Awards Daily’s Megan McLachlan talks to The Morning Show showrunner Kerry Ehrin about the pressure to be a part of Apple+’s first class of original content and the decision to keep the controversial character of Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) around.
Not many shows are brave enough to tackle #MeToo themes, except maybe for HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, which made Larry David an accused predator in its tenth season. But that’s a show that’s been around a while. Apple+’s The Morning Show tackled #MeToo in its first season on a brand-new streaming network, which is a pretty ballsy move right out of the gate.
The Morning Show takes a look at what happens in a post #MeToo world, exploring how sexual harassment affects coworkers (Jennifer Aniston), new hires (Reese Witherspoon), and even the accused himself (Steve Carell). Many critics and audience members took offense that TMS continued to include Steve Carell’s Mitch Kessler as a character, since his actions are undeserving of recognition, but he’s proven to be essential to the story that showrunner Kerry Ehrin is trying to tell, whether we like him or not.
I chatted with Ehrin about why she decided to keep Mitch Kessler on as a character, the pressure to be a part of Apple+’s first fleet of TV shows, and how she positioned one particular character to represent victims of sexual assault and harassment.
Awards Daily: Did you feel a lot of pressure to be behind Apple+’s first class of original content?
Kerry Ehrin: Oh, yeah. (Laughs) That situation is nothing but pressure, just by the very nature of it. But also I didn’t really have the luxury to focus on the pressure. There wasn’t enough time to. It was really just how to stay very connected to creating this fictional world and getting it up on its feet pretty quickly.
AD: You came in later to the project after the original showrunner left over creative differences. How did the vision change and what were you tasked with doing when you came on board?
KE: I don’t really know how it changed, because I wasn’t there for his [vision]. I know when I came in, I had to take on the tone of the show and the relationship between the two leads [Jennifer and Reese] and the idea of making the Steve Carell character a major character, and creating this very morally ambiguous but weirdly charismatic network executive, who was eventually played by Billy Crudup. That’s pretty much what I walked in with, how I wanted to tell the story and tackle it.
AD: Some critics have said they didn’t like the idea of Mitch continuing to be a character on the show, that it shouldn’t include him. I love that you kept him on. Was that ever a consideration in the writers’ room, to not have that character be such an integral character?
KE: There were plenty of writers in my writing room who probably would have been just fine with not having him come back. You know, it’s a hotbed conversation. I don’t know if that’s the right phrase. It’s an issue, a tender issue, and there are lots of points of view. One of the things we do in the writers’ room is open that stuff up.
AD: And why is he an important character to keep around?
KE: I think he’s important for a couple of reasons. One, we’re not done telling the story, and two, he’s very connected to Alex’s story and to the network’s. It’s a continuing story, and I can’t really say more than that. It’s not like it just ended at the end of the season. Also, I think Steve Carell is just freakin’ amazing, and I think he did that part so beautifully. Who doesn’t want to keep Steve Carell?
AD: Right! Alex and Mitch have had a sexual relationship, which really complicates matters even further than simply being co-workers. Was that established to remove any will-they-or-won’t-they between them? Or does it just go to show Mitch’s power over everyone? Or something else entirely?
KE: No, no. It was really to show how fucked up their relationship was, and how fucked up they both were as people, how they have this weirdly functional/dysfunctional relationship with each other. They really didn’t have functional relationships with anyone else in their lives, but they really needed each other. And that relationship took all kinds of strange shapes.
AD: Do you think Alex is an unlikable character? I really love her. I think if you make this role a man, everything she does, including protecting herself from getting fired, is justified. Even her willingness to get rid of Chip. But I feel like even the characters on the show view her as unlikable.
KE: I don’t think I would like a man that did those things, so I don’t know that I totally agree with you. But I actually cut Alex a little more slack than I would a man because I feel like she’s coming from a tougher position and trying to have power. She’s trying to control it to the best that she can, but she’s not used to having power, so she exercises a wild takeover at the end of the second episode. And then she’s in this position where she’s made this power move and she has to back it up. And she doesn’t really, exactly know what that looks like yet, and she’s learning what that looks like. By the end, she’s bought into being a power player more. I think the firing of Chip is one of the first and most distasteful swallows of that, that she’s ever had to take.
AD: I guess I just respect her as a character because she’s desperate, and you can see that. Every move she’s making is to hang on. What else is she gonna do?
KE: I also designed all of the characters not to be particularly perfect or good. They’re all flawed, but I also wanted to make them relatable, so that you could identify with them from a human place, even though their behavior is not okay. (Laughs)
AD: You wrote the last episode of the season “The Interview,” which heads in a very serious direction with the Hannah character (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). In the writing process for the first season, how soon did you know Hannah would be a sacrifice? I feel like we were just starting to get to know her.
KE: That was something I came into Apple and my first pitch with [them]. I knew I wanted to tell a story about a victim that was lost in the middle of all the personal motives and political motives and business motives, that took everyone’s energy away from the actual victim. I wanted her to get lost, that she’s the one that pays the price, because I think too often the victims do pay the price, and everyone else spins their plates about this or that and what’s good for them, how is their company surviving and their career surviving. I think the people who do often get forgotten are the ones that are actually hurt and haven’t had guidance or help. I know there are things in place to help people, but people don’t always know how to find those.
Season 1 of The Morning Show is streaming on Apple+.