Since the last season of The Morning Show, the broadcast news landscape has weathered the departure of CNN’s Chris Licht, a co-anchor romantic saga at Good Morning America, and Dominion’s unveiling of private communications from within Fox News. That makes the Apple TV+ hit something of an oracle when it comes to the ever-shifting media landscape.
The drama’s consulting producer Brian Stelter, a Vanity Fair contributor whose book Top of the Morning inspired the series, acknowledges its prophetic powers on a special bonus episode of Still Watching that dives into The Morning Show season 3. “The show has often had a degree of clairvoyance to it. #Me Too happened after we sold the show, right? Season two, the pandemic interrupted us—literally,” says Stelter, who appears alongside executive producer Michael Ellenberg. Their series aimed to keep prodding at “topical, noisy, complex events” by jumping past the thick of lockdown as the new season began. “We want to be able to locate our story and characters in a moment of time that’s as ripe as possible,” he explains.
It’s fitting, then, that the series’ new showrunner Charlotte Stoudt would introduce Jon Hamm’s Paul Marks, a tech billionaire with a spot at Sun Valley and phallic-looking rocket. But before one draws comparisons to Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk (who bought Twitter after this season was concocted, the producers urge), Ellenberg asks that audiences consider Hamm’s legacy as Mad Men’s Don Draper. In that series, says the EP, “Jon’s charming, obviously, incredibly handsome—an embodiment of a certain kind of American industry leader. He’s able to make something feel presentable and acceptable that may be wildly insidious. We wanted that. We wanted someone we were really drawn to.”
Ellenberg continues: “We didn’t want the show to get hung up on, let’s say, the stylistic quirks of a lot of the people you’ll meet in tech on television, and rather have someone very accessible, very compelling, and someone you’d want to say yes to. Jon, you never quite know where he stands, and he’s someone you want to get in bed with. Maybe literally and figuratively.” The show previously subverted a beloved TV legacy when casting The Office’s Steve Carrell as Mitch Kessler, the co-anchor to Jennifer Aniston’s Alex Levy who is ousted from UBA following a trail of sexual misconduct allegations. “We wanted the audience to feel he is the dad next door, he is the uncle they wish they had, he’s maybe the rascal they had a beer with, so you could connect with him,” says Ellenberg.
And although Carrell’s character is long gone, UBA is a network that continues to come apart at the seams. Fallout from a data hack at the network permeates the season, with reveals about everything from Bradley (Reese Witherspoon) and Laura’s (Julianna Margulies) secret relationship to pay inequality amongst the company’s Black employees. With a leak of this kind, almost any bit of dirt could be unearthed. How did The Morning Show decide what to dig up?
“Well, we’re storytellers first, so whatever is juiciest is the answer, right?” says Ellenberg. “This show is so much about exploring the difference between the public face we have, and then our private selves, right? In essence, the hack is the ultimate version of this. The network has a public face, which is noble and uplifting and has learned the lessons of #MeToo and racial inequity. And then the hack is the inner truth that gets revealed. I think everyone in America is wondering how much has really changed in the last three or four years, and how much is the same.”
According to Stelter, the only constant in an increasingly uncertain landscape may, in fact, be the idea of a morning show. “Every day, 7 A.M. Eastern Time, there’s got to be something on the air, for as long as we’re going to have broadcast television,” he says. “There’s got to be a host in the chair to tell you what happened last night, and that is the only thing we know for sure in this ever-evolving world.”