'The Dropout's' Executive Producer on 'Understanding' Elizabeth Holmes

The Dropout on Hulu is an eight-episode adaption of the gripping ABC podcast of the same name, documenting the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes. A Stanford dropout, Elizabeth Holmes was the CEO of Theranos, a health technology company that promised to revolutionize blood testing.

Theranos told investors and patients that with just one finger prick of blood, up to 300 blood tests could be run using their Edison machine. Over the years, Holmes was able to recruit influential figures in the tech world and beyond to sit on her board, including former secretaries of state George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, famed lawyer David Boies and the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, William Foege.

In 2015, over a decade after Theranos' inception, Holmes was named by Forbes as the youngest and wealthiest self-made female billionaire, with a $4.5 billion fortune.

Then came the downfall. Theranos' technology did not work to the extent it promised and instead, the company used commercially available machines to run their tests.

Theranos crashed and burned after details of the company's failings began to slip out, eventually through whistleblowers Tyler Shultz, Erika Cheung and Adam Rosendorff, who spoke to John Carreyrou of The Wall Street Journal.

Carreyrou wrote a series scathing articles on Theranos and later a book Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, revealing Theranos' Edison device gave inaccurate results, ultimately triggering the company's downfall.

Patients even received fake diagnoses and were falsely told Edison had been approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).

Speaking to Newsweek, The Dropout executive producer Michael Showalter shared: "I am fascinated with the story just like everybody else. I would love to recreate this story for myself and try to be there in the room and understand how this could have happened.

"I knew about the story of Elizabeth Holmes. I had read the book and seen the documentary and listened to the podcast and read every article about it as it was all unfolding. I had been very fascinated by Elizabeth Holmes before she was exposed and found her to be very fascinating and charismatic and all these things"

Holmes was ultimately charged by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with deceiving investors by "massive fraud".

As a result, she paid a $500,000 fine, returned her shares to the company, and accepted a 10-year ban from serving as an officer or director of a public company.

In June 2018, Holmes and former Theranos chief operating officer (COO) Ramesh 'Sunny' Balwani, who was also once Holmes' partner, were indicted on nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Both face up to 20 years in prison.

Holmes was found guilty on four counts of defrauding investors in January 2022 and Balwani's trial is ongoing today.

Now, that Holmes has been found guilty and The Dropout aired, do we have a better understanding of Holmes? Maybe, thinks Showalter. After all, most people can relate to needing to "buy a little time" and "figure it out" now and then.

He shared: "I think I understand certain parts of it. We always talk about this idea of 'fake it till you make it,' which, certainly in my industry, is a very common practice.

"For example, you're working on a screen on a screenplay and you have a deadline and the executives that you're working with call you and say 'how's the screenplay coming?' and you go, 'it's great. It's great. It's perfect. It's been great. It's in great shape. I've already finished the first draft, and I'm already working on the rewrite' and none of that's true, you're struggling and you're trying to figure it out and you're behind and all these other things, but you want to put to you want to put a good face on and you believe that if you can just buy a little time you'll figure it out.

"So, I understand that part of it that. I think she believed that if she could just buy some time she could figure it out."

Today, Holmes is awaiting sentencing. In July 2021, she gave birth to a son with partner Billy Evans.

The Dropout is streaming on Hulu now.

Elizbeth Holmes the dropout
Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes in The Dropout Hulu