'The Morning Show': A Guide to the Major Players in Jennifer Aniston & Reese Witherspoon's Apple TV Plus Show
By Meredith B. Kile
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Apple TV+ is almost here -- and with it, a host of new programming, including Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon's highly anticipated newsroom drama, The Morning Show.
The series, which was inspired by CNN anchor Brian Stelter’s book, Top of the Morning, originally dealt with the high-stakes and backstabbing world of morning news shows. However, Matt Lauer's infamous termination from the Today show in 2017 inspired a top-down rewrite of The Morning Show, which many say now draws some clear parallels to the high-profile scandal.
"The show got picked up. We sold it to Apple with an outline.Then, about four months later, the whole s**t hit the fan," recalled Aniston -- who, along with Witherspoon, serves as an executive producer on the series -- in a recent interview for Variety's Power of Women issue. "Basically, we had to start from scratch."
"I went to the DVR that I had of Today before Matt Lauer was fired and then the day he was fired," the actress said of prepping for the new direction. "Because that was so fascinating to see."
However, she stressed that steve Carell's Mitch Kessler character is not based on Lauer "at all," but rather serves as an "archetype of all of the men that he’s representing." As in real life, it's the rest of the characters -- from network heads to production assistants -- who are left to pick up the pieces and continue on in the wake of the scandal.
Here's a rundown of all the famous faces you'll be seeing on The Morning Show -- and who they're playing in this fictitious, female-centric, #MeToo-inspired story.
Jennifer Aniston as Alex Levy
Aniston stars as Alex Levy, co-host of The Morning Show, a fictitious early morning news program, in the vein of Today or Good Morning America. After the firing of her longtime co-host, Mitch Kessler, amid allegations of impropriety, Alex is forced to fight for both her show and her position behind the desk, facing pressures from the network, up-and-coming talents, and the crumbling of her 15-year professional partnership.
"I just need to be able to control the narrative so that I am not written out of it," Alex insists in the series' trailer. While speaking with ET during the Morning Show junket, Aniston described her more emotional scenes as "very liberating and quite therapeutic."
"You're unpacking a lot of memories and things to evoke an emotion that will truthfully tell the scene as best possible," she explained. "So you have to kind of go to some places... Most of the time, I just felt like this weight lifted off of me when we would finish a scene. I've had scenes where I basically vomit on [a co-star], and it's like, thanks, honey."
Reese Witherspoon as Bradley Jackson
Witherspoon plays a veteran field reporter, Bradley Jackson, who is brought in to The Morning Show for an interview after going viral during a confrontation at a coal protest. Her fiery dynamic with Alex sparks the interest of viewers -- and network brass -- even though she's not entirely sure she's ready for the fluffier and more permanent morning gig.
The actress told ET that she had a "level of trust" with Aniston that helped them through their most difficult scenes. What was harder, for Witherspoon, was thinking about the real-life women who have been affected by stories like the one that plays out behind the scenes of The Morning Show.
"I can't even imagine what people had to endure and get through just to have their job," she said at the junket. "The silence that was expected, the behavior that was just tolerated. It's fascinating to me to have this conversation and be creating characters that look at every side of the #MeToo experience... I think there is a perspective for everyone in this show."
Steve Carell as Mitch Kessler
Carell's Mitch Kessler finds himself on the outside looking in as the drama in the newsroom unfolds and is ready to blame anyone but himself when it comes to the indiscretions that have taken him off the air for the first time in 15 years. "My life just ended for no good reason!" Mitch laments in the Morning Show trailer
While entirely fictional, Aniston explained in her Variety interview that the disgraced anchor is meant to highlight "aspects of the archetype of a charming narcissist, of a generation of men that didn’t think that was bad behavior."
Billy Crudup as Cory Ellison
The line from Crudup's network news head, Cory Ellison, in The Morning Show trailer, tells you everything you need to know about his interests when it comes to managing the fallout from Mitch's ousting. Over a montage of Alex's various stages of mourning -- screaming, sobbing, stumbling down a hallway in a nightie -- he callously remarks, "Watching a beloved woman's breakdown is timeless American entertainment."
