SPOILER WARNING: The following contains spoilers for The Morning Show’s Season 3 finale episode, “The Overview Effect”.
Another season of The Morning Show met its end this week, and with a denouement so satisfying it’ll have fans leaping off their couches. From Jennifer Aniston plonking her loaded briefcase on the board room table, to Jon Hamm slinking back to his “giant penis” spaceship, there was something for everyone—even the FBI.
Under the stewardship of Season 3 showrunner Charlotte Stoudt—passed the torch by co-creator Kerry Ehrin—The Morning Show continues to look under the rocks of big business, systemic racism, the media crisis and terrifying political backslides, while focusing in on familial dysfunction and female power.
DEADLINE: Congratulations for working in everything from #MeToo to space travel to Roe v. Wade in one season.
CHARLOTTE STOUDT: Thank you so much. I’ve been thinking about this season, and when we sat down to think about what it should be, we’ve been through such a tumultuous few years, and when we were in the room, everything was still vibrating, right? The protests with George Floyd; all the questions around the election. Billionaires having made so much money during the pandemic and the pandemic itself. The clash over masks and vaccines. It was a heightened time. And I think that maybe inspired a little of the season and the tone itself, and the mood of the season, the extremity of it was really just a reflection of what we were going through.
Deadline: The Morning Show has consistently shown willingness to lean into what’s current, which is very high risk. With Season 1 it involved reworking to address #MeToo, and with Season 2, you had to go back and work in the pandemic. What were some of the last-minute reworkings this past Season 3? It has to be a bit seat-of-the-pants, right?
STOUDT: There’s a lot of seat-of-the-pants on the show. I would say the clearest example, and please everybody else chime in, is that we knew there was going to be some decision on Roe in June or July. But we certainly didn’t anticipate, as no one did, the leak on May 2nd. And we were already thinking of doing the tension between public and private. We were going to have this big gala for episode seven. And we were going to have Corey’s mother—she’s always this sense of a progressive person who was watching a backslide of women’s rights. When that leak hit, I just thought, oh my god. I was like, wow, we’re just going to slot this in. Thematically it worked perfectly. You see these women in these gorgeous gowns—thank you, Valentino—at the height of their power and the command of their sexuality. And then the rug is just pulled right out from under them. And I’m just going to say this because it quietly thrills me—we heard that the two Politico reporters who broke that story watched the show, and they loved episode 7. And when I heard that, I was like, OK, I’m good.
MICHAEL ELLENBERG: I think because the show often has a degree of clairvoyance to it, and we’re trying to swim in the zeitgeist and own it and be unapologetic and unafraid of it. So, tech entry into Hollywood is not new, but what happened with Elon Musk and Twitter and the rest of it that started to unfold, that began after we were well into our season actually.
So, we try to ride this line where we want to be in dialogue with current events and hopefully current events don’t run past us. Also, not to overreact. Which is, just trust that there’s an interesting dialogue happening between reality and fiction and let the audience enjoy that. And if it’s stimulating to the crowd you’re seeing here and to the other writers and the actors, most of all. Then we’ve got to trust it. I think a basic pleasure of the show is to place you in rooms and environments and situations that you hear a lot about, but you never really get to see. You never really get to be in. And that’s the kind of voyeuristic pleasure that the show gives.
LAUREN NEUSTADTER: when Covid came and we had all that time, it was all about the pivot. So, I do think that there’s this kind of unbelievable gift that the writers of this show have where they sense, they feel the frequency in advance, and they write to it. But also, a real testament to the total collaboration of the creative team on this show is that things constantly are coming up. They’re happening because I think the show is meant to thoughtfully reflect the world that we’re living in. So, we’re always in dialogue with each other about, “Hey, this thing happened. Did you read this article? Did you hear about this thing? What do you think?” We constantly check in with each other and continue to evolve the material as things are happening in the world around us in a way that feels right to all of us. I think it’s something that’s really cool and unique about the show.
ELLENBERG: Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. And I don’t want to say the story, because whenever it affected people’s lives, sometimes truth is too on the nose, and we can’t use it.
