The Morning Show Season 2 opens with crane shots of an utterly deserted New York City. It is late March 2020 and COVID-19 has shut the city that doesn’t sleep down like never before. For anyone — like myself — who remembers living through that time, it’s an almost ghoulish opening for a glossy, celeb-stuffed soap opera on Apple TV+. And yet, The Morning Show‘s approach to COVID-19 is a ridiculously Morning Show move. Rather than wait for a historical event to be collectively processed, The Morning Show prefers to jump right into the chaos as it’s unfolding.
Nevertheless, you might be watching The Morning Show Season 2 on Apple TV+ and wondering: why the heck is a Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon show tackling the pandemic by taking us back to the early days of 2020? Who thought this was a good idea?!? Well, it turns out…basically everyone involved with the Apple TV+ hit.
As The Morning Show executive producer and director Mimi Leder explained to Decider: “You know, we started shooting February 2020, and we shot for 13 days and then we had to shut down. We wanted to shut down; we were the first company to shut down. It was scary. We were filming, the NFL was shutting down, Wall Street was shutting down. The world was changing and shaking under our feet, and we shut down. And we didn’t really know what we were going to do, because nobody knew what they were going to do, right?”
“Most of the scripts were written, [we] decided to throw them out because here we were in a brave new world,” Leder said. “It was very important to talk about COVID and the tidal wave that was approaching. [The Morning Show creator and showrunner] Kerry [Ehrin] came up with the idea of starting it basically three months before the shutdown.”
Everyone from The Morning Show Decider spoke to explained that the choice to toss the original Season 2 scripts in favor of chasing a breaking story was par for the course for the Apple TV+ show.
“It made sense to me insofar as [this is] the way this show has happened since Season 1,” Mark Duplass, who plays producer Chip Black, said. “Which is they had a full set of scripts for Season 1. The #MeToo movement happened right as we were about to start shooting and they decided to rewrite the entire season to incorporate the immediacy of the moment, of what was happening. They like to examine issues as they’re happing as opposed to after they happened and get inside the grey area and go with it real time. Which I applaud them for. So it made sense that they would do the same thing for the COVID storyline.”
Ehrin decided that Desean Terry’s Daniel Henderson would be the only member of the fictional news team who seems to be alert to what’s happening with the spread of the pandemic. Daniel becomes a sort of Cassandra figure warning everyone that something grim is happening. Terry told Decider that he “loved” this development for the character and for The Morning Show at large.
“The show has always to me had Game of Thrones themes because everyone’s trying to get to the anchor chair. But I think it’s extra exciting because now we finally have our White Walkers [laughs] coming in, which is COVID. And that upends everyone’s life on another level. I think it’s cool and exciting drama and it’s great story,” Terry said.
Karen Pittman, who plays The Morning Show‘s lead producer Mia Jordan, agreed. “You know, we were oblivious as Americans. The entire world was oblivious to how this virus was going to affect us. And it wasn’t just in our politics but I think media and media journalism completely ignored what was coming at us. I think that they decided to focus our attention on those moments leading up to it just made it all the more intense when the bottom fell out.”
But once the bottom fell out, how would The Morning Show get back to business? Leder explained that she started prepping as early as July 2020 to return to the set. The show’s line producer Merri Howard worked with epidemiologist Erin Bromage on setting up the show’s testing protocol, which tested cast and crew five-eight times a week. Leder said their work became “pretty much the standard for what the industry is using now.”
“We started working October 29, with masks and shields and nobody had been vaccinated at that point because vaccinations hadn’t come out. So it was really a frightening place to be. We were scared,” Leder said. “However, we got used to it, you know what I mean? You’re in there and you’re working and in some ways it became a gift…Even though we were talking about COVID, we could really escape and get ourselves really into the storytelling, so it was a fascinating experience in that way.”
Nestor Carbonell appreciated the way the show pivoted to cover COVID, but admitted that mentally going back to a place of ignorance about the pandemic was tough. “Those first few episodes, not getting ahead of the story and not pretending like COVID was a factor…that was tricky,” Carbonell said. “That was a challenge as an actor for sure.”
However some of Carbonell’s costars found that setting Season 2 during the early days of 2020 gave The Morning Show an added dynamic…
“I did really appreciate the cleverness with which they approached it,” Duplass said. “What’s interesting to me is that it almost feels like you’re watching a horror movie now. Where the audience knows the monster is coming — he’s lurking around the corner [laughs] — the characters don’t know it. So it’s a very fun dynamic to play.”
Billy Crudup, who plays UBA exec Cory Ellison, added, “I can tell you, when I read that first episode in the midst of it — it would’ve been September I think; it had sort of died down for the summer, but we were recovering from it — the last page, somebody sneezed. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and that has the makings of great drama.”