The ripple effect of pervasive silence about sexual misconduct is "an onion we unpeel that has many layers," showrunner Kerry Ehrin tells The Hollywood Reporter of the systemic problem highlighted by the #MeToo story.
Bradley Jackson rolls into her new job as cohost of The Morning Show like a Category 5 hurricane.
During Bradley's Reese Witherspoon first day on the show-within-a-show of the Apple TV+ drama, the replacement anchor to the ousted Mitch Kessler Steve Carell is so committed to being a truth-teller that she casually slips in a little-known-fact about herself during the early minutes of the beloved morning show's live telecast: She had an abortion when she was 15.
Frustrated by the script given to her mother in order to paint a false picture of a happy childhood, Bradley impulsively goes off teleprompter and tells America that she, in fact, was not perfect. She got suspended and caught with alcohol and, yes, she also had an abortion while in high school.
"Did you fuck up just now? Or was that intentional?" her simmering cohost Alex Levy Jennifer Aniston — very aware of the media firestorm about to ignite — asks Bradley about her soon-to-be viral reveal. Bradley, still stunned by her own word vomit, answers, "I don't actually know."
There was already a lot riding on Bradley's performance when the fourth episode of Apple's Morning Show opened. After being hit with a #MeToo scandal when star Mitch is fired over sexual misconduct allegations, The Morning Show also the name of the fictional show has revamped itself quickly with the female team of Alex, Mitch's 15-year partner, and Bradley, a new fiery reporter who has become a pawn in the self-serving game being played by everyone else to save their jobs at the top-rated morning news show.
Which begs the question: why layer a hot-button topic like abortion on top of the already dramatic Morning Show 2.0?
"You wanted Bradley's first on-air experience to be hugely upsetting," showrunner Kerry Ehrin tells The Hollywood Reporter, with a laugh, when speaking about the memorable on-air debut of Witherspoon's character. "I guess that is how I would describe it. It needed to feel like, 'Oh my God. Ok, so that's what happens when you get that person on a morning show.'"
As Ehrin has explained, Alex made the decision to give the unvetted and unfiltered Bradley Mitch's chair out of rage. In the second episode, the veteran anchor publicly announced Bradley as her cohost in a strategic move against her male-dominated bosses. "Sometimes, it feels great to just do a crazy thing or say what you feel, but then you have to live with the consequences of it. And Bradley is the consequence," says Ehrin of Bradley blowing up the image middle America has of their morning TV anchors.
Which is why Alex is forced to have Bradley's back, even when advertisers pull their spots over the polarizing on-air moment. But, then the tide turns. Bradley becomes a hero for coming forward about her teenage abortion, igniting a national firestorm and mobilizing high school students to stage walk-outs in protest of state abortion bans.
Her newfound star-power in the national abortion debate, coupled with her reputation for authenticity, is what makes Bradley the perfect anchor to do the big interview at the end of that first week. Mitch's accuser, named Ashley Brown Ahna O'Reilly, sits down with Bradley for a no-holds-barred interview about her sexual misconduct allegations against the former anchor, which had yet to be publicly revealed in detail.
But the accuser interview takes an unexpected turn when Bradley again goes off-script and pushes Ashley to discuss the culture of silence and complicity at The Morning Show and its network,the fictional UBA. In the background of the episode, UBA has launched an internal investigation where the staff is being questioned about what they knew about Mitch and if they are aware of any larger systemic issues in the workplace. The probe reveals Mia Jordan Karen Pittman as the producer who reported Mitch to HR after they ended their affair. But as the investigator is revealed to be working for the network in order to control the narrative to their benefit, Bradley is doing the opposite live and on-air.
"I'm writing about news but I based this a lot on entertainment," says Ehrin of The Morning Show's storyline echoing many headlines surrounding #MeToo and how sexual misconduct has been handled at major news corporations. "News is similar to entertainment in that it has huge talent and talent is protected. And when you look at a lot of these cases, they were protected by many; many people who didn't ever say anything. Some of which who didn't know they should or that they could. Some of who just didn't think there was a moral question about it, which is hard to imagine now looking back at it. But it's a big tapestry of people. And I think that looking at everybody's behavior, looking at one's own behavior, is necessary."
