When news hit last month of a television production company holding auditions for a new reality series called 94110, about “six leading technology executives living, learning, and loving together in San Francisco’s Mission District,” many on Twitter and other online forums asked, “Is this real?”
But now, with more information known about the team behind 94110, skepticism of the show's validity seems warranted, especially when considering that a noted prankster is involved. The point person for the show -- described by one producer as “Mark Zuckerberg fan fiction” -- is Oakland performance artist Scott Vermeire.
For anyone hoping to take the show at face value, Vermeire's association with 94110 is a red flag. Like mischief-making actor Sascha Baron Cohen of Borat and Ali G fame, Vermeire portrays absurd characters, invents ridiculous products, and sells both in remarkably believable fashion. His past projects include "Blinder," with Vermeire acting as a corporate salesman for a Google Glass app that allows users to pixelate unwelcome people out of view (suggested targets: the homeless and elderly); his band Sad Vicious, which identifies as "San Jose's Most Hated Band™"; and his contributions to the Wonderment Consortium, the Oakland-based art collective which launched the infamous Kickstarter campaign to build a papier-mâché statue of Tom Hanks' Castaway character in front of as many Bay Area high schools as possible.
Vermeire isn't a producer on 94110 -- the "award-winning" producers have so far been kept anonymous. But he is the director of marketing and communications for the show, and I reached out to him last month. Vermeire told me that his association with the TV show doesn't disqualify it from being a real project, pointing to his real-life status as a successful businessman (Vermeire is co-owner of the Prather Ranch Meat Company, inside San Francisco's Ferry Building).
"First and foremost, I’m an entrepreneur," Vermeire replied. "I’m also a media artist and yes, I’m funny. But this project capitalizes mostly on my skills as a visionary, my ability to communicate a new idea to a broad audience. The producers of 94110 had seen some work I did with a group called Thunderball Media, and they liked my tenacity, so here we are."
Here's the thing -- Thunderball Media* is not a real company, and it probably never was; it's the company Vermeire pretends to represent when he performs "Blinder." That's how hard Vermeire sells his concepts: he never lets on that they're a joke, no matter how lunatic they appear.
I then contacted Andrew McClintock, the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of the arts magazine SF Arts Quarterly, which hosted the auditions for 94110 at the publication's office on O'Farrell Street.
When asked about SFAQ's role in the creation of 94110, McClintock was straightforward with his answer: none at all, except for offering the space for two days. But he also added that he has no desire for involvement with the project "in any capacity moving forward."
"In hindsight, this TV show goes against what we stand for, and we don't feel the production team was 100-percent upfront with us," McClintock said. "I have since terminated communication with them."
Vermeire has stated that the producers require those close to the project to sign non-disclosure agreements, which may explain McClintock's inability to explain what exactly went wrong. But when asked why the producers insisted on remaining anonymous, his answer was vague but telling.
"We thought it was for a reason," McClintock said, "that it didn't turn out to be."
Records show that a Thunderball Media did exist for a time in Santa Monica, but when asked, Vermeire said that the company was based in San Francisco.