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In Apple TV’s ‘Morning Show,’ women rebel, men misbehave

Hilary B. Gayle/Apple TV Plus via AP
This image released by Apple TV Plus shows Jennifer Aniston, left, and Steve Carell in a scene from “The Morning Show,” debuting Nov. 1, as part of the first wave of series that will launch the Apple TV Plus streaming service.

LOS ANGELES — “The Morning Show” started life as a behind-the-scenes peek at a slice of network TV as familiar and routine as a wake-up cup of coffee. Then shocking revelations of sexual misconduct engulfed NBC’s “Today” and beyond, and the story changed.

The 10-part drama series, part of the first wave of shows launching the Apple TV Plus streaming service Nov. 1, expanded its original focus on women’s role in media to include the repercussions of workplace bad behavior. It all plays out in the lucrative, hypercompetitive world of A.M. news-and-fluff programming.

“When the Me Too movement happened it was really hard to ignore, nor would we want to ignore it. We would be negligent,” said Mimi Leder, an executive producer and director for “The Morning Show.”

While Hollywood has paid glancing attention to the sexual abuse and harassment scandals that have roiled it and other industries, with accusations derailing the careers of actors, executives and journalists, “The Morning Show” is among the few major projects to delve more deeply.

Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon lead the cast that includes Steve Carell, Billy Crudup, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mark Duplass, Nestor Carbonell and Desean Terry. Aniston plays Alex, the long-reigning queen of the now-slumping “Morning Show,” and Witherspoon is Bradley, an outspoken TV reporter with a shaky job history who lands hard on Alex’s turf.

But Alex’s longtime co-anchor Mitch (Carell) has already wreaked havoc. The drama opens with him fired by network UBA for multiple instances of alleged misconduct, evoking Matt Lauer’s dismissal from “Today.” Mitch’s banishment creates career and psychological upheaval for Alex and opportunity for those waiting in the wings for their shot at network glory.

Among them is Daniel (Terry), an African-American co-anchor who chafes at what he considers pressure to downplay his ethnicity and hopes the top anchor job will be his reward. There are impressive displays of ambition and plot twists galore in the three episodes Apple made available of the glossy, expensive-looking drama that’s debuting three episodes on Nov. 1. Remaining episodes will be released consecutively on Fridays.

Apple TV Plus costs $4.99 a month after a seven-day free trial, and a subscription can be shared with up to six family members. The streaming service is free for a year to buyers of a new iPhone, iPad, Mac or Apple TV box.

Alex’s somber on-air response to the scandal evokes memories of Samantha Guthrie and Hoda Kotb telling “Today” viewers about Lauer’s November 2017 firing for what NBC called “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.” The fallout has yet to subside: co-anchors Guthrie and Kotb returned to the subject of Lauer earlier this month after further allegations against him emerged in Ronan Farrow’s new book, “Catch and Kill.”

“Morning television is where the women in television were left to pick up the pieces,” observed Mary Murphy, an associate professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Series executive producer Michael Ellenberg began work on what became “The Morning Show” before #MeToo, saying he was intrigued by “what it means to be a woman in media” and specifically a woman with power in the morning network realm. He found the “authentic, precise” details he needed in journalist Brian Stelter’s 2013 nonfiction book, “Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV.”

Ellenberg optioned the book, Aniston and Witherspoon were attached and Kerry Ehrin (“Friday Night Lights,” ”Bates Motel”) was brought in as writer and showrunner (Stelter, a former reporter with The New York Times and now with CNN, is a consulting producer). Leder said the drama from a nearly all-female slate of executive producers — including Aniston and Reese — is at its core about the relationship between Alex and Bradley.