Before Bradley's interview, the news division's maverick new boss Corey Ellison Billy Crudup planted a seed in his talent's ear. "Between us, I also wonder who knew." Armed with her own journalistic gut and the approval to go there from her boss, Bradley pushes Ashley on why she felt like she couldn't report Mitch's inappropriate conduct. "Was there something about the culture at this network, at this show, that made it feel impossible to complain?" she asks. That's when Ashley admits that she gave Mitch oral sex several times in his dressing room: "He never forced me, but I guess I still just didn't really know how not to go through with it? I never told anybody, but everybody knew."
The admission instantly sends Alex, executive producer Chip Black Mark Duplass and network boss Fred Mickland Tom Irwin into a rage over the bombshell of implications. Corey, meanwhile, supports the abandonment of the old guard. When Alex tells Bradley she just put the show at risk, Bradley brings her cohost into the complicity conversation by asking if she, too, knew what went on in Mitch's dressing room.
"We talked about it in the room," says Ehrin of the timely episode written by Adam Milch. "We knew we wanted to go for a story where there was a certain type of interview that the show was assuming they were delivering, and that Bradley understood that and in the moment was just like, 'No. I'm going for more.'"
The fourth episode opens the door to a timely dialogue that The Morning Show will continue to confront when it questions the complicity that allowed for Mitch's behavior. Heading into the midpoint of the season, Bradley has now effectively shifted the narrative in audience's minds to be the assumption that everybody knew something.
"Part of what we are trying to tell is the story of a human being that disappoints you and how it is a process to see that side of that person," says Ehrin of the journey ahead. "It's a grieving process and that was what we wanted to get out of those scenes."
And now the big question threatens her only ally at The Morning Show. Just how complicit was Alex in all of this?
"It's an onion we unpeel that has many layers," Ehrin teases.
"We went through every script together. Jen and Reese and I were tonally on the same page about how we wanted to present the story and the kind of raw, messiness of it and the emotionality of it was part of that. We were all in the same thought-bubble from the beginning," says Ehrin of the conversations she had with her stars and executive producers about how to confront Alex's role in the scandal. "I was really imagining oneself in that situation, of working with someone for 15 years and being very close to them, and then seeing them publicly in this very, very dark light and how that process works emotionally for a human being."
Netflix made binge viewing the norm for streaming television, but as new competitors threaten to disrupt the platform's dominance, the old weekly release schedule for television shows is coming back in a big way.
Outside of “Dickinson,” original series on the recently-released Apple TV+ are dropping new episodes weekly, and the upcoming Disney+ and HBO Max streaming services will follow suit. If a viewer wants to find out whether Jennifer Aniston salvages her broadcast anchor gig on Apple TV+'s “The Morning Show” or tune in to Pedro Pascal's latest bounty hunting escapades on Disney+'s “The Mandalorian,” they'll need to keep coming back to those streaming services every week.
Streaming executives say the weekly release schedules will get viewers engaged by setting a pattern of watching a show at the same time – essentially a throwback to the long-held network model. That was the argument “The Mandalorian” executive producer Dave Filoni made during a recent press event, and HBO Max content chief Kevin Reilly echoed the point during WarnerMedia's HBO Max unveiling in October. “HBO hits like 'Succession' and 'Chernobyl' became part of the zeitgeist with a weekly release schedule rather than fading quickly after a binge-and-burn,” Reilly told investors during the HBO Max event.
Will it work? Analysts such as Wedbush's Daniel Ives aren't quite as optimistic about the shift back to the weekly release model. Ives noted that it's no coincidence that Apple TV+ and Disney+, which are only launching with a small handful of original projects, are staggering the release of their shows: If those platforms dropped all of the episodes from their exclusive series at launch, there wouldn't be any new original content to keep viewers coming back for the next few months.
“In this content arms race there is a lot of pressure to have releases on a weekly basis, especially of new shows,” Ives said. “They're spreading out their original content because right now they lack fuel in that engine.”
