HOW #METOO MADE WITHERSPOON AND ANISTON CHANGE THE CONTENT OF THEIR NEW TV SHOW
‘The Morning Show’ offers a timely look at the lives of TV news anchors, writes Gregory Wakeman
On Friday, November 1, Apple TV+ will propel the tech giants into the world of streaming services. For instant appeal to subscribers who already pay for the likes of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon – and who may be pondering Disney+ – the team behind Apple TV+ needs to launch with shows that are relevant, powerful, creative and packed with stars, and that raise the bar ever higher.
That’s why it greenlit The
Morning Show, which provides an inside look at the lives of the cast and crew of America’s most popular breakfast programme. Starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, who are also its executive producers, The Morning
Show kicks off with the firing of Mitch Kessler (played by Steve Carell), the co-host of 15 years to Alex Levy (Aniston), over a sexual misconduct scandal.
But far from being written as a response to the #MeToo movement, which has powerfully changed the working environment for women across the world, Aniston told a press conference in Los Angeles that The Morning Show existed first. She said the original aim was “to pull the curtain back on the New York media world and the morning talk shows” but the team later incorporated the conversation because it had “drastically” changed the landscape.
Kerry Ehrin, who has written for The Wonder Years and Friday Night Lights, and who
co-created Bates Motel, was brought in to oversee The
Morning Show in April this year and quickly recognised that it would have been “negligent” to set a show in the world of morning news “and not talk about #MeToo”. But she wanted to go deeper with the characters and explore “dark people” who know how to “lie to themselves”.
Mark Duplass, who plays executive producer Charlie “Chip” Black, was astounded by how The Morning Show balanced complex social and political issues with “good character development” and nuanced dialogue, all while finding human angles.
Bradley Jackson, played by Witherspoon, is the obsessive and intelligent aspiring journalist who becomes a rival for Levy, and Witherspoon says she was immediately impressed by the manner in which Ehrin was able to make the entire ensemble “really nuanced and different” right from the pilot. “They all come from different backgrounds,” Witherspoon says. “They all have different levels of success. They all have different motivations and ideologies. They are all highly motivated. They are all working for different purposes at all times”.
Witherspoon says the collision of these characters during the show’s 10-episode first season isn’t just “fascinating”, but also “reflects what is happening in the real world and “is about this moment when a whole construct explodes”. The relationship between Aniston and Witherspoon’s characters is destined to be the most alluring aspect of The
Morning Show. It is still rare for a major television show to have two female protagonists, and the drama, conflict and set pieces ever present in the series mean Jackson and Levy constantly collide. There’s also plenty of material for them to play with individually. “What is interesting about our characters is that she [Levy] has existed in a system that barely makes space for her,” Witherspoon says. “She felt lucky to be the only woman in that space. My character comes in and says: ‘Hold on! One woman isn’t enough. There needs to be more.’ There are clashing ideologies that contribute to a singular purpose.”
To prepare for their roles, Aniston and Witherspoon met the likes of Katie Couric, Robin Roberts, George Stephanopoulos and Diane Sawyer, and were surprised by quite how excited and open these newscasters were by the prospect of The Morning
Show. “They weren’t in fear of it at all,” says Aniston, with Witherspoon adding that they were keen to explore the impact of streaming services on broadcasting. “They were excited for some truth to be told as well, because they are dealing with this in real time,” she says.
But while The Morning
Show’s stars and pertinence appeal made it attractive to Apple TV+, its executive producer Michael Ellenberg insists the platform was the perfect launch pad for the comedy drama. Apple wanted something “new, ambitious and different,” he says, and those involved in The Morning
Show wanted to join into the positive impact streaming has already had on the industry. “We have a lot more stories being told by much different storytellers. People who haven’t always had the chance to tell their stories,” Ellenberg says. This is a sentiment Witherspoon emphatically echoes.
“You just don’t get to write women off. You just don’t get to write people of colour off. Audiences want to see people of different ages, from different backgrounds. It validates our audiences and it creates an opportunity for new voices and new storytellers to emerge. I am enormously grateful for these streaming services. It has changed my entire career.”
Witherspoon is already looking ahead to what that might mean for the The Morning
Show in the future. “There are so many more incredible stories to tell,” she says, before teasing: “And we have more seasons to do it.”
The first three episodes of The Morning Show will be released on Apple TV+ on Friday, November 1, with the remaining released weekly thereafter