“Who’s going to win?”: “The Morning Show” Season 3 confronts Jan. 6 and “the lies we tell ourselves”

There was a time when a majority of Americans trusted the mass media. Journalists like Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward were truth-tellers, who guided us through the good, the bad and the ugly unfolding around us. Today, tech is king, and our country is one billionaire closer to the fall of the First Amendment.

Emmy Award winner Mimi Leder exposes the fragile state of journalism in America in a recent episode of “Salon Talks.” Leder is best known for her work on the films “Deep Impact,” “On The Basis Of Sex,” “Pay It Forward” and “The Peacemaker,” as well as TV shows such as “The Leftovers,” “Shameless” and “The West Wing.” Now, she’s back as a director and executive producer of the highly anticipated Season 3 of “The Morning Show” on Apple TV+.

In Season 3, beloved characters Alex (Jennifer Aniston), Bradley (Reese Witherspoon) and Mia (Karen Pittman) are bombarded with the familiar drama that draws viewers to “The Morning Show.” The addition of billionaire Paul Marks (Jon Hamm), however, serves up an entirely new layer of suspense.

Marks has his sights on buying UBA, the fictional TV network featured on the show. If the billionaire succeeds, he plans to dismantle the company for profit and use his power to force the remaining outlets to submit to his will. Sound familiar?

You can watch the full “Salon Talks” episode with Leder here or read a Q&A of our conversation below to learn about the many secrets on this season of “The Morning Show,” the existential threats staring down journalists, the lies we tell ourselves in this country and more.

The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Let’s start by giving viewers a small glimpse of what’s in store for Season 3.

Charlotte Stoudt, first of all, our showrunner, came on this season and really designed an incredible narrative, an incredible story. Season 3 was made coming out of the pandemic. It was quite a time. The first season obviously dealt with the #MeToo movement, and we’ve sort of moved and pivoted away from the sexual misconduct. We’re much more focused this season on women’s autonomy and how it’s undermined and reproductive rights and abortion rights and billionaires, minority rule, the state of journalism, the threat to journalists all around the world. Most importantly, thematically, we deal with the state of the truth in the world as journalists, and very much so, in our truths, the lies we tell ourselves. A lot of our characters this season have a lot of secrets. It’s really a juicy, sexy season.

One of the main things I think viewers are going to take away is not only how fragile the state of our country is but also the media. One thing that sticks out to me is racism in the newsroom, as well as the double standard between how it looks when a guy is dating a woman in the public eye versus the woman’s perspective and how she’s treated. The guy gets a high five, and the woman is ridiculed and treated as if she can’t do her job. When you get together and create this and go to shoot this, how do you decide what to focus on?

“Our stories reflect very much what’s happening in the world.”

In the writer’s room, we have the first two seasons to come off of, right? There’s a lot of breadcrumbs left that take us to how we left coming out. We left right in the pandemic. We decided to start the season two years later. A lot has happened in those two years. You had Black Lives Matter, George Floyd, a reckoning with profound injustice and how we value each other. 

During the pandemic, a new billionaire was minted every 24 hours, and so much happened in the two years coming out of the pandemic. We’re still actually in the pandemic — it’s ticking up. But, anyway, our show’s a news show, and it’s very topical, so our stories reflect very much what’s happening in the world. Bradley Jackson’s story, in terms of abortion rights, her story was created before Roe v. Wade was overturned. And then it was overturned, and it was like art/life, life/art.

The Chris Hunter character, played by Nicole Beharie, was a really important story for us to tell. She plays this Olympic gold medalist who’s moved into the media, a la Michael Strahan. And she’s this anchor and she’s a natural and she finds herself in this very different world from the clarity of the track, where you have a beginning and an end. The UBA politics and turf wars are a lot more confusing. We wanted to explore systemic racism in the workplace and in our world. I think our character, Chris Hunter, navigates the maze, and she discovers a new side of herself. And Nicole Beharie is a bada*s.

She was amazing, and I think the dagger for me as an outsider, as a pedestrian, I would pull back and say, “This talented amazing woman is going into this liberal establishment, and she’s going to flourish. She’s going to be excellent.” But nobody talks about the internal racism that exists inside of establishments that appear to be liberal from the outside. That’s a conversation a lot of people don’t want to touch because it makes all of us look at ourselves and the things that we’ve done or the things that we’ve subscribed to or been a part of.

Absolutely, I mean, I think that is what is so strong about “The Morning Show.” What you see in front of the camera is bright and it’s beautiful and everyone’s happy and laughing. Then you pull the curtain back, and you see that it’s really all f**ked up. These people are complex, they have really complex issues, they have a lot of secrets. They tell each other a lot of lies.

“They’re the people we love to hate.”

Nicole came in and just killed it and was really integral to the storytelling. She really nailed it and really came through. That episode — number 303 — was directed by Thomas Carter, a really incredible filmmaker, and it all jelled. It’s really great when it does. I think it’s important. The country’s so divided, and I think we get to examine all of that with the Jan. 6 story and Bradley story.

I don’t know how much I’m allowed to speak about it, but it’s just very significant. The stories we tell are created through our characters’ point-of-view of the world we are living in and hopefully reflect you and me and everybody.

It does, and you do such an excellent job. You added Jon Hamm to the cast, who may or may not be coming in to buy UBA. I watch these shows about these people in the top 1%. Why do you think they always make such interesting characters?