The Morning Show
Photo Courtesy Apple
Though the weekly release schedules for Apple TV+—which currently doesn't show the premiere dates for future episodes of its shows—and Disney+ could mask their relative lack of original projects compared to industry behemoths such as Netflix and Hulu, regularly releasing new content from highly-anticipated shows such as “The Morning Show” and “The Mandalorian” should nonetheless keep those platforms relevant despite the crowded market, according to Ives.
Apple TV+ and HBO Max spokespersons declined to comment and a Disney+ spokesperson did not return a request for comment.
HBO's “Game of Thrones” is an especially prominent example of a television show staying relevant thanks to its weekly release schedule. The lull between weekly episode releases of these other shows could generate easy word of mouth as fans debate what will happen on the next episode of a particular show, according to Jimmy Schaeffler, CEO of media consultancy The Carmel Group.
“They are testing the consumer to see if returning to the traditional ways of having an episodic weekly show builds excitement and anticipation from a good percentage of the audience,” Schaeffler said. “If you have people talking amongst themselves on social media or at gatherings about the next week of a show, you have great word of mouth.”
Regardless, Schaeffler wasn't sold on the weekly release format and stressed that binge viewing was hardly going away. Amazon Prime Video and Hulu have released episodes of certain projects weekly, but those have been exceptions to the rule. Netflix also recently experimented with a weekly release format for its “Rhythm + Flow” competition series, but that's unlikely to be a sign of things to come.
Breadth of content aside, viewers enjoy having control over their television consumption habits, and taking binging away from viewers after it's been the norm for so long could be an active detriment to new services, according to Schaeffler.
“People love to have choice and in this instance you have more choice when you can binge shows,” Schaeffler said. “To get rid of that choice now is a big risk. There is a segment of the audience that loves to binge and if you don't allow them that, they will be watching something else when they could be watching your content.”
Showrunner Kerry Ehrin explains to The Hollywood Reporter how the three-part premiere sets the stage for the first season.
[This story contains spoilers from the first three episodes of Apple's The Morning Show.]
Kerry Ehrin is very careful about spoilers when it comes to looking beyond the first three episodes of The Morning Show. But after an introductory drop into the fictional morning show world created by the showrunner, it seems safe to say that the show-within-a-show is going to change by the end of the first season of the Apple drama.
"It's like you're pulling a thread from a beautiful rug and unraveling it slowly, and you see what you are left with at the end," Ehrin tells The Hollywood Reporter of what's to come from the remaining seven episodes.
The first episodes, which launched as a three-part premiere when the Apple TV+ streaming service made its anticipated debut on Nov. 1, set the foundation for the Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon series. Set in the post-#MeToo era, The Morning Show opens with the headline-making firing ofbeloved male anchor Mitch Kessler Steve Carell over multiple sexual misconduct allegations. In response, his co-anchor Alex Levy Aniston, the network executives and the show's staff, led by executive producer Chip Black Mark Duplass, are forced to pick up the pieces, confront or cover-up their own complicity, and figure out how to save America's top-rated morning news show from the scandal.
"Thematically, the idea of showing different perspectives and people going through this fluid process of trying to understand what the fuck has happened is the story," Ehrin says with a laugh. "And it's complicated because it affects every single relationship in relationship to each other. So there are all different equations of human relationships that are being challenged by this and re-thought and re-understood."
The focus of the first three episodes orbits around Alex and newcomer Bradley Jackson Reese Witherspoon, the rising star reporter who, thanks to being championed by new network executive Corey Ellison Billy Crudup, becomes a quick pawn in Alex's fight with network boss Fred Mickland Tom Irwin to Bradley's own professional benefit. During a public event with some of the most prominent journalists, Alex announces Bradley as Mitch's replacement in a bid to control her own narrative after finding out that the network had been scheming to replace her. Though the headstrong women clash initially, the end of the third episode sees Alex taking Bradley under her wing and offering her the kind of support only Alex could: Before Bradley's first show, Alex grabs her hand and whispers, "Don't fuck it up."
