family gather to grieve and clean out his house; Cameron and Donna reconcile, while Katie departs for Seattle.

Months later, Comet is ready for its relaunch, for which Cameron led the development. Joe wants to optimize the site for the yet-to-be released browser Netscape Navigator. After Alexa sends Cameron a beta copy of it, she and Joe discover that Yahoo! has received prominent placement on the browser's toolbar as its default search provider. They realize that Comet has already lost, and after one final night together, they break up. Joe sells Comet, and AGGEK sells Rover's algorithm. Diane retires and is succeeded at the firm by Donna, who renames it "Symphonic Ventures" and fosters a relaxed, inclusive work culture. Cameron ends her professional relationship with Alexa. Preparing to leave California, Cameron stops at Donna's house to say goodbye but stays to try to recover Haley's school project from her crashed hard drive. Donna and Cameron discuss the prospect of working together again. Later that evening, Donna hosts a gala for women in tech before visiting the former Mutiny offices with Cameron. The following morning, as they leave a diner, Donna has an epiphany and tells Cameron, "I have an idea". Joe returns home to Armonk, New York, to become a humanities teacher. Addressing his students with the same words he spoke to Cameron's college class in the series pilot, he says, "Let me start by asking a question."


The pilot was screened at the South by Southwest festival on March 8, 2014.[99] Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak moderated a panel discussion with Cantwell and Rogers at the festival. He called the pilot "very realistic".[18] Beginning on May 19, 2014, the premiere episode was made available through video on demand and TV Everywhere services, as well as online for streaming on AMC.com and the network's Tumblr page, making it the first TV series to premiere on Tumblr. The pilot was also screened for employees of several technology companies, such as Apple, Twitter, Google, and Dropbox.[100] Halt and Catch Fire premiered on June 1, 2014. The pilot episode was the only one distributed to critics for review, an uncommon practice for new series, which usually make multiple episodes available upon premiering.[101]

The first season was released on DVD and Blu-ray in region 1 on May 5, 2015.[102] The second season was released on DVD in region 1 on August 9, 2016.[103]

Season one was released on Netflix and AMC.com for home streaming on April 8, 2015, for a limited time.[104] It is also available on Amazon Video in the UK and Germany.[105] In December 2017, the entire series became available for streaming on Netflix.[106]

Halt and Catch Fire premiered in Australia on June 23, 2015, on Showcase.[107] It also appears on AMC's international channels in Asia, Europe and Latin America.[108] The series was distributed internationally by Entertainment One Television.[109]


Critical response

SeasonCritical response
Rotten TomatoesMetacritic
174% (43 reviews)69/100 (31 reviews)
291% (23 reviews)73/100 (8 reviews)
396% (23 reviews)83/100 (12 reviews)
4100% (26 reviews)92/100 (8 reviews)

First season

The first season received favorable reviews from critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, the first season received an average score of 69, based on 31 reviews.[110] According to review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the first season holds a 74% approval rating with an average score of 7.27/10, based on 43 reviews; the site's consensus said, "A refreshingly well-acted period drama, Halt and Catch Fire convincingly portrays the not-too-distant past."[111] Reviewing the pilot, Matthew Gilbert of The Boston Globe was intrigued by the possibility that the series would "be able to delve beneath the surface of its milieu". He highlighted the "distinctive visual style", focus on "material that has not already been done to death elsewhere on TV", and the "pair of unfamiliar and interesting lead actors".[112] Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter called the opening episode a "triumphant pilot with excellent writing, impressive acting and a noteworthy cinematic visual style". Although skeptical about how the show would evolve beyond its premiere, Goodman said, "It's a premise with possibilities and could be AMC's best offering of the post-classics (Breaking Bad, Mad Men) era."[113] Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times said that although the pilot "doesn't hit the gloriously high bar set by the opening episode of Mad Men, it is provocative and promising nonetheless."[68]

Reviewing several episodes, Chris Cabin of Slant Magazine said "the show's creators choose to tailor the series to focus on the enigmatic MacMillan, which might explain why Halt and Catch Fire comes off as overtly coy and more than a little aimless". The review concluded by calling the show "a hungry anticipation for what machines can and will do, but it only has a cursory interest in the complex humans that built them."[114] Alan Sepinwall of HitFix believed the series was derivative of others and analogized this assessment to the show's plotline of reverse engineering the IBM PC, calling Halt and Catch Fire "a series that has not only been reverse-engineered from past cable drama hits, but that seems acutely aware of that fact."[115] Emily VanDerWerff of The A.V. Club echoed these sentiments, writing that the pilot "feels like the network trying to reverse engineer... its success with Mad Men". VanDerWerff, though, said that "the pilot moves with a kind of confidence that's hard to fake" and praised Campanella's "intriguing direction".[116] Joanne Ostrow of The Denver Post called it a "dreary imitation" of Mad Men in which "the brooding, secretive loner guy was a tad too familiar, yet not as moving as that earlier slick-suited version". She liked the stories of the male leads and the progression of the female characters but said that "Pace's excellent performance was not enough to make the show rewarding".[117] Colin McGuire of PopMatters said that the season was "not perfect" and accurately gave the impression of having been written by two newcomers to television. He noted, however, the "worthwhile cast that did far more than enough to bring the occasionally spotty narrative to life" and said, "The groundwork for something special is there, imperfections and all."[118]

