6:45am PT by Jackie Strause
'Morning Show' Boss on Tackling Abortion Bans and the Culture of Complicity
[This story contains spoilers from the fourth episode of Apple's The Morning Show.]
Bradley Jackson rolls into her new job as cohost of The Morning Show like a Category 5 hurricane.
During Bradley's (Reese Witherspoon) first day on the show-within-a-show of the Apple TV+ drama, the replacement anchor to the ousted Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) is so committed to being a truth-teller that she casually slips in a little-known fact about herself during the early minutes of the beloved morning show's live telecast: She had an abortion when she was 15.
Frustrated by the script given to her mother in order to paint a false picture of a happy childhood, Bradley impulsively goes off-teleprompter and tells America that she, in fact, was not perfect. She got suspended and caught with alcohol, and, yes, she also had an abortion while in high school.
"Did you fuck up just now? Or was that intentional?" her simmering co-host Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) — very aware of the media firestorm about to ignite — asks Bradley about her soon-to-be viral reveal. Bradley, still stunned by her own word vomit, answers, "I don't actually know."
There was already a lot riding on Bradley's performance when the fourth episode of Apple's Morning Show opened. After being hit with a #MeToo scandal when star Mitch is fired over sexual misconduct allegations, The Morning Show (also the name of the fictional show) has revamped itself quickly with the female team of Alex — Mitch's co-host of 15 years — and Bradley, a new fiery reporter who has become a pawn in the self-serving game being played by everyone else to save their jobs at the top-rated morning news show.
Which begs the question: why layer a hot-button topic like abortion on top of the already dramatic Morning Show 2.0?
"You wanted Bradley’s first on-air experience to be hugely upsetting," showrunner Kerry Ehrin tells The Hollywood Reporter, with a laugh, when speaking about the memorable on-air debut of Witherspoon's character. "I guess that is how I would describe it. It needed to feel like, 'Oh my god. Ok, so that’s what happens when you get that person on a morning show.'"
As Ehrin has explained, Alex made the decision to give the unvetted and unfiltered Bradley Mitch's chair out of rage. In the second episode, the veteran anchor publicly announced Bradley as her co-host in a strategic move against her male-dominated bosses. "Sometimes, it feels great to just do a crazy thing or say what you feel, but then you have to live with the consequences of it. And Bradley is the consequence," says Ehrin of Bradley blowing up the image middle America has of their morning TV anchors.
Which is why Alex is forced to have Bradley's back, even when advertisers pull their spots over the polarizing on-air moment. But then the tide turns. Bradley becomes a hero for coming forward about her teenage abortion, igniting a national firestorm and mobilizing high school students to stage walk-outs in protest of state abortion bans.
Her newfound star-power in the national abortion debate, coupled with her reputation for authenticity, is what makes Bradley the perfect anchor to do the big interview at the end of that first week. Mitch's accuser, named Ashley Brown (Ahna O'Reilly), sits down with Bradley for a no-holds-barred interview about her sexual misconduct allegations against the former anchor, which had yet to be publicly revealed in detail.
But the accuser interview takes an unexpected turn when Bradley again goes off-script and pushes Ashley to discuss the culture of silence and complicity at The Morning Show and its network, the fictional UBA. In the background of the episode, UBA has launched an internal investigation where the staff is being questioned about what they knew about Mitch and if they are aware of any larger systemic issues in the workplace. The probe reveals Mia Jordan (Karen Pittman) as the producer who reported Mitch to HR after they ended their affair. But as the investigator is revealed to be working for the network in order to control the narrative to their benefit, Bradley is doing the opposite live and on-air.
"I'm writing about news but I based this a lot on entertainment," says Ehrin of The Morning Show's storyline echoing many headlines surrounding #MeToo and how sexual misconduct has been handled at major news corporations. "News is similar to entertainment in that it has huge talent and talent is protected. And when you look at a lot of these cases, they were protected by many, many people who didn’t ever say anything. Some of whom didn’t know they should or that they could. Some of whom just didn’t think there was a moral question about it, which is hard to imagine now looking back at it. But it’s a big tapestry of people. And I think that looking at everybody’s behavior, looking at one’s own behavior, is necessary."
Before Bradley's interview, the news division's maverick new boss Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup) planted a seed in his talent's ear. "Between us, I also wonder who knew." Armed with her own journalistic gut and the approval to go there from her boss, Bradley pushes Ashley on why she felt like she couldn't report Mitch's inappropriate conduct. "Was there something about the culture at this network, at this show, that made it feel impossible to complain?" she asks. That's when Ashley admits that she gave Mitch oral sex several times in his dressing room: "He never forced me, but I guess I still just didn't really know how not to go through with it? I never told anybody, but everybody knew."
The admission instantly sends Alex, executive producer Chip Black (Mark Duplass) and network boss Fred Mickland (Tom Irwin) into a rage over the bombshell of implications. Cory, meanwhile, supports the abandonment of the old guard. When Alex tells Bradley she just put the show at risk, Bradley brings her co-host into the complicity conversation by asking if she, too, knew what went on in Mitch's dressing room.
"We talked about it in the room," says Ehrin of the timely episode written by Adam Milch. "We knew we wanted to go for a story where there was a certain type of interview that the show was assuming they were delivering, and that Bradley understood that and in the moment was just like, 'No. I’m going for more.'"
The fourth episode opens the door to a timely dialogue that The Morning Show will continue to confront when it questions the complicity that allowed for Mitch's behavior. Heading into the midpoint of the season, Bradley has now effectively shifted the narrative in audience's minds to be the assumption that everybody knew something.
"Part of what we are trying to tell is the story of a human being that disappoints you and how it is a process to see that side of that person," says Ehrin of the journey ahead. "It’s a grieving process, and that was what we wanted to get out of those scenes."
And now the big question threatens her only ally at The Morning Show. Just how complicit was Alex in all of this?
"It’s an onion we unpeel that has many layers," Ehrin teases.
"We went through every script together. Jen and Reese and I were tonally on the same page about how we wanted to present the story and the kind of raw messiness of it and the emotionality of it was part of that. We were all in the same thought bubble from the beginning," says Ehrin of the conversations she had with her stars and executive producers about how to confront Alex's role in the scandal. "I was really imagining myself in that situation, of working with someone for 15 years and being very close to them, and then seeing them publicly in this very, very dark light and how that process works emotionally for a human being."