2:11pm PT by Bryn Sandberg
Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston and 'Morning Show' Team Respond to Critical Backlash
After Apple's The Morning Show debuted to lukewarm reviews in November, some members of the creative team pushed back in a number of interviews, accusing critics of having a bias against the tech company.
Onstage at the Code Media conference, a little over two weeks after the show's premiere, showrunner Kerry Ehrin and producing director Mimi Leder addressed some of the less favorable reviews. "When those reviews came in, I didn't know what show they were watching. And I just kind of thought they were nuts," said Leder. "I just felt there were a lot of Apple haters and wanting Apple to fail."
So when Leder, along with series stars Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Billy Crudup and executive producer Michael Ellenberg sat in front of those very journalists at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour on Sunday to promote the second season of the drama, it was all but inevitable the subject would come up.
The Hollywood Reporter's own chief television critic Daniel J. Fienberg posed the question to Leder by asking her point-blank, "Do you still think we're a bunch of Apple haters who want to see Apple fail?" which drew laughs from Witherspoon onstage. (Ehrin, for her part, missed the panel because she was home sick.)
"No, I don't," Leder responded. "You know, I think we were a new show. I think people didn't know what to expect. There were a lot of expectations on the show. And I'm really glad and happy people have responded to the show so powerfully and with great vigor."
But that didn't do much to satisfy the journalists in the packed ballroom. Ten minutes later, another critic brought up the "backlash from much of the creative team" about the initial reviews and asked the producers onstage what their responsibility is when they're "calling 'fake news' on our reviews when you're making a show that's about journalism?"
Witherspoon quickly responded that she "wasn't aware of where the backlash was" and asked for clarification. The journalist explained that members of the creative team had told interviewers that some critics had a bias toward the show because they didn't like Apple products.
Indeed, just a few weeks ago, Mark Duplass — who plays the character of Chip Black on the series — attributed the unfavorable reviews to critics' frustration with how Apple rolled out the drama. "I think Apple knows this now, but they didn't do a very good job of welcoming critics into the process because they're used to keeping their product secret. When you're dealing with critics, you don't keep secrets," he told THR. "The critics did not like that, and I think they lashed out a little bit."
Onstage, Leder noted that she felt "that was really blown out of proportion" before Witherspoon jumped in. "Look, we make product and then it is up to you guys. You have to decide how you feel about it. That's how it works. I have no problem hearing very real opinions about material. It actually helps us make it better and work harder about parts that don't make sense. I welcome the criticism," she said, as Aniston added: "Especially constructive criticism."
Leder was then asked again whether she — as someone making a show about journalism — thought she had a greater responsibility to not cry "fake news" in response to the mixed reviews. "I think that journalists and obviously everyone has a right to their opinion. And I think there was a lot of expectations for this series, for this Apple streaming service, from the beginning," she said. "We welcome all input and I think, of course, some people are rooting you on and some people are wanting you to fail. It's just kind of the nature of the beast. But I don't feel we had any backlash on our end."
Ellenberg then added his two cents. "I mean, everyone on this panel engages with the press and respects the press. We're also all passionate. No one here said 'fake news,'" he said. "You're happy when things are positive; when it's negative, it's emotional. So there was a moment, but certainly no one holds anything against the press for engaging with us."
The team was also asked about where The Morning Show is headed in its second season after ending its initial run with a cliffhanger. "We have a lot to explore. It's not just #MeToo. We explore racism, sexism, homophobia — all the things currently happening in news media," said Witherspoon. "We're just beginning because there's a whole new world order. It's chaos. No one knows who is in charge. What does leadership mean at this point? And I think that's what we're exploring in this culture as we speak."
As for whether Steve Carell, who had only a one-season contract, will return as disgraced anchor Mitch Kessler — something Ehrin has told THR they've been working on — the producers remained tight-lipped. "We're exploring it," said Ellenberg. "No update yet."