The Morning Show wrapped its third season Nov. 8 — a moment showrunner and executive producer Charlotte Stoudt admits was an emotional one for members of the creative team, who gathered to watch the season finale at Hollywood’s Linwood Dunn Theater. “It’s really thrilling to watch the show with an audience,” said Stoudt. “It’s not the finale until people see it. I’m all choked up.”
Stoudt — who boarded the Apple TV+ drama starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon as anchors Alex Levy and Bradley Jackson, respectively, for its most recent season — was joined after the screening by nine of the show’s executive producers and artisans to reflect on pushing the show’s characters into more vulnerable territory and the joys of working with the talented A-list actors they have at their disposal.
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What were you most excited to see onscreen this season?
MIMI LEDER, DIRECTOR/EP The last few shots [of the finale], where Alex and Bradley are walking into their future and speaking their truth. It was simple, it felt elegant and honest and I loved it.
KRISTIN HAHN, EP I was most excited in the early days of our conversations, bringing in a new Alex who’d survived COVID, death and cancel culture, and was a phoenix rising into a new self that would be less curated and more raw and vulnerable.
LAUREN NEUSTADTER, EP The scene in the hallway between Bradley and Cory [the network CEO played by Billy Crudup]. I have loved watching them over the three seasons and watching that relationship, which I think is so singular. Seeing these two incredibly nuanced characters really be vulnerable with each other … What Reese and Billy did that day, I’ll never forget watching that scene.
SOPHIE DE RAKOFF, COSTUME DESIGNER Being on set that day, I was a mess. I remember walking into the elevator, pouring tears. Billy walks in and he was completely normal. I was like, “How can you not be [upset] in this moment?”
ELMO PONSDOMENECH, RERECORDING SOUND MIXER It was a lot of fun seeing the conference room scene, where Jennifer Aniston comes in and slams down the briefcase. It gives you a little bit of the power with the sound [then] going completely away, which is as powerful as sound going the other direction — with launching reporters into space.
I’ve seen this show described as a love story between Alex and Bradley. How do you maintain their deep affection for each other, especially when many might think two powerful women would be competitive?
CHARLOTTE STOUDT, SHOWRUNNER/EP They’re from utterly different worlds; they start off yin and yang. One is from nowhere in West Virginia, and one has always been in that Manhattan world. So it’s that opposites-attract thing. But we all have someone in our lives, if we are lucky, the person who pushes us to become who we may want to become or are afraid to become, who holds us accountable, who challenges us. The relationship does have that spark to it. They’re neither catfighting nor just braiding each other’s hair.
With such an incredible cast playing big personalities, do you have a wish list of who you want to see head-to-head in a scene?
LEDER When Charlotte created the [tech mogul] Paul Marks character, there was only one person we went to and thought of: Jon Hamm. We didn’t want to see anybody else. We didn’t want to get a no. We wanted a win, and we got one. It was really wonderful to see that character evolve and to see this good guy/bad guy come to his center.
MICHAEL ELLENBERG, EP To be old-school and enjoy the pleasure of ongoing television: You get to see Greta Lee’s character [Stella, the news division president] evolve. Greta and Billy have this amazing dynamic. Everyone sort of got jealous of Greta; everyone wanted to see her in scenes [with them].
HAHN We wanted to bring forward the women of color on our show and start to tell more of their stories. We want to see more Greta Lee, if only to see her costumes — she has the coolest wardrobe. Getting to know Karen Pittman’s character [Mia, a producer on The Morning Show], that she sleeps at the office, that this woman lives and breathes her work. But we see her attempt to have a personal life and how messy that was.
ELLENBERG I don’t think we would’ve predicted a signature scene would be Nicole Beharie [who plays a new co-host] and [board member] Holland Taylor.
NEUSTADTER And Tig Notaro. There’s nobody that makes me laugh like Tig, but she’s so amazing in this dramatic turn.
How does editing play a role in bringing out those performances?
CAROLE KRAVETZ AYKANIAN, EDITOR The more tension, the better. You take cues and rhythms from the performances, obviously. That first intuitive pass that editors do is a response to what we see on the screen and what the actors have done with the scene, and the way it’s shot.
LEDER Carole always surprises me. In the first season finale, when Alex is coming down the elevator and Chip (Mark Duplass) is going up, she put in this incredible opera piece. It was just everything. Then we put more opera in, during the ridiculous fistfight between Mitch (Steve Carell) and Chip. This year, we did it in the spacecraft. It brings it to another level; Carole has this encyclopedic mind of music. She knows the arcs of the characters and mines those tonally from the first episode to the end. And that just goes all the way to the costumes, the colors, the palette, the lighting. It’s all just one big soufflé.
Speaking of costumes, how do you dress Alex and Bradley at their highest highs and lowest lows?
DE RAKOFF That is at the crux of our job, this interpretation of what is going on in the moment and what is organic to the character. In our show, obviously everybody is at work a lot. Those two in particular have three different layers of how they present to the world. They have “anchor”; they have “presentation,” when they’re going out for dinner and they know they’re going to be seen by paparazzi; and they’ve got their very most private moments. We work together to keep the characters separate and distinct, but yet in harmony.
DEBRA MCGUIRE, COSTUME DESIGNER The women going to turn Bradley in [to the FBI] was an important scene for how the two of them looked and felt. It’s such an emotional scene that, in a way, has to be blank, because we have to see them, completely them. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of synchronicity with us together, Sophie and I. We have a real sense of our characters, and there’s a magical piece to it that takes over.
DE RAKOFF I came from features, so TV was a big learning curve for me. But what I understand now is that the further into the seasons you go, there’s a visual shorthand. You are establishing a visual language with the palette, the silhouettes, the ideas and the conceits behind everything. Sometimes it’s hard to articulate the process because it’s become such second nature — it’s an unspoken language.
How does that visual shorthand extend to the production design?
NELSON COATES, PRODUCTION DESIGNER One of the exciting things about this season, more so than previously, was drilling into personal spaces and trying to find neighborhoods for each of the characters. Where are they in New York? Where are their usual paths? What would be in their apartment? We’re trying to create a throughline to the corporate culture, too. So, the show posters are changing. I beg our teams to get actors in for photo shoots, and they’ re like, “What are they for?” Those posters help evolve the marketing and time frame. You’re driving a huge graphic component to the show. All the stuff that’s happening on the screens, on every monitor, all has to be designed and sourced or created from scratch. So it’s like doing multiple shows at the same time.
This feature was produced by THR editors and is presented by Apple TV+. This story first appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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