Ehrin says that showcasing a sophisticated, complex, female work relationship — one that can still be competitive — was part of her initial pitch to Apple about what she wanted to be at the heart of the show. "They don't stay in conflict the entire season," says Ehrin about her two starring characters, who are played by hands-on exec producers Aniston and Witherspoon. "They have twists and turns in their relationship that are profound. But [them being in conflict] is definitely not the center of any storytelling. I wanted to tell a story about two smart, high-profile women who forge a relationship and what that looks like, and all the subtleties and nuances of it. It's complicated."
In fact, Bradley's unfiltered personality and naive ambition will continue to have an effect on seasoned anchor Alex, and many others who work on The Morning Show, which is affectionately referred to as "TMS " by the characters. "Bradley brings a boldness to a world that has lived in a sort of cloaked environment, either intentionally or unintentionally, and her presence in it starts to dissolve some of the internal and external guards that people have put up around themselves," says Ehrin.
As The Morning Show continues to follow the fallout from Mitch's #MeToo scandal, questions about complicity continue to swirl both inside and outside of the control room. And after giving viewers a taste of his side of the story, Mitch will also continue to fight to either clear his name, or take others down with him.
Executive producer Michael Ellenberg adds that these first three episodes set up not only the rest of the season, but also what's to come from the series. The Morning Show was given a two-season, 20-episode order and Ehrin is already back in the writers room working on the second season, while also having told THR that she envisions a long future for the show.
"The first three episodes complete the structure of the show, not just for this year but beyond: Bradley and Alex end up on the same show together; Mitch is trying to figure out how to come back into this world to seek redemption or revenge, we're not sure; and what's special is that we're able to subvert the trope of female competition," Ellenberg tells THR. "Instead, we're in a really interesting question about a female relationship. Can they be colleagues? Can they be rivals? Can they be friends?"
He continues, "Bradley's on a journey where she has to decide if she wants to make these compromises and changes to her personality. She's raw. She's herself. She's a truth-teller. And to do that job well, you've got to compromise that a little bit. So she's on one journey and I would say Alex is on another journey. She's going rawer and truer, and that's not who she's been the last 10 years. And that's going to cause them a lot of human pain, a lot of joy and drama. It's great. It's beautiful."
Stephen King loves Apple TV+ marquee drama “The Morning Show” so much that he tweeted about it. “'THE MORNING SHOW: Instantly involving, characters you care about, professionally made, acted with elan. What's not to like?” he asked the internet ether on Sunday and, like it or not, the ether responded.
Setting aside the reality that many, many critics found plenty not to like about the first three episodes of the series, some cast and crew members, including showrunner Kerry Ehrin and actor Mark Duplass, replied with thanks for his praise, other individuals pointed out exactly what there was not to like about the new series, sight unseen.
THE MORNING SHOW: Instantly involving, characters you care about, professionally made, acted with elan. What's not to like?
— Stephen King @StephenKing November 4, 2019
Thank you so much for this. ❤️
— Kerry Ehrin @KerryEhrin November 4, 2019
thank u so much for the nice words. u r a hero of mine and this means the world.
— Mark Duplass @MarkDuplass November 4, 2019
Repeatedly in the hundreds of responses to his relatively innocuous tweet, people bemoaned that the series exists on another streaming service that they have neither the time, nor the funds, to invest in. Others had no real conception of how streaming TV works, informing the horror author that they'd just wait to catch it once it finally arrives on Netflix or Amazon.
That's only on Apple tv, a platform I don't have interest in purchasing, as in android lifer. #boo
— SaltySEO @crazywoody November 4, 2019
That I can't watch it because it's on yet another streaming channel that I can't afford.
— Kristina Leigh @KristinaLeigh02 November 4, 2019
That’s it’s on Apple TV and not network channels?
— Jan Warner-Poole @janmah55 November 4, 2019
This is the real challenge that Apple faces. It's not about what household names enjoy their TV product, it's about whether or not the average household is willing to shell out for a streaming service that has yet to prove itself. It was never a battle that was going to be won overnight, and given that it's mere days since the launch of Apple TV+ its not fair to speak to the perceived success or failure of an endeavor that's barely made it out of the starting gate.
