Jennifer Aniston and her cast was 13 days into production on her expensive TV show when the world came crashing down.
Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon’s drama Morning Wars was 13 days into filming its second season when Covid happened.
With production suspended, the show’s writers and producers had to regroup. When work eventually resumed in October, the Apple TV+ series’ second season had been up-ended.
When Apple launched its streaming platform in late 2019, Morning Wars – called The Morning Show elsewhere in the world – was its biggest original drawcard. A splashy series with seasoned stars such as Aniston, Witherspoon and Steve Carell was a bold declaration of its ambitions.
Set behind the scenes of a breakfast TV show with a story grounded in MeToo workplace harassment issues, the first season got off to a rocky start but really picked up its momentum by the back half.
It even won a couple of high-profile awards for its efforts, including a Screen Actors Guild gong for Aniston and an Emmy for Billy Crudup, whose chaotic energy stole almost every scene as a newly arrived network executive.
The first season ended on an explosive cliffhanger, which gave the series plenty of dramatic jumping off points for the next instalment. And there was a plan, and almost an entire season of finished scripts.
But, as we have all experienced in the past 18 months, Covid doesn’t care about anyone’s plans.
“We had no idea what was coming our way, the tidal wave of the pandemic,” Morning Wars executive producer and episodic director Mimi Leder told news.com.au. “But throwing away those scripts felt necessary because we’re a news show.”
In the months between the production shutdown and return, Morning Wars’ writers retooled the whole second season so that it would be told through the lens of Covid.
“We had to reflect and mirror what was going on in the world, even if it was just the beginning of Covid,” Leder continued. “The world changed, and we felt we had to incorporate it into our story because as the world changed, our characters changed with it, from what they’ve gone through.
“We have all gone through so much that we’re all in a world where we’re reflecting on who we are, what do we want to do with the rest of our lives.
“What was important to us yesterday may not be important to us today. I know that’s happened to me and to many people. You can’t help but reflect on life when you’re faced with a deadly pandemic.”
That spirit of reflection is seeped into the series’ season two DNA as it grapples with various story and character strands.
Leder said the second season was always going to be about navigating identity, now it just has an extra layer of pandemic-induced soul-searching.
“We were most excited to explore identity after the first season, the MeToo movement, the fallout, to and go and explore and ask questions that we may not answer, to explore identity, cancel culture, race and sexuality.
“What’s been really rewarding is that all of our characters go on some sort of journey of self-discovery and acceptance.”
This season, Aniston’s veteran anchor Alex Levy has to confront her own complicity in a toxic culture, and removing herself from that environment, even briefly, is the only way she knows how to. But whether she’s learnt anything real about herself is one of the questions.
Despite its starry headliners, Morning Wars is an ensembles series with a deep bench of acting talent that also includes Mark Duplass, Karen Pittman, Marcia Gay Harden and Nestor Carbonell while among the newcomers this season are Julianna Margulies, Will Arnett, Valeria Golino and Greta Lee.
What it means is Morning Wars is servicing many story strands, but the trick to keeping all those balls in the air, according to Leder, is to keep it grounded.
Leder, who has directed features such as On the Basis of Sex, Deep Impact and The Peacemaker, said: “It’s a very layered show and it’s a very dense show in terms of emotionality. You have to have a good script and you have to tell the story in a visual way that ties it all together.
“This is an extraordinary cast. All of them, down to the day players and the recurring cast. They are an extraordinary group of people. They all want to be there, they want to work, they want to tell the story.”
Even Covid couldn’t stop that.
Morning Wars season two starts streaming on Apple TV+ from Friday, September 17.
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Originally published as Morning Wars season two ‘had no idea what was coming’
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