Yes, they’re the people we love to hate, and they’re very complex. They have many sides, many faces. This guy Paul comes in — he’s this tech billionaire. He changes UBA forever, and he’s the savior. Everyone thinks he’s going to save UBA with his money, but things become less clear or more clear as we go through the season.

People aren’t who they seem to be on the surface. Some people are, and some people aren’t. It’s quite fascinating: his character and how he just stepped into those shoes. We cast a very likable person, a human being, who is very different than — I mean, this is how I see it, very different than — on “Succession.” Like, do you love Brian Cox’s character? Do you like him?

Not like I love Paul Marks.

There you go. You really are interested in this guy and this guy is very fascinating and he’s good-looking and he’s tall. There’s a bromance that happens with Cory and there’s a triangle with Alex and there’s a lot of fighting and flirting. There are a lot of chess pieces that are constantly in motion, and who’s going to win?

We see Alex step into her power, finding her voice, wanting a seat at the table. We see Cory falling apart; [he] needs the money. It’s not fun being a CEO when you don’t have the money. He brings Paul Marks in to come save the day, and that’s when all chaos ensues. It’s really fascinating: your question about the face of people and who are they and what is their truth. That is what we are examining on our show this season.

I think you take the show to the next level when you show us how media companies like Salon or The New York Times or ABC or CBS are all one billionaire away from losing the power to be able to tell the truth to the people who subscribe to what we do. There’s already this huge movement of people who don’t respect journalists. Our industry is so fragile, and you show that on screen.

And our country is so fragile. We’re teetering — we’re teetering on chaos. I hope our country changes, I hope we can change it, I hope we can be strong enough to see the truth in what’s happening. It’s so incredible when half of the country — I don’t even think it’s half — feels one way and the other feels another and we’re all looking at the same thing. I don’t understand it; I think that’s what we’re trying to understand and what we’re trying to do on our show.

I walked away with a whole lot of thoughts about the future of media and what it’s going to look like 20 years from now. I’m curious to know what you think. 

I hope there is a media 20 years from now. [Laughs.] There will be. I think there’s going to be a reckoning with the truth, I mean, with the Big Lie. That’s something — minority rule — we looked at this season. And, in 20 years, gosh, I don’t know. Nobody knows anything. We don’t even know when the strike’s going to end. William Goldman said, “Nobody knows anything.”

All I know is that we have the power, journalists have the power to tell the truth. I think that is very much what we’re interested in discussing in our season. I think the truth will come out. I’m hoping for the best.

One of the most powerful qualities about what you do, in general, especially with this show, is you take these issues, the racism, the sexism, the violence and all of these different things and you give it to us in a way that’s not abstract. As viewers, we can imagine these things happening at our job. What’s your take on how the audience takes it all in?

“Our country is so fragile. We’re teetering — we’re teetering on chaos.”

I feel the same way. I mean, I think the show — we want it to be as told as truthfully as we can. We may be a new show, but we’re talking to all walks of life here. And I think there are real issues people are dealing with in our show. We look at Mia, Karen Pittman’s character, who is the executive producer (EP) and who’s caught between her personal and professional life as the EP of “The Morning Show,” having to make impossible calls, whether that is George Floyd’s death or how to handle the racism at UBA. These are big, big issues that she has to deal with.

That’s very real and that reflects the fabric of our country and people in all walks of life having to deal with very hard things. We can do hard things. Our show’s really about something, but hopefully, we do it and entertain you at the same time. Out of all this heavy drama, there’s a nice dose of comedy you get there, because without the comedy, I think you don’t have great drama. We try and entertain you while we talk about real-life issues.

We’re not going to share any spoilers. I know regardless of what happens to Bradley, she’s going to be fine, but is Alex going to be OK? We tend to worry about Alex a little.

I think Alex takes a big leap in our story, and I think she goes through a large and long journey that is really truthful. It’s heartbreaking. It’s painful. She steps into her power. She finds her voice and — do I think she’s going to be OK?

Yes, do you think she’s going to be OK?

Yes — hell yes — I think Alex is going to be fine. It’d be really interesting to see where we take her next season, in Season 4. Alex is going to be strong. She’s a strong woman and also very fragile just like every woman. We’re all so strong, and we’re all so fragile. But if this season didn’t break her, nothing’s going to break her. I have hopes for Alex Levy.

What’s next for you?

I’m doing another season of the show.

Congratulations, I look forward to seeing it before everyone else.

Season 4. And I’m going to direct a film about my family, my family of filmmakers. It’s an indie, and it’s about the family. My father was an ultra low-budget filmmaker from the ’60s to the ’90s, and I grew up on sets. The movie’s about, basically, the family you make when you make a movie and making a movie, literally, with your family. So, it’s a little “Boogie Nights” without the porn and “Day for Night.” I think there’s a nostalgia right now. We need to see some really fun and personal movies.

The friends I made on set — they’re my friends for life.

It happens. You’re with this family, and everything is so intense when you make a show, when you’re telling a story and every rock is lifted. We look at everything. We look at our color palette. We look at “would this character say that?” We look at the truth of what they would say, where they’re going, what they want. You develop this intense relationship with the people you work with — and they do become your family.

Absolutely, you see them every day for 16 hours a day for four months straight and then everybody’s off to their next gig.

And then it’s like, “Where’s my family?”

“The Morning Show” streams new episodes Wednesdays on Apple TV+. 

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