DEADLINE: I was going to ask what stories you might have dropped this season, but you’d rather not say?
ELLENBERG: I just feel badly for the people. There are occasionally things where you’re like, it would feel like a bad episode of our show if we did it. So, you also have to be discriminating as well, like where it’s a juicy headline, but if we actually do this television, you’d be like, oh, actually it’s sort of obvious.
DEADLINE: Mimi, in directing, to begin with, the first two episodes of this season, I’m curious about how you set the tone you wanted, and how the show has progressed in terms of your viewpoint.
MIMI LEDER: When I first sat down with Charlotte to discuss the season, she threw out, “I think we should go to space.” And it was like, “OK”. I love Charlotte. And it was quite a challenge to go to space and from our character’s point of view. And not just that, but creating space on our budget. And is it the right thing to do? Is it the right place to put our characters? What do they see up there? What are they feeling? How does it relate to Bradley’s experience when she’s up there? Is it [an experience] of reflection and deep sadness? What is she sad about? What is going on? And so, it just opens up the story to begin exploring what each character’s arc is in the show. And space was a great way to do it.
And then there was the hack, which was really fun to do. Which really spurred on our story of the leaked racist email, which took us to a story about systemic racism in journalism, and in the world. But shooting those two episodes as a block was quite interesting. And one moment you’re in space, and the next minute you are in a hack where there’s total chaos and constantly checking, where am I in the story? Making sure the actors are spot on. Knowing where they are going, where they’re coming from, modulating those levels. One and two were challenging, as was the entire season. But in the best possible way. Because stories are always about something and something completely relevant. And our exploration of that was just quite fascinating. The writing was really spot-on. Every episode just kept exploring something new, but they were all intertwined and interrelated.
ELLENBERG: Mimi’s able to keep an emotional truth to all of these ideas. So that yes, seemingly many, many events in the world affect our players in The Morning Show, right? In a way that seems almost biblical. And if Mimi’s really keeper of the tone on the floor, at least we’re always striving to find the emotional truth for both the characters and for the situation. And if we weren’t doing that, then the soufflé collapses.
KRISTEN HAHN: But it floats just above the ground, and we love that, that these characters are grounded and real and relatable, but they float just slightly above the ground. And I would say also, just while we’re loving on Mimi, that she also creates such a strong pacing. My heart still races as I’m watching it, which I think is a really beautiful, powerful parallel to the world that the story that we’re telling. Because behind the scenes of these morning show news groups, it’s so tense.
Speaking of space, it’s like when we would go behind the scenes of these control rooms. Good Morning America or whatever, some people were kind enough to let us in. When you are in these control rooms, you feel like they’re getting ready to launch a spaceship.
DEADLINE: Truly like NASA.
HAHN: It’s like being in NASA. So much nervous foot tapping, pen tapping, gum chewing, and it’s like five in the morning and they are jacked up. And I love that about our show. I remember that visceral feeling of being in the control room and I feel like Mimi really helps create that feeling for the show. So, you get that experience while you’re watching the show, what it’s like to make one of those shows.
DEADLINE: To Mimi’s point about the space travel kicking off Bradley’s reflective arc this season, in the same way, bringing in Esther Perel sets Alex’s arc in the beginning by asking her when she last felt truly connected and alive with another human. And what a piece of casting that was. I love and adore everything Esther Perel does. Tell me about bringing her on.
HAHN: That was actually a Jen idea, I think. Because during the pandemic, Jen became obsessed with Esther and started sending me tons of posts and blogs and everything she had been writing. And so then when in the conversation of how to open and what guests to have, Charlotte started talking about wanting to open up on Alex unfiltered, in a way with a guest that could really dig in to something vulnerable and emotional. Talk about intimacy, because Alex coming out of Covid, surviving that phoenix rising and stripping her outer layer off, and coming into this season as a slightly different person. I think more real, more authentic, less persona, less curated. And out of the gate wanted to establish that there was a slightly new Alex. Esther of course pushed Alex even further with her ultimate question and Alex becomes speechless from that great question.