Second season

The second season received strong reviews, with many critics noting the series's improvement over its first season. At Metacritic, the season received an average review score of 73 out of 100, based on 8 reviews.[119] According to Rotten Tomatoes, the second season holds a 91% approval rating with an average score of 8.32/10, based on 23 reviews; the site's critical consensus said, "Halt and Catch Fire version 2.0 has received some upgrades and improvements, including a welcome focus on its female leads."[120] Sepinwall praised the acting, writing, and directing of season two, and noted that one of his frustrations with the first season, the downplaying of Donna and Cameron, was resolved: "Now it's essentially Halt and Catch Fire 2.0, with all the bugs worked out so that it can function exactly as it first promised." Sepinwall summed up the season's changes by saying, "Those who stayed patient with Halt season 1, or those who come to the show now that the quality has gone up significantly, will be rewarded."[121] Andy Greenwald of Grantland called season two a "hard reboot" that was exponentially better. He praised the emphasis placed on the female leads, particularly Davis's performance, and how it reframed the male leads, while noting that the focus on Mutiny "inject[ed] the show with the jittery, caffeinated energy of a start-up". Greenwald liked most how the season "casts its characters, male and female, not as fundamentally unhappy but as deeply dissatisfied" and how it motivated them to innovate.[122] Willa Paskin of Slate said that the series was able to successfully pivot by shifting focus to a startup setting and to Cameron and Donna, the latter of whom Paskin said "has blossomed into a character with ambitions all her own". Commenting on the season's exploration of issues facing working women, Paskin wrote, "what is so satisfying about its treatment of sexism... is not the extent to which the sexism conforms to our expectations, but that the women involved do not."[123] Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker called season two "such a startling upgrade of the first that it begs for technological metaphors". She said that the chemistry between Donna and Cameron "is looser, releasing the show from the burdens of its gloomy forerunners", and that the marriage between Gordon and Donna felt nuanced. Nussbaum said the series was best at being "a platform for a fascinating, buried period of history" that provided "oddly profound meditations on the nature of originality in the digital age, nested within relationship talk".[124] James Poniewozik of Time said the show "remade and refocused itself in its second season" by focusing on the Cameron–Donna partnership and that "it now has a compelling subject". Poniewozik said, "true to Moore's Law, it has become magnitudes better."[125]

Several publications ranked the second season among the best television series of 2015 on their end-of-year lists. The Atlantic and James Poniewozik of The New York Times shortlisted it,[126][127] while it was ranked: first by Slate;[128] fifth-best by RogerEbert.com;[129] eighth-best by Vox Media;[130] and 23rd-best by Rolling Stone.[131]

Third season

The third season received critical acclaim. At Metacritic, the season has an average review score of 83 out of 100, based on 12 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[132] According to Rotten Tomatoes, the third season holds a 96% approval rating with an average score of 8.62/10, based on 23 reviews; the site's critical consensus said, "Halt and Catch Fire finds its footing in an optimistic third season that builds on the fascinating relationship between a pair of emerging protagonists."[133] David Sims of The Atlantic said Halt and Catch Fire was "one of TV's most elegantly crafted shows", "the best drama on television", and the most underrated. Sims praised the series for creating emotional investment in the characters' ideas, for its depiction of teamwork and the act of creation, and for using "[Joe] MacMillan to satirize the Jobsian cult of personality that defines so much of the tech world".[134] Emily VanDerWerff of Vox Media said, "This is the rare recent TV drama that's both as good as it is and as optimistic as it is." She praised Cantwell and Rogers for continued character development and highlighted the series for leading the movement of what he called "empathy dramas".[50] Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter called out the Donna–Cameron partnership as the highlight of the show, writing, "There's nothing like it on TV." He praised the lead actors' performances, the nuanced characters, and the directing, calling Halt and Catch Fire "one of TV's best-directed shows".[135] Maureen Ryan of Variety called the series "both a retro pleasure and a forward-looking gem" that was bolstered by its performances, soundtrack, and individual episode story arcs. Ryan said the irony of the characters striving to connect through their work but instead fracturing their relationships was effective because of "its compassionate approach to its core characters".[136] Jen Chaney of Vulture wrote that the third season "covers familiar thematic ground while remaining a very good period piece that traces the rise of digital technology and simultaneously uses it as a metaphor to explore its characters' frailties". Chaney said the series earned its "should-watch status" through its cast, use of restraint, and, with the benefit of hindsight, the irony of depicting characters close to technological breakthroughs who do not realize it.[137] Poniewozik, writing for The New York Times, said the season "makes its past future feel dewy and new" and that despite some initial slow pacing, "The character dynamics are solid... and the '80s details continue to be spot on."[138] Hank Stuever of The Washington Post said, "The show's bugs and glitches also persist, but, if nothing else, Halt and Catch Fire has become an above-average specimen of 'slow television,' should you want such a thing in your life." The review said that the show "survives — and arguably thrives — in Season 3" on the Donna–Cameron storyline, but that it still struggled with Joe's character.[139]