The actor elaborated on his character at the Morning Show premiere, explaining, "We live in a place and a country and a time where there are opportunists, who, if they have a bit of agency and they've got some ideas, they can sell people on a lot of stuff. If they don't have any failures, that's a mark of their own success, and their confidence grows and grows and grows."
"As the puppet master, [Cory is] a poker player on an epic scale, so he has to keep things close to the vest," he added. "Finding his moral, ethical compass, should be difficult for everybody because what he wants to do is use everybody's own motivations for the purpose of him winning."
Mark Duplass as Charlie "Chip" Black
As executive producer of The Morning Show (their Gelman, if you will), it's Duplass' Chip Black who is tasked with breaking the news of Mitch's indiscretions to Alex and managing Cory's ambitious efforts to transform his show in the wake of the #MeToo shakeup.
While Duplass has plenty of experience behind the camera as a writer, director and producer, he had to harness another level to play the kind of workaholic that can handle the grueling routine of morning news.
"Two hours of live television, five days a week just takes a big toll on you, because of all the different variables that can go wrong," the actor explained of his character during a Q&A at the SAG-AFTRA Foundation. "You get this wonderful adrenaline jolt -- I would liken it to when you're in an improvised scene and it's going really, really well and you're excited because it's happening -- but two hours straight, five days a week, I think it's not good for you."
Karen Pittman as Mia Jordan
Another producer on The Morning Show, Pittman's character, Mia Jordan, is faced with the question of her own loyalties -- and her complicated history with Alex -- following the newsroom's major shakeup.
"Mia does have an opportunity to deal with a lot of stuff going on with the fallout from Mitch Kessler's departure," Pittman told ET at the show's premiere. "She supports Bradley in her bid to be a journalist on a major network morning show. It's a great arc."
Néstor Carbonell as Yanko Flores
When it comes to possible in-house successors at The Morning Show, there's Carbonell's Yanko Flores, the charming and poetic weatherman.
His character might not be suited for the anchor chair, but Carbonell made sure to hone his meteorology chops by going on a "weather ride-along" with local Los Angeles weatherman Fritz Coleman.
Desean Terry as Daniel Henderson and Janina Gavankar as Alison Namazi
Terry and Gavankar star as Daniel Henderson and Alison Namazi, respectively, two of The Morning Show's on-air talents who see Mitch's departure as an opportunity to rise above their current positions. “Daniel wants what everyone wants. He wants a piece of the pie. He wants in the game … He is very vocal about his ambition,” Terry told Refinery29 of his character, who laments being sent out on puff pieces and theater reviews when there's "real news" to be told.
Of her character's own ambition, Gavankar added, "Alison sees Daniel's pie as an appetizer. She is there because she sees this opportunity as a stepping stone."
Bel Powley as Claire Conway and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Hannah Shoenfeld
Of course, there are plenty of ambitious hopefuls behind the scenes of The Morning Show as well. Powley plays Claire Conway, a production assistant with a few skeletons in her closet -- the actress described her character as a "naughty, naughty lady" while teasing the series to ET at the premiere -- while Mbatha-Raw stars as Hannah Schoenfeld, a talent booker who discovers Witherspoon's character via her viral interview and brings her in to try and fill Mitch's empty chair.
"Your words spoke to America," Hannah tells Bradley in the show's trailer. "People are noticing, they want more."
Mindy Kaling as Audra
While not seen in any of the promotional clips thus far, Kaling also makes an appearance on The Morning Show as a rival of Aniston's, an anchorwoman named Audra. "It's fun to be playing an adult character," the actress and producer told ET at the premiere. "She's an anchor of a network, and normally, I play these hapless teenage roles, so it was really fun to play a real adult."
And Kaling said she was more than ready to return for season 2 if needed. "It's been amazing... I would do anything that [Witherspoon and Kerry Ehrin] wanted me to do. Coming in for just a couple episodes, or doing whatever, literally, I'm there."