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

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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

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