Many publications ranked the third season among the best television series of 2016 on their end-of-year lists. The Atlantic shortlisted it,[140] while it was ranked: first by Vox Media;[141] third-best by Willa Paskin and June Thomas of Slate;[142] fourth-best by Consequence of Sound and Sonia Saraiya of Variety;[143][144] sixth-best by RogerEbert.com and The A.V. Club;[145][146] seventh-best by The Ringer;[147] ninth-best by Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter;[148] and tenth-best by Paste.[149]

Fourth season

The fourth season received critical acclaim, and the strongest reviews of any season of the series. At Metacritic, the season has an average review score of 92 out of 100, based on 8 reviews.[150] According to Rotten Tomatoes, the fourth season holds a 100% approval rating with an average score of 9.53/10, based on 26 reviews; the site's critical consensus said, "Halt and Catch Fire's character-driven drama culminates in an optimistic ode to the early internet age that's bound to stand the test of time."[151] Michael Roffman of Consequence of Sound called the fourth season "a victory lap for everyone who championed the show from the very beginning". He said the series's refusal to offer reassurances that the characters will prevail "doesn't just make for great television, but great characters, and those characters are partly why Halt has staved off its own demise."[152] Jeff Jensen of Entertainment Weekly said that the extended conversation between Joe and Cameron in the season's second episode mirrored the show's ability to overcome "a sputtering start to become a luminous drama". He praised Cantwell and Rogers for progressing "from aping the antihero playbook to refining it" and for making the characters "incredibly compelling and unique". He concluded his review by calling the series "an urgent story of rehumanization for a cold, wired culture".[153] Eric Thurm of The Verge called the show "the best depiction of technological innovation on television, because it focuses on collaboration rather than constraint, problem-solving over vision, and people instead of potential Academy Award trophies". The review lauded the "truly formidable" cast and the show's visual style for "charg[ing] meetings, coding sessions, or a group of people standing in front of a whiteboard with creative potential".[154] VanDerWerff commended the series's ability to create nostalgia for the early days of the Web "by creating nostalgia for that moment in anybody's life when they've been waiting and waiting and waiting for someone or something to come through". He called it one of the few dramas that did not need to overhaul its cast to "stay nimble and sharp, because it finds endless new iterations of the characters it already has, simply by throwing them into new groupings with each new season."[155] In his end-of-year rankings of the best series, VanDerWerff said the season's final four episodes "were as emotionally overwhelming as anything [he's] ever seen on television".[156] J.M. Suarez of Popmatters said the season "never sacrifices nuance and thoughtfulness for twists or attempts to outdo itself," calling the show "confident enough to let its characters succeed and fail without having to spell out who's right and wrong".[157] Sims said the fourth season "succeeds by making its tech narrative not a dry history lesson, but rather a battle of wills between four very flawed, compelling characters, each possessed of the kinds of manic ambition and tendency toward self-destruction that make for the best television drama".[158] Alex Cranz of Gizmodo called the fourth season "easily one of the best seasons of a television show ever produced",[159] while Brian Grubb of Uproxx similarly called it "one of the best seasons of television [he's] ever seen".[160]

Many publications ranked the fourth season among the best television series of 2017 on their end-of-year lists. The New York Times, The Atlantic, Vox Media, and The Philadelphia Inquirer shortlisted it,[156][161][162] and two critics at Variety ranked it in their top fives.[163][164] The series was ranked: second-best by Consequence of Sound and Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter;[165][166] third-best by Uproxx;[167] fifth-best by The A.V. Club, Forbes, Slate, and Jen Chaney of Vulture;[168][169][170][171] sixth-best by The Oregonian;[172] seventh-best by IndieWire and The Ringer;[173][174] ninth-best by Paste;[175] 13th-best by Rolling Stone;[176] and 39th-best by The Guardian.[177] According to Metacritic, Halt and Catch Fire's fourth season was tied for the 41st-highest-rated TV season of all time,[178] and, based on critics' end-of-year lists, the 17th-highest-ranked series of 2017.[179]

