Of all the companies looking to break into the already-fractured streaming market, Apple seemed the least intuitive when it announced its plans this past March for Apple TV+. Even with hundreds of millions of active smart devices equating to the world’s largest captive viewing audience, that doesn’t necessarily track to becoming a content provider arriving late to an incredibly active party. Regardless, Apple is clearly going all in: Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reported that Apple TV+ will launch in November at a possible $9.99 price tag, notably higher than most other services, including the highly-anticipated Disney+ kicking off the same month.
To justify the premium charge, Apple promised back a slate of high-quality, artist-driven content from Hollywood’s heaviest hitters. Alongside quick teases from legendary director (and streaming hypocrite) Steven Spielberg and television legend Oprah Winfrey, Apple TV+ previewed its flagship series The Morning Show, starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Steve Carrell. The star wattage couldn’t have been higher, but there were few details beyond the basic premise of a behind-the-scenes look at a morning news program, and no footage to glean its quality beyond its impressive Emmy and Oscar-winning pedigree. It didn’t necessarily bode well: Apple needs The Morning Show to be a critical slam-dunk if it’s going to convince consumers to add another subscription service to their budgets, especially at a higher price point than the industry norm.
With the release of the official trailer this week, Apple is gearing The Morning Show up for the kind of buzz that launched Netflix’s House of Cards back in 2013. The two-minute preview pulls back the curtain on the plot, which is practically ripped from the offices of 30 Rock: The fictional Morning Show has been rocked by allegations of misconduct (currently unknown, but most likely sexual), felling longtime host Mitch Kessler (Steve Carrell) and leaving his partner Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) on the ropes against a production team itching to sideline her too. Key to the producers’ efforts appears to be Reese Witherspoon’s Bradley Jackson, a take-no-prisoners reporter who balks at the morning-show format and is set as a stereotypical foil to the lighter breakfast chat that Alex excels in.
It would be easy for The Morning Show to devolve into a cheap Battle Royale between two of Hollywood’s best-loved actresses but, at first glance, the show looks to dig deep into the mechanics of broadcast television, particularly around trust. In one notable exchange, Bradley extolls to Alex the importance of cultivating an audience’s trust, and Alex appears well and truly shaken by a point that could be read as either earnest or cuttingly critical. Witherspoon balances on that edge nicely, but Aniston’s reaction stands out, barely masking her insecurity and disappointment beneath a journalist’s engaged gaze. Fractured trust is at the core of all of Alex’s workplace relationships: she accuses Mitch of abandoning her to the wolves of their show, and, in another powerful scene, blasts the show’s smug producers for their incompetence and declares her intention to take control. Instead of just pitting two women in television against each other, The Morning Show is setting the stage for a broadcast war on multiple fronts, exploring ambition, personal sacrifice, and potentially the impact of the #MeToo era on the newsroom.
Assuming the trailer holds up for a full series, The Morning Show looks to be a very solid entry in the peak-streaming-TV block, with high-gloss production values, an intriguing and timely premise, and some strong performances. Amidst a stacked cast, Jennifer Aniston, who hasn’t had a role worthy of her since 2014’s Cake, looks to be the one to watch if this show were to make a 2020 Emmys play. Of course that only happens if Apple can convinces voters and the broader public to actually watch the show. As popular as Aniston, Witherspoon, and Carrell are, it wasn’t clear back in March that they could carry a brand new streaming service on their backs. Luckily for Apple, the trailer and the largely positive response it’s received thus far bodes well for the series. Combined with what I imagine will be a barrage of iPhone and iPad notifications at launch, The Morning Show might do for Apple what House of Cards and The Handmaid’s Tale did for Netflix and Hulu. At the very least, it’s worth the free trial.