Although the first season of “The Morning Show” ended on Steve Carell’s former news anchor character, Mitch Kessler, who was fired at the top of the season amid sexual misconduct allegations, finally feeling the weight of what he did, there is no guarantee the second season will see him learn, grow or be around at all.
Although executive producer Michael Ellenberg said at the Television Critics Assn. press tour panel for the Apple TV Plus drama “certainly picks up where we ended” in terms of the fallout that will have to come after anchors Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) and Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) outed their network for knowing more about the allegations against Mitch earlier than they had led on, when it comes to Mitch himself, Ellenberg said they are still discussing if he will be back onscreen, as Carell’s original deal was only for the first season and they do not have a new one in place.
Aniston, who also executive produces, pointed out that although the show is “of course” about #MeToo, its messages are more widespread than that. “Gender dynamics, power dynamics, abuse of power — and not just sexual abuse of power but just power struggles in general,” are all story areas “The Morning Show” endeavors to explore.
“What we were trying to do was take a very realistic and human look at his situation that we have all as a society allowed to happen unconsciously,” she said.
For the first season, she continued, “it was important to get inside the head of a gentle, charismatic narcissist — to be at the hand of the abuse of power and not actually know it. … There are such varying degrees of these people, we wanted to allow perspective of that character to be explored and also to have the conversations that were going on behind closed doors that people were afraid to have out in the world because it’s too dangerous.”
It takes the death of Hannah (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who Mitch assaulted on a work trip and who numbed her pain with drugs and alcohol, to shake Alex into action to go rogue on-air as she does in the first season finale, and it was Hannah’s death that also made Mitch finally start to realize how alone he was.
Previously, executive producer and director Mimi Leder told Variety that of course her death was a “defining moment” but she wanted the audience to decide whether or not the character had to die. “Her casualty is something that we’re acknowledging happens to people who are victimized and assaulted,” she said in December 2019, right after the finale streamed on the service.
When asked at the TCA panel if they were more concerned, specifically, with the fact that Hannah was a black woman who died in order for white characters to learn lessons, Leder replied, “That character was written as a character, not as a person of color. So this person represented the fallout of many of these events that happen to women. We weren’t playing it as the black woman as a victim.”
However, Witherspoon, who also executive produces, added that they “try to be very thoughtful” about the way people of color, and women of color, specifically, “walk through this world,” which includes having “a writing team that tries to be very thoughtful of that [and to] deal with those characters with truth and authenticity.” Although she didn’t want to get into second season spoilers, she noted that Karen Pittman’s character will walk “through some of the things that Gugu’s character walked through” in terms of both interactions with Mitch, as well as the way the media responds to her.
Leder was also asked whether she thought there were fewer Apple haters in the world than she previously publicly said there were — to which she said she did, reiterating comments similar to what she previously told Variety. “There was a lot of expectation from this Apple streaming service from the beginning. We welcome all input, and of course some people are rooting you on and some people are wanting you to fail. It’s just the nature of the beast,” she said.
Ellenberg added that everyone who works on the show is “passionate” about the work they do, so when they do receive negative responses, “it’s emotional.” He acknowledged there was “a moment. … Certainly no one holds anything against the press for engaging with us. We made the show, we’re proud of the show,” he said.
Witherspoon and Aniston both added that they welcome criticism when it is constructive. “Every show, we put it out there,” Aniston pointed out. The criticism or backlash she is not OK with is when “they’re annihilating people’s character.”
Witherspoon stressed the importance of the audience watching all 10 episodes of the first season to fully understand the characters’ relationships. Although the team behind the show said Apple has not shared data with them about who or how many people have been watching, they feel people are not only watching, but also loving it based on the responses they receive in person and online. Witherspoon cited the show’s Rotten Tomatoes score as proof, while Aniston said, “word of mouth has been quite lovely.”
The team is already working on the second season of “The Morning Show,” and Witherspoon said they feel like they’re “just beginning.
“I feel like the end of this 10 episodes, there’s a whole new world order. It’s chaos. No one knows who’s in charge,” she explained. “I think that’s what we’re exploring in the culture right now. What are the new dynamics? What is the new normal?”