Viewership ratings

The premiere episode drew 1.2 million viewers according to Nielsen data, 433,000 of them in the 18–49 age demographic.[180] It was the least-watched drama series premiere in AMC's modern history,[181] and was the only episode of the series to surpass one million viewers during its initial broadcast.[76] The first season drew modest overall viewership, averaging 760,000 viewers per episode, and a 0.3 rating in the 18–49 age demographic for live plus same-day viewings.[182] When accounting for time shifting via digital video recorders (DVRs), the season averaged 1.3 million viewers per episode in live plus 7-day viewings; 606,000 of them were ages 18–49,[183][184] making Halt and Catch Fire among the "most upscale dramas on ad-supported television" behind Mad Men and The Good Wife, according to AMC.[184] Despite the low overall ratings, AMC renewed the show in August 2014 for a second season of ten episodes. The network's president Charlie Collier said, "We have a history of demonstrating patience through the early seasons of new shows, betting on talent and building audience over time."[185]

Season two premiered on May 31, 2015, and concluded on August 2, 2015.[186] The premiere drew 659,000 viewers, 262,000 of whom were ages 18–49. Compared to the first season premiere, this marked a 45% drop in overall viewership and a 39% drop in the 18–49 demographic.[187] Despite the critical acclaim that season two garnered, viewership declined overall. The season averaged 520,000 viewers per episode and a 0.2 rating in the 18–49 age demographic in live plus same-day viewings.[182][109] When accounting for time shifting, the season averaged 865,000 viewers per episode in live plus 3-day viewings and just under one million in live plus 7-day viewings.[66] Still, AMC renewed the series in October 2015 for a ten-episode third season. Stillerman said, "The critical momentum was a big part of the decision."[188]

The first episode of season three aired on August 21, 2016,[189] ahead of the two-hour season premiere on August 23, 2016.[190] The Tuesday premiere drew just 385,000 same-day viewers.[191]

AMC renewed Halt and Catch Fire for a fourth and final season of ten episodes on October 10, 2016.[192] The final season began with a two-hour premiere on August 19, 2017,[3] and concluded with a two-hour series finale on October 14, 2017.

SeasonEpisode numberAverage

Awards and nominations

2014Satellite AwardsBest Television Series – DramaHalt and Catch FireNominated[197]
Best Actor – Television Series DramaLee PaceNominated
Critics' Choice Television AwardsMost Exciting New SeriesHalt and Catch FireWon[198]
2015Casting Society of America's Artios AwardsOutstanding Achievement in Casting – Television Pilot – DramaSharon Bialy, Sherry Thomas, Lisa Mae Fincannon(location casting), Craig Fincannon(location casting), Allison Bader(associate), and Jen Ingulli(associate)Nominated[199]
Primetime Emmy AwardsOutstanding Main Title DesignPatrick Clair(creative director), Raoul Marks(animator), Eddy Herringson(designer), Paul Sangwoo Kim(typographer), and AMCNominated[200]
SXSW Film Design AwardsExcellence in Title DesignPatrick ClairNominated[201]
Hollywood Post Alliance AwardsOutstanding Sound – TelevisionSusan Cahill(supervising sound editor), Keith Rogers(re-recording mixer), Scott Weber(re-recording mixer), Jane Boegel(dialogue editor), Mark Cleary(sound effects editor), Kevin McCullough(sound effects editor), and NBC Universal Studio Post
for episode: "SETI"
2017Guild of Music Supervisors AwardsBest Music Supervision in a Television DramaThomas Golubić and Yvette Metoyer
for season 3
2018Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel AwardsOutstanding Achievement in Sound Editing – Dialogue and ADR for Episodic Short Form Broadcast MediaSusan Cahill(supervising sound editor), Sara Bencivenga(supervising ADR editor), and Jane Boegel(dialogue editor)
for episode: "So It Goes"
Peabody AwardsEntertainment honoreeAMC Studios and Gran Via Productions
for Halt and Catch Fire
Women's Image Network AwardsActress Drama SeriesKerry BishéNominated[206]
Drama SeriesHalt and Catch Fire
for episode: "NeXT"
2019Guild of Music Supervisors AwardsBest Music Supervision in a Television DramaThomas Golubić and Yvette Metoyer
for season 4


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