Before heading to Sunday night’s SAG Awards ceremony, nominees Jennifer Aniston and Billy Crudup joined their “Morning Show” cast/executive producer Reese Witherspoon, executive producer Michael Ellenberg, and EP/director Mimi Leder to discuss the show that launched Apple TV+.
One thing they were not prepared to talk about, however, was what’s next — aka Season 2.
“It was a climactic finale,” Ellenberg said early in the panel. “Season 2 certainly picks up where we ended… and you’ll have to watch it to see.”
“We’re just getting started,” Witherspoon said. “We’re trying to figure out the new dynamics [post-#MeToo] — what is the new normal?”
Ellenberg also said they’re still “exploring” Steve Carell’s contract for Season 2. The actor, who played a prominent supporting role in Season 1, was only signed for one season, and the finale indicated that might be it for his character. But showrunner Kerry Ehrin, who couldn’t attend the panel because of a bad case of bronchitis, previously said they were hoping to bring Carell back for the second season.
“No update yet,” Ellenberg said.
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That kept the focus on the controversial, oft-criticized elements of Season 1 and the statements made during its rollout — including the sentimental focus provided Carell’s character, Mitch Kessler, who’s fired for sexual harassment during the show’s opening episode. The team onstage was asked about why a show made by women and meant to discuss the #MeToo movement from women’s perspectives would repeatedly take pity on a sexual predator.
“It was important to get inside the head of a gentle, charismatic narcissist,” Aniston said. “[It was important] to be at the hand of abuse of power and not actually even know it. We wanted that perspective of that character to be explored.”
“We explored racism, sexism, homophobia — all the things that are currently happening in news media and particularly broadcast media,” Witherspoon said, pointing out that “The Morning Show” tackled far more than one issue.
Another problem that came up during the panel was Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s character, Hannah Shoenfeld, who was a young producer as well as one of Mitch’s victims. TCA member and NPR critic Eric Deggans asked about how the series plays into onscreen stereotypes about the victimization of black women and what drove the creators to cast one of the few African American actors in the role.
“That character was written as a character, not specified as a person of color,” Leder said. “This character represented the fallout of many of these events that happened to women. So we weren’t playing it as a black woman as a victim. I’m sorry you saw it that way.”
After leaving the answer to that in the moment, Witherspoon chose to revisit it much later in the panel.
“We have Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Karen Pittman [playing characters that] have very similar experiences with the Mitch character,” Witherspoon said. “While I can’t tell you what [happens next], Karen is walking through a similar journey as Gugu, as a woman of color in the media.”
Witherspoon promised the show would continue to explore her experience in Season 2.
“We have a writing team who try to be very thoughtful about that, about the way that’s dealt with,” Witherspoon said. “We really want to deal with those characters with truth and authenticity. I appreciate your thoughts. They’re important, and they matter.”
The actors also discussed Apple’s choice to give critics only the first three episodes for their initial reviews. While plenty of critics have stood by their criticisms, others have claimed the season improves and their reviews would’ve been more enthusiastic if they’d been allowed to see more episodes before filing.
“I think it was important to see the whole season,” Witherspoon said. “It’s hard to tell what’s happening with Steve’s character or Gugu’s character with just three episodes.”
Aniston agreed. “It is a thread that takes you through from one to 10,” she said.
Finally, the team was asked about a previous statement by Leder that said reviews were influenced by a negative perception toward Apple overall.
“I think that was really blown out of proportion,” Leder said. “No, I don’t [believe that]. No. I think we were a new show, I think people didn’t know what to expect. There were a lot of expectations on the show, and I’m really glad and happy people have responded to the show so powerfully and with great vigor.”
While the two actor-producers said they were unaware of the statement, they told the journalists present they welcomed any and all constructive criticism.
“I have no problems hearing about criticism,” Witherspoon said. “It helps us focus and improve on [any aspects of the story] that were confusing. I welcome the criticism.”
“We all have interactions with the press. We all respect the press,” Ellenberg said. “Certainly, there was a moment [of tension], but no one holds anything against the press for engaging with us. We look forward to seeing your reviews for Season 2.”
“The Morning Show” Season 1 is streaming now on Apple TV+. Season 2 is in production.