When Apple TV+ first launched, one of its marquee shows was undoubtedly “The Morning Show.” Starring Steve Carell, Jennifer Aniston, and Reese Witherspoon as the anchors of a popular morning talk show in trouble, it quickly gained notice for its star-studded cast as much as for its deliberate parallels to the upheavals in real-life broadcast journalism of the time.
Over the seasons, the series has become less directly based on real-life events, but echoes of familiar stories still remain.
Is “The Morning Show” Based on a True Story?
When the first season of “The Morning Show” debuted in 2019, it centered on a badly behaved, popular man anchor on a beloved morning show, which seemed almost ripped from the headlines. Mitch Kessler, the fictional anchor in hot water (played by Carell), is at the center of a sexual misconduct scandal, including the discovery of a remote “close door” button under his office desk. It seems clear that this plot-launching storyline is based loosely — and in some notable, creepy details — on the fall from grace of Matt Lauer, longtime anchor of the “Today” show on NBC.
The show’s exploration of a post-Me Too news world also mirrors how many other prominent men in broadcast journalism, including Charlie Rose and Tom Brokaw, were called to account for misdeeds. It drew on real-life news stories, as well as notable nonfiction work about morning TV, including the acclaimed book “Top of the Morning” by Brian Stelter.
The second season, meanwhile, drew again on real life — this time, on the experience of news shows attempting to continue production during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We felt it was important to include Covid in our storytelling, being a news show,” executive producer Mimi Leder told Town & Country. “And we understood that time period — the beginning — when we were innocent, when we thought ‘Covid is something elsewhere, it’s in Italy, it’s in China, it’s not coming here.’ We understood that because we lived through it. To do a story that was further into Covid, we felt we couldn’t really do honestly, because we had no idea we would be where we are today, still living with it.”
Are “The Morning Show” Characters Based on Real People?
Carell’s Mitch is the most closely related to a real person, with his clear parallels to Lauer’s career and downfall, although “The Morning Show”‘s cast and crew have often insisted that Mitch is not a Lauer fictionalization, but rather a familiar archetype (of which Lauer is one example).
“[They’re] all fictional, but also kind of highlighting aspects of the archetype of a charming narcissist, of a generation of men that didn’t think that was bad behavior,” Jennifer Aniston, who plays fellow anchor Alex Levy, told Variety. “That’s just the way it works. And men are flirts and women are coy and find it flattering. And thankfully, with the sacrifices of these women who have come forward, this isn’t going to happen anymore. It’s wonderful that you’re accountable and you have to check yourself.”
Aniston’s said she took her biggest inspiration from broadcast legend Diane Sawyer. “I’ve known Diane for years, and I had the joy of getting to pick her brain when I was doing research for the show. Diane’s always been so elegant and classy,” Aniston told InStyle. She also revealed, in the same interview, how she researched the role by shadowing the team at “Good Morning America,” Sawyer’s old gig. The character of Alex also bears some resemblance to two “Today” show anchors, Katie Couric and Savannah Guthrie.
Other characters, including Reese Witherspoon’s Bradley Jackson, rising star anchor, have fewer commonalities with real-life, recognizable news figures. Instead, in the years since the show began, it’s shifted more toward telling recognizable stories that aren’t quite ripped from the headlines. After all, most Americans welcome their favorite morning show hosts “into their homes” every day — it’s no wonder we want to watch a story about them!