But the message is clear: No one asked for another streaming service. And yet here we are. To crib from a famous film quote from another streaming star, future Disney+ host Jeff Goldblum: Companies were so preoccupied with whether or not they could launch their own streaming service that they didn't stop to think if they should.
The entire ethos behind cord cutting was to free people from oppressively large cable bills that offered a lot of what consumers didn't want along with the few channels that they did. With Apple TV+ and, soon, Disney+, we're verging on an era of peak subscriber-based TV. There's only so many hours in a day and so many shows to stream. At some point, there's going to be a cull in which viewers decide what it is they really want from their streaming services and some contenders just aren't going to make the cut.
When that day comes — and it will come — it's not even going to be a question of what your price point is, something that, at $5 a month, brings Apple in at the lower end of the cost structure for platforms, it's going to be about value. Does what the tech giant's offering stand up to Netflix's expansive library of content, available for $9, or even newcomer Disney+, with its backlog of animated classics and Marvel blockbusters at fans fingertips for $7 monthly? Not even Stephen King knows the answer to that.
"We took people through deep moral waters and didn't give them a compass," showrunner Kerry Ehrin tells The Hollywood Reporter of the Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon series after the three-episode premiere.
[This story contains spoilers from the first three episodes of Apple's The Morning Show.]
The Morning Show has been upended by the #MeToo movement by the end of the Apple drama's three-episode premiere.
In an all-too familiar scenario, Apple TV+'s star-studded flagship series begins with a morning news show being rocked by sexual misconduct claims when the male anchor is swiftly fired and the female anchor is left to deliver the news to America. Beyond that initial premise, however, it is revealed that everyone in The Morning Show's orbithas an agenda.
Mitch Kessler Steve Carell has been terminated from his beloved post as longtime Morning Show anchor after multiple allegations and, instead of putting out a statement and going away quietly, he is vowing to fight back. His veteran cohost, Alex Levy Jennifer Aniston champions a new star reporter Bradley Jackson Reese Witherspoon to take over his seat, but only because she sees it as a power move over the male bosses — network boss Fred Mickland Tom Irwin and new exec Corey Ellison Billy Crudup — who had been planning to fire her because she has passed her "sell-by date." Bradley is seizing a coveted career opportunity, but she isn't going to play the game set by her network, her bosses or her cohost.
"When Alex announces Bradley, it's not like she is thinking in her head that this is a good plan. She makes that decision at the end of the second episode out of total fury," showrunner Kerry Ehrin tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Alex is thinking, 'Fuck Corey Ellison. Fuck Fred Mickland. I'm going to just fuck them right now because I can, and I have the power to do this and — what are they going to do about it? And they're going to fire me anyway. So, fuck 'em.' She makes this decision out of this rage that's in her because she's so sick of being marginalized and not valued. And then she has to live with the consequences of that moment. Sometimes it feels great to do a crazy thing or say what you feel, but then you have to live with the consequences. And Bradley is the consequence. Alex has to make it look like this was a good idea. And all of that is what was actually fun about writing the story."
Below, Ehrin talks to THR about the "seismic earthquake" that sums up the trio of episodes and how the introductory stories set up a timely season set to explore redemption, revenge, rage, rising up and the "complexity of the world right now that we live in and how we're all trying to navigate our way through it."
When speaking on The Hollywood Reporter's TV's Top 5 podcast, you said one note Apple had for you was to edit down a script that had 57 "fucks" to make the number 45. Your cast also said all the Apple products really worked, from the Morning Show office computers to the Apple News breaking news alerts. What are some of the other perks to being an Apple show?
There is no employee discount! Laughs. They've been really, really good partners. Not just as a network, but as people. As human beings they've been there for me and I genuinely appreciate that because this was a hard thing to put together, especially under the circumstances. It was a lot of passion and care and heart that went into it from everyone involved. We all love it and we're really proud of it. It felt very familial to be at Apple, so I have nothing but glowing things to say about them.
These first three episodes set up the rest of the season. What did you want to accomplish with the three-part premiere and did you know from the start that Apple planned to release them as a trio?