DEADLINE: I’d love to know if Esther had any input in what that question was going to be?
STOUDT: Yes, absolutely. We met a few times and we had an incredible discussion about how we’re all coming out of the pandemic. I was furiously scribbling, and then just tried to put that all back together. I love that Esther is just so direct. Her directness is just startling, and she’s always on my Instagram feed. I just love the way she’s just so unapologetic and so brilliant and concise in her insights that I think we just wanted that energy and sharpness at the beginning. It was a great collaboration. That’s part of the fun of the show is that someone like Esther is interested in collaborating with us.
HAHN: And she was such a natural interviewer too. Because she does it in real life. So, I was wondering how acting would be for her, but she was a total natural. She was obviously playing herself, but she was so good at it. She was, right Mimi?
LEDER: She was so keyed in. There was no nervousness. There was only excitement and a great eagerness to get it right. But it was very calm. I was very tense, because I wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to pull it off. And she pulled it off beautifully.
ELLENBERG: It was also a kind of collective group therapy on the set. She was discussing what we all went through in the pandemic and what do we all need now emotionally to get through it. And then you looked around, you could tell everyone from the PA, to the gaffer, to the DP was deeply reflective.
HAHN: I think that’s so right. And you could tell everyone was thinking, what’s the question I would ask her if I got her for five minutes alone. Everyone was carrying a question.
DEADLINE: I’m thinking, can I manufacture a reason to interview Esther on a weekly basis and make that my therapy?
HAHN: Well, this is life imitating art for our show. It does happen a lot for us. We all benefit from many of the conversations we get to have about what’s happening on our show. It is current events, and in this case, current events became very emotional events, right? And what home meant for all of us, which Charlotte beautifully integrated thematically into the season. Where’s our home? Where do we belong? Who are our people? Because we all became so isolated during the pandemic. So, all of these characters are going through the same things we went through. Who did we shack up with for those months? Who was our pod? And how did we handle coming out of it?
DEADLINE: Something that I’ve thought about so much this season is how you handle male fragility. OK, it looks like toxicity with Paul Marks, and with Corey to some extent with how he exposed Bradley. But in the end, what we see is women in their power and the men are fragile. Ultimately, they’re kind of bankrupt in the end of this season. They’ve been trying to put up this front and it’s just crumbled. I But I think when you see Paul Marks misappropriate the #MeToo movement when he leaks the story about Cory and Bradley, he has to be paid back for that, that’s just pure evil. But Charlotte, perhaps you could speak to how men are represented in this season?
STOUDT: I like to see it all. I like to see the fragility, but also the playfulness. Like the sauna scene at the very beginning is these are two guys kind of sparring and they’re having fun and they’re giving each other s**t. But underneath it is an interest in each other. I always thought of in a way like a triangle. One triangle this season is Corey, Paul and Alex. So, you’re right in that sense, there is a vulnerability. But I always think about, what does female leadership look like and what does female power look like? And I’m really going to say this, it’s not because you’re sitting here, but I honestly feel that Mimi is an extraordinary example. Just the way she is on set. Because it’s total command of the craft, of the crew, of the material, of the performers. But it’s done with such a warmth and a sense of community and you’re always looking for models of good female leaders. So, I think that did somehow inform me.
I do think this kind of, ‘I alone can save us’ sort of male zero sum… capitalism has infinite growth, that kind of model of being in the world we’re seeing is not going to work for us. And I think men, obviously along with women, can learn from that. It’s not like I’m saying that’s a purely male issue, because I think one of the great things this show did, especially in Season 1, is to look at how are women complicit in patriarchy as well. So, women have to figure out female power too. It’s not like we wake up with it one morning.
But I think you’re right. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to Corey after maybe learning a bit of a lesson with that mode, that kind of ludicrous mode, if you want to say it with that term, didn’t work for him.
