You’ll make it nowhere in America unless you’re running a scheme, at least according to every other show airing now through spring. Perhaps catching up to collective disillusionment in the promises of capitalism — especially those shilled by start-ups in Silicon Valley — TV and streaming networks are putting out competing series based on real-life people who talked their way into the wallets of the powerful … and eventually got caught. From real-estate empires to sham blood-testing apparatuses, which scheme is which, who got the furthest, who was sued, and who was running the scummiest scam? We’re here to help.
Premiering: March 3 on Hulu
The scammer: Elizabeth Holmes, played by Amanda Seyfried
Her scheme: In 2003, when she was a 19-year-old student at Stanford, Holmes founded Theranos, a company she swore would revolutionize the medical industry by running tests using only a few drops of blood. She quit school the following year. By 2013, she announced Theranos’ partnership with Walgreens; in 2014, she was named the youngest self-made woman billionaire worth an estimated $4.5 billion. The smoking gun: Her tests never consistently worked, and she hid that truth from nearly everyone.
Her legal status: Theranos was subject to an October 2015 Wall Street Journal investigation that revealed it was running tests primarily with traditional methods. From there, the house of cards collapsed. In March 2016, federal regulators threatened to shut down Theranos’s California lab over health and safety concerns the company failed to address. Sunny Balwani — later revealed to be Holmes’s romantic partner — stepped down as president and COO in May; soon after, Theranos voided two years of its blood-test results. By June, Holmes’s estimated net worth was revised to $0. In 2018, the SEC charged Holmes and Balwani with massive fraud worth $700 million. She stepped down as CEO before being indicted on criminal wire-fraud charges. In January 2022, she was found guilty of four of 11 charges, including conspiracy to defraud investors. She faces up to 20 years in prison. Balwani heads to trial in March.