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[This story contains spoilers from the first two episodes of The Morning Show season three, “The Kármán Line” and “Ghost in the Machine.”]
When The Morning Show returns, it’s two years after the events of the season two finale.
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The timeline of the Jennifer Aniston- and Reese Witherspoon-starring Apple TV+ media drama had ended in March of 2020 with a no-filter, live broadcast from COVID-positive anchor Alex Levy (Aniston), who told her viewers to “stay safe and stay sane” as the country was unknowingly on the cusp of lockdown. Network boss Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup) had just confessed his love to anchor Bradley Jackson (Witherspoon), whose girlfriend, Laura Peterson (Julianna Margulies), escaped to Montana; and the crew of the series’ The Morning Show was preparing to deliver the news remotely amid the looming pandemic.
The third season, which released its first two of 10 episodes Wednesday, now jumps ahead to open in March 2022. Both Alex and Bradley have been promoted to lead their own primetime news shows; Laura is anchoring the rival morning show; and Cory is courting an Elon Musk-like billionaire, played by newcomer Jon Hamm, to buy UBA amid a perilous media landscape that the CEO likens to a game of “three-card capitalism,” one he wasn’t able to win with his season two launch of streamer UBA+.
“The world as we know it is over. We are officially in the Thunderdome,” Cory tells his top anchor Alex, while standing on his proverbial soap box. “In five years, half the streaming services? They’ll be gone or bought out. In 10 years, the internet will be 3D. You will literally be in people’s living rooms. We need to build a time machine to take us to the future, and that is going to take real deep pockets! Someone with more money than God.”
Enter Paul Marks, Hamm’s tech titan and possible investor, who is joining the suborbital spaceflight race and planning to send Alex up on his inaugural rocket launch in the first of what will become many entanglements with the TMS team in season three.
“That leap to March 2022 is because we wanted to get far enough to see what happened with the UBA+ launch and get us on the other side of the pandemic so we’re closer to where we are right now,” Michael Ellenberg explains to The Hollywood Reporter of the timely themes the show confronts in season three. “Even though it’s set a year in the past, it feels like right now. That was really our goal. We want to be tackling the noisiest, most controversial things in our culture and also give our characters a platform to see them in challenges that we hadn’t seen them in before.”
Indeed, the show’s legacy media network is in crisis. So The Morning Show’s creative team brought in Paul Marks to be, as the Media Res executive producer sums up, the white knight to either save UBA — or destroy it.
Did Apple have any notes about this theme of tech titans taking over the media landscape? Ellenberg offers a laugh before answering, “Apple are human beings who work there and, like us, they’re going through these same questions every day. And so I think for everyone working on this show, it’s therapy a little bit. The industry is moving so quickly. It’s exciting; it’s eccentric. Right now, it can be scary, and we want to give the audience a window into what’s happening.”
The pace of The Morning Show season three’s first two episodes moves quickly, as viewers try to piece together what has gone down for this ensemble in the two-year time jump. Newsroom boss Mia (Karen Pittman) swoons over a journalist abroad whom viewers have never met; Laura and Bradley have broken up; and, in the biggest mystery of the new season, Bradley and Cory are harboring a secret between them that is so deep he goes to bat for Bradley when the network is hacked, suggesting the board pay a ransom of $50 million in order to preserve whatever else it is they are hiding.
And while that Bradley storyline is certain to stick with viewers after the premiere — an explicit video she sent to Laura is used as bait by the hackers — it’s another subplot involving her character that helps drive a propulsive theme of the season.
Earlier in the first episode, while Alex is fighting for her own seat at the UBA table, Bradley is similarly frustrated when her bosses, including Greta Lee’s scene-stealing UBA president Stella, prevent her from covering an abortion access story she worked hard to source. That abortion-related storyline was a seed planted by the writers and new showrunner Charlotte Stoudt, who took the reins of the third season from previous showrunner Kerry Ehrin — both of whom bring a prescient quality to The Morning Show. (The series has already been renewed for a fourth season.)
Ehrin, as showrunner of the first two seasons, pivoted scripts to tackle both the #MeToo movement and the COVID-19 pandemic. When plotting season three, Stoudt and her writers room tracked the likelihood of Roe v. Wade being overturned and when the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision leaked in May 2022, the writers revisited the script while in hard prep on the production to include Roe’s overturn (which was made official on June 24, 2022) in a later episode of the season. The season then began filming in August.
Amid Hollywood’s ongoing dual WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike, Stoudt along with producers-actors Aniston and Witherspoon were unavailable to discuss the season. Their producing partners, when speaking to THR, remain in awe of first Ehrin and now Stoudt’s ability to, as they say, read the tea leaves when it comes to foreseeing and plotting timely storylines.
“The most surreal moment for me was having a script that had already had aspects of [Roe’s overturn] in it and then the headline hitting us in real time in our real lives,” recalls Kristin Hahn, Aniston’s producing partner with Echo Films, to THR. “I just remember the shock and pain of it, and we were working on notes on the script. It felt very, very surreal. We were living art imitating life a lot. It was very mishmashed, particularly for that episode.”
Lauren Neustadter, who produces with Witherspoon through Hello Sunshine, tells THR, “Charlotte came in with such a spirit of reverence for everything that Kerry had done. She came in as an admirer. What we all were blown away by was her astute observation that each of the previous two seasons had been about a theme that reflected the world we were living in, in a very thoughtful and unique way. And what she was most excited to explore was the notion of the truth and the fact that right now, in this moment, everybody is talking about the truth and the truth is so different for every single person.”
She continues, “That is really the theme that is guiding us: Truth and the subjectivity of truth for each of these people. For Alex and Bradley, in particular, we’ve gone on such a journey with them for the first two seasons. Here we are in season three and they’re coming into all of this power. They have the things they’ve dreamed of in season one and now, what are they going to do? And, who are they going to choose to be?”
Season director and executive producer Mimi Leder also credits Stoudt for conceiving the arc before Roe was officially overturned and for crafting another season of life and art mirroring one another, while also driving the storylines for the starring characters played by Aniston and Witherspoon. “It was really significant and important, and we were glad we were tackling it,” she tells THR.
Of the show’s evolution, she references Steve Carell’s late character to say “we moved past the Mitch story, the #MeToo movement, but his ghost is definitely still in the building. We pivoted from sexual misconduct to women’s autonomy and how it is undermined, women’s reproductive rights, abortion rights. Women’s agency was a really important theme for us and how it’s being challenged right now. All of our women are significantly challenged, and, thematically, we came to a place where we wanted to talk the state of the truth in journalism and in ourselves and in the lies we tell ourselves.”
The Morning Show releases new episodes Wednesdays on Apple TV+.
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