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The Morning Show, the Apple TV+ original series about the lives in front of and behind the camera of a major news network starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Billy Crudup, is back with season 2. Like they did in the first season, the cast and crew were forced to adjust to the ever-breaking news to incorporate real-life events as they related to the fictional world of the UBA network and its anchors, Alexy Levy (Aniston) and Bradley Jackson (Witherspoon), and the incoming UBA executive charged with reinvigorating the news team, Cory Ellison (Crudup), all of whom are reeling from that explosive finale.
“If there is something happening of significance in the cultural landscape, these writers cannot wait to try to fold it into the narrative that is happening,” Crudup says, noting how the series worked to include COVID-19 just like it did with cultural events that shaped season 1. “Which makes perfect sense, because that is how they started the show, trying to hit a moving target last year with the Me Too movement and the Time’s Up movement. And watching it evolve in the cultural landscape as the show was evolving was really a sight to behold.”
While speaking with ET, the three stars and the rest of the ensemble, including returning cast members as well as newcomers, and director Mimi Leder open up about incorporating the coronavirus pandemic into the story and how the new characters, played by the likes of Julianna Margulies, shake things up this season.
Where Things Left Off in Season 1
Before Alex and Bradley went rogue by going off script while live on-air to disclose the many allegations of misconduct and abuse of power at UBA network, things were at a breaking point internally for The Morning Show team. Most notably (and tragically), talent booker Hannah Shoenfeld (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) died of an overdose after detailing to Bradley how former anchor Mitch Kressler (Steve Carell) sexually assaulted her. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Alex negotiated co-host approval in order to agree to support the firing of longtime executive producer Chip Black (Mark Duplass) as Cory and Bradley were working with Mitch on a mea culpa to expose even larger injustices at the network.
As seen in the exclusive clip above, the opening scene of season 2 picks up right where things left off after the feed was cut while Alex and Bradley were on air. In those chaotic moments, Alex’s team of handlers rush her out of the building while Bradley is left alone and confused by what happens next… But that’s when the season jumps ahead to Dec. 31, 2019 and details what happens over the following three months, leading up to the lockdown in March 2020.
How the New Season Tackles Issues Like COVID-19 and Cancel Culture
Forced to take an unexpected hiatus just weeks into production on season 2, the lockdown allowed the creative team to re-evaluate the direction of the new episodes. “We realized we had to go back to the drawing board and figure out how we would incorporate this into the show. And also figure out how to delicately weave it through because we didn’t know where we would be when the show aired,” Aniston says.
“We knew the story had to change because we were a news show and we knew that we had to really reflect what was going on,” Leder adds, using the pandemic to explore themes around identity. “That theme was really important for us, for it to be about who we are. Like, ‘Am I a good person?’”
The director says, “We turned our lens to race, sexuality and cancel culture.”
That said, there were a lot of last-minute script changes, which is something Duplass is used to. “I grew up in the world of independent filming,” he says of things being “done on the fly.” He says it just adds to the fluid and creative atmosphere on set.
For Karen Pittman, who plays Mia Jordan, a producer under Chip who takes over as executive producer in season 2, all the real-life events of the past year provided an opportunity to open things up and tackle even larger issues, like racial disparity and injustice in the workplace. As a result, “the story got bigger as we got deeper,” she says, pleasantly surprised that the writers were open to taking on those challenges. “So yeah, I appreciate that.”
As Mia challenges the status quo, especially when it comes to having two white anchors and people like Chip back in the fold, Nestor Carbonell’s character, Yanko Flores, The Morning Show’s resident weatherman, is facing cancel culture head on after making an insensitive comment on air. “I got a window into what it must be like,” he says, crediting showrunner Kerry Ehrin for using the plot line to “highlight the dangers of cancel culture.”
“There’s obviously been some revolutionary things that have come out of it that have been necessary,” Carbonell says. “But the pitfalls of it are that it can run amuck when it takes just one anonymous person to be offended… That’s a slippery slope.”
How the New Characters Shake Things Up in Season 2
Because the media landscape features a rotating door of established icons, ambitious up-and-comers, and familiar, friendly faces, it should come as no surprise that season 2 welcomes a number of new cast members as the world of UBA expands. Among them are Greta Lee as tech world wunderkind and new leader of the news team Stella Bak; Hasan Minhaj as Eric Nomani, co-anchor of The Morning Show; and Margulies as longtime UBA news anchor Laura Peterson. And each of them bring new challenges to the existing team, which is already struggling to keep things together.
“The new additions have been incredible,” Duplass says of his co-stars.
When it comes to Stella, she finds herself having trouble fitting in with the team and is forced to make tough decisions about her talent’s many needs, including Yanko. “She was sort of my nemesis,” Carbonell teases. “I love working with her and feeling her wrath and feeling so misunderstood by her character. That was a lot of fun.”
She’s not the only one who finds herself at odds with the temperamental staff. It doesn’t take long for things between Eric and Bradley to sour as co-anchors. “That was really fun to do dramatic scenes with Reese,” he says, enjoying the chance to “flex my dramatic acting chops” after years as a correspondent on The Daily Show and host of his own late-night series, Patriot Act. “There’s a couple of intense scenes that we had and that was really fun because generally when you’re a correspondent on The Daily Show, people see you as a comedian.”
“I really love Hasan coming into the show. He is so funny, he’s got great comedic timing,” Pittman says, adding how excited she was about Marguilies joining after watching her for so long on The Good Wife. “It was great to be like, ‘Welcome to my show, Julianna.’ She was so gracious and kind, so it was great to welcome her. And she does extraordinary work. The great part about having new actors on is that they bring in this new flavor and bring in new blood.”
As for Leder, working with Margulies led to a long overdue ER reunion for the two. “She’s a tremendous actress and obviously a friend who, you know, I worked with on ER when we were babies,” the director says, adding that they “were really looking for a woman of stature and gravitas, you know, a Diane Sawyer type. And someone who was also instantly recognizable to an audience, and that was Julianna. I think she brought that to the role and so much more.”
And as Laura, Margulies unsettles things for Alex and Bradley, who find themselves facing off with the news anchor in very different situations throughout the season. “She has this incredible backstory,” Margulies says, teasing that Laura’s had to overcome so much in her 20 years at UBA and has really become “completely comfortable in her skin.” And because of that, “she’s at the top of her game and she’s watching this crazy storm of chaos flying around her,” the actress continues, noting how paranoid Alex is and naive Bradley’s choices are.
For Witherspoon, “it was really fun” having her on set. “She brings so much just wisdom and years of experience to everything,” she says, with Aniston noting that the presence of their new co-star was “really comforting.”
Aniston adds, “She’s just such a seasoned pro. She was like a thoroughbred… She’s just so good.”