I really wanted to tell the story of how Bradley wound up in the chair. That was the goal of the first three, and I did know they were going to release them together. I also wanted to establish the tone. I wanted to create a tone where we took people through deep moral waters and didn't give them a compass. Didn't tell them: Here's how you have to feel or think. I wanted people to get in it and start to draw their own conclusions, and start to wonder about, who was who? Who was up front? Who was duplicitous? Just sort of drop you in it, like you just started working in that office.
At this point, is Mitch Kessler Steve Carell trying to seek redemption or revenge, and is that a big theme you explore as the episodes go?
One hundred percent. He as a character is angry and feels attacked, and does not feel like he is this monster. He doesn't feel like he deserves how he got fired. And I think that's exactly what he's looking for — both redemption and revenge. One of the things that I do is to write characters that are full of internal contradictions. All the characters have a lot of internal contradictions in this show, as humans do. You can be the nicest person in the world in one second and then in another second be horrible.
One of the most pivotal scenes is Alex Levy's Jennifer Aniston on-camera interview with Bradley Jackson Reese Witherspoon in the premiere. By the end of episode three, Bradley has been introduced as a truth-teller and Alex is confronted with being truthful for maybe the first time in her career. They are competitive, but they don't tear each other down. How important was it to you to subvert that female trope from the get-go, even in such a high-stakes environment?
I brought it up in my first meeting with Apple because I was really intrigued to write about a sophisticated, complex, female work relationship. Of course we are competitive! It's normal. I have dear friends who I've had pilots in contention with — every year! Of course you support them, and of course you want your own pilot picked up. Laughs. There was a book about growing up as a woman, as a girl. And it was something about how we ask women to run as fast as they can, but on ice. About how being competitive makes you bad, or not always putting the other person first makes you bad. It doesn't. We're supposed to be competitive, we're supposed to be the best we can and want things and want success. It doesn't mean that you're bitches or horrible to each other. I wanted to express the complication of that.
Bradley and Alex lean into complex emotions including anger and rage. You've said Reese Witherspoon had input in showing Bradley's anger. Can you talk about developing that character and upending the “angry woman” stereotype?
The character that I originally developed in the first draft was a little more internal. The rage existed, but she was more of an observer and she was a little more guarded. Reese wanted to break that open and bring out the McEnroe of her laughs. That just seemed like a really fun idea. Erica Lipez and I had written the first three scripts, and we did a quick burn through re-gauging that character and it was a fun revision. I think it brought out a very cool side of the character.
Bradley and Alex also represent different waves of feminism. What was Jennifer Aniston and Witherspoon's hands-on approach like when it came to shaping who they wanted to play?And how much of your real-life experiences seeped into this post-#MeToo story?
So much. That was actually one of the joys of it — just be able to say this shit. Laughs. I have a decades-wan reserve of it. So, that was really liberating. And to be fair, those characters are so much the thrust of everything that they do become story and theme, and [their relationship] becomes all of it. We talked about every single thing. As the scripts came out, we would go through them.
Courtesy of Apple TV+
Bradley Jackson Reese Witherspoon and Alex Levy Jennifer Aniston with Morning Show's executive producer Chip Black Mark Duplass.
You said Mitch isn't exclusively based on Matt Lauer. The ousted Today anchor and Mitch share a similar charm of “America's dad,” a veneer that Morning Show breaks down to reveal as a charming narcissist. That parallel is now set against the backdrop of new revelations about Lauer and NBC from Ronan Farrow, making these beginning episodes extra timely. How much did the cases of Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose ousted from CBS This Morning influence Mitch?
Before anyone talked to me about any specifics that they were looking for in the show, they really were saying, "We have this premise, what do you think and where would you go?" It was a very general conversation. I had not actually watched a ton of morning TV since my kids were born, and since I work 24 hours a day. My brain just went right to that. Morning news — sexual misconduct. So in that sense, it's very connected. But in an actual character sense, it isn't at all.
You pull the curtain back by following Mitch and showing his perspective. What were the conversations like about writing Mitch's point of view and did it feel daring to present his side?