NEUSTADTER: Can we also just celebrate Charlotte and our amazing writers for really showing the ways in which women show up for each other in this season? I mean, I think it’s a really special thing to track throughout all the seasons of this show. But I love the work that was done this season just in terms of observing the ways in which women show up for one another; the ways in which if we let one another down, we figure it out and we come back around. What that is, and really looking at it so carefully and with such sensitivity and awareness. I love the relationship between Alex and Bradley.
Actually, one of my most favorite scenes of the season is the scene with Marcia Gay Harden and Jen in that final scene. Because it’s such a beautiful counter to the scene with Reese and Marcia Gay Harden in Season 2, where Bradley really defended Alex. And then here it comes back around, and it shifts everything. I think there’s so much poetry in this show, but that’s a great example of the beautiful poetry that Charlotte and our scene writers this season really brought to every single episode.
DEADLINE: Also, when Greta Lee and Natalie Morales’ Stella and Kate come together to expose the truth about Marks’ company. What a moment. And Nicole Beharie’s whole arc as Chris too. Also, that blistering scene where Laura confronts Bradley about her cover-up of her brother’s actions on January 6th.
NEUSTADTER: And that’s all the things. I mean, that’s what was on the page and that was the beautiful direction. And Julianna and Reese together—talk about two powerhouses. That was really, I thought, just beautiful work.
STOUDT: I’m just going to add that, just in the world of women supporting each other, that scene was written by our researcher who had never had an episode of television. Laura Wexler in episode nine, and I’ll just say she did a great job researching. We were like, we’re going to give you a shot.
She had three versions of that. I remember the first version. I was like, “I think you can get a little spicier here.” And the second thing she wrote was, “You should have just f***ed him. I think that is another hallmark of the show—it’s such a good, strong team that you never know where the great idea is going to come from. And you have to be open and grateful for wherever.
HAHN: Well, that’s good female leadership right there, that to be open to where the best ideas come from, as opposed to being right, and the person that everyone is supposed to listen to. And I mean, that comes from the top down on our show. And that’s one of the cool things about working on our show is it is so much about looking at how power works in a workplace, and we are living meta. We are making the show together, and we work so well together. It’s really incredible. And we do hire a lot of women. Michael is the origin point of the show. He brilliantly created this platform, this show, and hiring all these women I think has been a great choice.
DEADLINE: Keeping momentum over seasons is tough on TV and yet the show hasn’t wavered from its addictive quality. How do you want to maintain that and what are some of the hopes you have for next season? We touched a little bit on what Cory might possibly be like after this experience. I’d love to know if you even imagine Paul Marks making a reappearance?
STOUDT: I just have to say, we have a cast where they’re essentially 10 people that are the heroes of their own story. And because the talent, the bench is so deep on the show. There are just so many people who are so fascinating. But I just want to keep going deeper without losing that propulsion, as you say.
I think we’ve barely gotten to know Stella. Chris is a new character, I think there’s a lot to say there. I don’t know how Chip and Alex got started, so I would like to hear that story. I think because it is so fast-paced and breathless, you can always turn over another emotional card. And that’s one thing I really want to do this season. Other people can speak to this, but my goal is to really surprise you with the complexity of the characters, and that they’re struggling with something that you can identify with.
DEADLINE: Yes, I’d love to go back in time and see why Chip and Alex are the way they are.
HAHN: That’s our favorite codependent work relationship, right? It’s like the platonic love story.
DEADLINE: The ‘work wife’, ‘work husband’ story.
HAHN: But what happens if somebody actually gets romance in their life? And I think there’s going to be also some exploration of Alex’s backstory, of where she comes from, more origin story.
ELLENBERG: It’s always an exciting time in the modern media landscape. And so, we will continue to reflect that energy. And I think what you said, maintaining, I think, what Charlotte and Mimi have done, both maintaining that articulate energy, but doing so authentically, which I do think is part of the DNA of what people in the real world go through. They experience it all as an adrenaline rush. So, I do think it’s not only about having the stories be over-the-top, it’s always wanting to be in the emotional place that the people who do these jobs for real live.
Season 4 of The Morning Show is set to return in 2025.