‘The Morning Show’: How the #MeToo Movement Led to Big Changes on Apple’s Flagship Drama
Since it was first announced in November 2017, many rumors have popped up about “The Morning Show.” The Jennifer Aniston- and Reese Witherspoon-starring drama would be a family-friendly look at morning talk shows. It would steer away from topical, controversial content. It would only be available to people with Apple devices.
None of this is true, and as we approach its November 1 release date, the curtain over the biggest Apple TV+ series in the inaugural lineup is slowly being drawn back. During a press conference Sunday afternoon [13th October] — fittingly held at a Hollywood hotel that hasn’t even opened yet — Aniston and Witherspoon joined co-star Steve Carell and producers Kerry Ehrin, Michael Ellenberg, and director Mimi Leder to discuss the series’ veiled development.
Speaking to the show’s mature and timely content — which is very much a part of the hourlong drama — the group addressed how the #MeToo movement affected their story.
“The show existed before #MeToo happened,” Aniston said. “The show was always going to be pulling a curtain [back] on the New York media world and the morning talk shows. [But] once #MeToo happened, the conversation drastically changed and we just incorporated it [into the show.]”
When it earned a two-season, direct-to-series order from Apple in late 2017, “The Morning Show” was developed under writer and executive producer Jay Carson. But the #MeToo movement picked up steam shortly thereafter, and Apple soon signed Ehrin to an overall deal and hired her as the series’ new showrunner. Carson reportedly left amicably due to creative differences.
“We all sat and thought about what the tone would be,” Aniston said. “We wanted it to be raw, honest, vulnerable, and messy — and not black-and-white, obviously. As we were all stumbling along trying to figure out what is this narrative and what’s happening, this show was writing itself as we went along — well, the news was helping us.”
As it stands (per Apple’s official synopsis), “The Morning Show” explores the cutthroat world of morning news and the lives of the people who help America wake up in the morning. Told through the lens of two complicated women working to navigate the minefield of high-octane jobs while facing crises in both their personal and professional lives, “The Morning Show” is an unapologetically candid drama that looks at the power dynamics between women and men, and women and women, in the workplace.
“It’s impossible to talk about morning news and not deal with #MeToo,” Ehrin said. “It would be somewhat negligent. I think the idea is less about it being not black-and-white, but that it’s actually just nuanced. The characters are very complicated and dark people, but they’re all trying. I feel like really what the heart of it is about is about how people lie to themselves. That’s what it was about to me.”
Ehrin said she came on board in April 2018 and didn’t know what the previous version of the show looked like.
“The concept was a morning show based on the world that’s in Brian Stelter’s book,” she said about how the show was pitched to her. “[The 2013 book, “Top of the Morning”] is a wonderful, tonally real but also really heartbreaking and absurd world. The tone of that really appealed to me. Reese and Jen were already attached, which was a really exciting thing as a writer. It was intimidating because it needed to be fast. Normally, in the pilot world, you have a whole year just to figure out what the pilot is, so we did hit the ground running.”
Aniston plays Alex Levy, a longtime co-host on the fictional a.m. news program, “The Morning Show.” When her co-host Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) is accused of sexual harassment, she must chart a new path forward for the show, herself, and her staff. Witherspoon plays Bradley Jackson, a correspondent who’s shuffled from station to station despite her passionate reporting and deep knowledge base.
“Bradley is obsessive,” Ehrin said. “She’s incredibly smart. She has a photographic memory, and she actually cares about the stories she covers.”
Witherspoon said, “I was actually asked by a reporter a couple weeks ago, ‘So, your [characters’] dynamic isn’t ‘Thelma & Louise,’ and it’s also not ‘All About Eve,’ so what is it?’ And I was like, ‘You know there’s 7,000 different relationships that women have with each other, and this is just one of those 7,000 that’s never been explored.’”
Aniston said she saw her character as “a Diane Sawyer-type,” and the actress got to sit down with the ABC News anchor before digging into her role. Witherspoon said a slew of news personalities shared stories and advice with them, including Katie Couric, Carole King, Robin Roberts, George Stephanopoulos, and, perhaps most importantly, Meredith Vieira, who co-hosted the Today show with Matt Lauer. Lauer was one of the early figures exposed by the #MeToo movement, when he was fired in November 2017 for inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace. New allegations about the former anchor arose last week from Ronan Farrow’s forthcoming book, “Catch and Kill.”
Part of what drives the relationship between Witherspoon and Aniston’s characters is their different views of the world. Aniston’s host has been living in the upper echelon of New York’s media scene for years, while Witherspoon’s on-the-scene reporter has been hanging near her rural hometown, working wherever she’s sent.
“What I think is really interesting about our characters is that she’s existed in a system that barely made space for her,” Witherspoon said of Aniston’s character. “She felt lucky to be the only woman in that space. My character comes in and says, ‘Hold on. Just one woman isn’t enough. There needs to be more.’”
Despite their characters being nearly the same age, Witherspoon also sees a difference in how they view the world.
“It’s actually, to me, kind of second- and fourth-wave feminism,” she said. “There’s a bit of different ideologies just because women grew up in different times. My daughter has a different idea of what feminism is than what I grew up in. You see clashing ideologies, but you also see us galvanizing toward a singular purpose at the end of the season.”
Production on Season 2 is slated to begin shortly after Season 1 launches November 1. Episodes will be rolled out weekly after the initial launch, with “The Morning Show” available to anyone subscribing to Apple TV+. The new service will be available on Apple devices, Samsung Smart TVs (made after 2018), Amazon Firesticks, through the app (available on all smartphones), and online.
While launch details are becoming clearer every day, it will all be out there in less than three weeks — including “The Morning Show” itself.
“The Morning Show” premieres its first three episodes Friday, November 1 on Apple TV+. New episodes will debut weekly after that.