Yes and a lot of the time, it was hard to do. Because it isn't anyone's instinct. So we would have to crawl inside this person right now and perceive it through them. And that was sometimes very challenging. But at the same time, these are conversations that are happening. These are conversations you overhear — we didn't make them up.
Desk buttons in offices have been reported as somewhat common at corporations. In The Morning Show, Mitch's dressing room has one and Alex's does not. Have you found that executive privilege to be reserved for men?
In the times when I knew of those buttons in executive offices, most of the executives were men. So that was my experience of it, but had to do with the times I think. Alex doesn't have that button. The thing about those buttons — the normal ones that executives used or use — they do not lock doors. They just allow you to close the door if you're having a conversation that you don't want the person down the hall to hear. For good reason, they obviously have taken on a very ominous quality. But when I knew of them, they were just a thing that executives had that was like an efficiency.
Karen Pittman's take on that button scene was that it was her character, Mia Jordan, gaining some power back. She said it also showed Mitch's influence even with him gone. What's your message with that scene where Mia uses the desk button in his dressing room?
The idea of her going in there, she's in a lot of pain and she's facing it. She's facing it and kind of rising above it in that moment, and pushing back.
From Mia's relationship with Mitch toClaire'sBel Powley with weather anchor Yanko Nestor Carbonell, you show several female characters in different ranks having relationships at different levels of what's appropriate. Is part of your long-term vision to dig into the complications of office relationships in the #MeToo era?
Yes. That is part of it. It's wanting to look at the complexity of the world right now that we live in and how we're all trying to navigate our way through it. To navigate through what's right, what's wrong. These behaviors have existed for so long and everyone has just sort of woken up.
When you tackle stories that invoke many in Hollywood and in the entertainment world, do you have hesitations or did you feel fearless to push ahead despite real-life parallels?
When I get inside a story, I just don't think about that. I just want to tell the story. And, it was the story. You get into a place where you have no choice. That's the story that wants to be told, and so you follow it.
Do you view season one as a package in the sense that it sets up something different for season two? The Morning Show received a two season, 20-episode order from Apple and Ehrin is already at work on season two.
Where we land at the end of season one is not something where you just start over with a new story. But it certainly does bleed into and inform [season two]. It really is emotionally the foundation for the series. This seismic earthquake that Alex experiences but that Bradley walks into, that this corporation is trying to get its footing after. That is what the foundation is of the storytelling. It doesn't mean that's every aspect of season two, but you can't go through that as a character and in season two, have not gone through that. It affects you and informs you as a character.
This season feels like it is set right now. If this season explores the reckoning of the #MeToo era, will next season reflect a more idealistic future to come out of this?
To some extent, yes. I think one of the messages of the show, though, is that everything is complicated!
When most people are recuperating from a long, hard, challenging endeavor, they sleep in; they get a massage; they take it easy. Well, Mimi Leder said she’s “still recovering” from the first season of “The Morning Show,” and yet she’s already planning specific shots for Season 2.
“I had a great shot that I did not do [in Season 1] — and I’m gonna do it next season,” Leder said in an interview with IndieWire. “I was in the bullpen, bringing Hanna [Gugu Mbatha-Raw] in from the control room. I was on a long arm, a techno, and I pulled her back–“
Leder stopped herself. She was about to go into too much detail about a scene she hasn’t yet captured, and secrecy remains paramount for her Apple TV+ drama. “The Morning Show” has been an all-consuming undertaking for the director since production finally started a year ago, and one of the things she’s learned is to keep moving forward — except when it’s too good to let go.
“It was just a great shot, and I never got to do it because we kept changing the schedule,” Leder said. “I had the techno, and we’d change [the shooting schedule], and how many times can you order the techno and not use it? So you let things go.”
Kind of. Leder’s work on “The Morning Show” sounds as labyrinthian as early reports have made out, filled with delays, changes, and lots of passion. Apple’s torchbearer into scripted originals shifted course long before its November 1 launch and all after Leder signed up as an executive producer and director. She was onboard before they threw out the first drafts. She was there before Apple switched showrunners. She was ready and waiting while the new, #MeToo-focused scripts were being written.
“I wanted to direct all the episodes, but they didn’t have the scripts!” Leder said.
She stayed to direct three entries, in part, because of the potential she saw in the show’s essence; what couldn’t be lost in showrunner changes or rewrites or production delays.
Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston in “The Morning Show”
Courtesy of Apple
“Tonally, I definitely wanted to keep the humor and the darkness,” Leder said. “When #MeToo happened, that had to be incorporated — and, I think, [it was] done very smartly. […] So often, women’s stories are told, historically, through a male lens. This was an opportunity to do a story about these women from [women’s perspectives]. Not all shows about women have to be directed by women, but there certainly haven’t been enough of them.”
Leder, hot off her 2018 Ruth Bader Ginsberg film “On the Basis of Sex,” felt like an ideal director for a story about two women trying to change the patriarchal rules of television news. Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon star, respectively, as the veteran host of a national morning news program and a roaming reporter toiling for the truth in America’s heartland. Fate in the form of an ousted co-host played by Steve Carell bring the two together to form a new duo for a new, post-#MeToo future.
An admirer of “Network,” “The Larry Sanders Show,” and “Broadcast News,” the veteran director behind “E.R.” and “The Leftovers” went to work fusing powerful characters to a timely story.
She went to New York and visited the sets of “Good Morning America” and “Today” with her production designer John Paino. Taking “so many” photos of the sets and offices, Leder helped set the color palettes for “The Morning Show’s” versions of both — coveting accuracy even over convenience.
“What was surprising was the rooms are really tiny,” Leder said of the real-life studios. “They’re really small, and actually, our sets are really small — a little too small. It was like shooting in a practical location.”
Leder said she had a lot of time with the script before shooting, as the production start date shifted from June to July, then July to August, until they eventually began on November 30, 2018. “Everything dragged on forever,” she said. But the director made the most of it: Leder shaped the studio, offices, and hallways to fit her vision of the show.
“In building the set, I had the ability to say, ‘Let’s put the monitors right there because my shot is going to start on them, and I’m going to put [this character] on the floor over here,'” Leder said.
Mark Duplass and Jennifer Aniston in “The Morning Show”
Courtesy of Apple
To prepare for the walk-and-talk scenes — Leder helped design the earliest versions of these lengthy one-takes where characters move through sets, sharing a conversation — the director would map out the scene on paper, wait for the construction workers to finish their day’s work, and then take her assistant director, Anne Berger, and director of photography, Michael Grady, onto the unfinished sets to start mapping out the sequences.
“I think that’s also how I work: I plan everything, and then I keep it open,” Leder said. “That comes from experience, just not being afraid to create as we go. New stuff happens and you think of different angles, different shots — ‘Oh, I never saw it from here. Let’s do that. Let’s shoot from the glass.’ — that’s what’s exciting. I know a lot of people plan things and they stick to it. To me, I like to stick to the great stuff, but then I let it go and find even better stuff.”
And she did. Leder’s eye has delivered a vivid start to Season 1, filled with brisk blocking, steady movement, and bright, beautiful colors. Her prepared-but-open process allowed for delightful surprises like a certain cast member who pops up in the back of one particularly funny walk-and-talk and a radiant and realistic design for the show-within-the-show. It was a big job, but Leder’s been doing big jobs throughout her career. Between prep, shooting, and post-production, she only finished work two months before “The Morning Show” debuted.
“I’ve only been off six weeks, and I still haven’t recovered,” Leder said. “I go back to work on the 11th of November [for Season 2]. We start shooting in February.”
“The Morning Show” was ordered for two seasons, and Leder describes the project as a limited series. Never one to fold under pressure — on the contrary, Leder thrives there — she’s already bursting with energy for Season 2, which was already picked up by Apple.
“It was a wonderful and excited undertaking. Very complicated, very hard, and awesome,” Leder said in a recent interview. “Our cast is extraordinary. You can’t believe that all this great energy is exploding from the screen.”
So after all that work in Season 1, producing a full season on top of directing three episodes, what’s the plan for Season 2?
“This year,” she said. “I’ll probably do four.”
“The Morning Show” is streaming now on Apple TV+. New episodes will be released weekly. Apple has ordered Season 2.