Why ‘The Morning Show’ Turned Jon Hamm Into Elon Musk

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The Morning Show is one of those glorious series that thrives on soap opera-ish melodrama, but infuses it with real-world stakes. As in: ripped-from-the-headlines re-dramatizations of events we’ve all survived, but made more entertaining because it’s Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon who are living it.

Season 3 of The Morning Show premiered Wednesday, and there’s no shortage of real-world echoes in all of the drama. UBA, the network that Aniston’s Alex Levy and Witherspoon’s Bradley Jackson work for, is struggling in a post-pandemic market. A charismatic and befuddling plutocrat is looking into buying the company (sound familiar?). He also recently launched a space program (sound even more familiar?). OK, it’s Elon Musk. Well, not exactly him, but Jon Hamm joins the cast this season as Paul Sparks, a billionaire who is interested in taking over UBA.

(Warning: Spoilers ahead.)

First, though, Sparks wants to launch one of the network’s cherished anchors into space, to prove how great his new program is. Alex is offered up, but she has another agenda. It’s finally time for her to seize her worth and demand more from the company, and this space flight is a perfect bargaining chip. When she doesn’t go, Bradley is launched instead.

It’s a wild, twist-filled premiere, with lots to unpack about the storylines that inspired it. So we talked to The Morning Show executive producer Mimi Leder, who also directed the Season 3 premiere, to dig into all the secrets behind that huge space launch.

I’m sure, given all the twists, this is an exhausting show to work on.

It’s a challenging show. There’s a lot of cinema involved in the show in terms of there’s just so many storylines, and it’s such a character-driven show. And ultimately what’s really important is the storytelling, the authenticity of the storytelling. It was very challenging going to space. I’ve gone to space before with Deep Impact. But it’s very different to go to space on a TV. I mean, it’s a good-size budget, but it’s still very not within your budget.

Ha! I can imagine that’s a big expense.

“Hey, we’re going to space!” “Oh, we have to build a rocket ship.” A lot went into the production design of that rocket ship, looking at all the rocket ships from Blue Origin and SpaceX. And then of course, I had to shoot in the rocket ship! So the placement of the chairs [and details like that] were challenging. We shot all the interior of the rocket ship in one day.

This is one of my favorite shows to watch because the twists are so unexpected. I love the idea of asking “what do we do for Season 3?” and the answer being “let’s shoot Reese Witherspoon and Jon Hamm into space.”

Except you can’t reveal that Bradley’s in space.

This is publishing after the episode. Don’t worry. Spoil away!

It was so much fun to shoot them in there, in zero gravity, with the wires attached to them and people below having them move them. It takes a big, strong core to be on wires for a while and flipping around.

Photo still of Billy Crudup, Reese Witherspoon and Jon Hamm in 'The Morning Show'

I work at The Daily Beast, where there’s a man whose name probably appears on our site dozens of times a day: Elon Musk. So I was obviously very fascinated by the introduction of Jon Hamm’s character and his relationship to a media organization. How do you feel about those comparisons?

Well, in the days after COVID, a billionaire was hatched every 24 hours. There was always a new one. So they did quite well during the pandemic, as opposed to the people on the planet. It was important to bring Jon Hamm’s character in to create our storyline of UBA running out of money. Cory desperately needed a big investor to save himself and UBA. So enter Jon Hamm, billionaire, CEO of Hyperion, who’s an accelerant. He pushes everyone in the story to tell their truth.

That’s very true, from what I’ve seen.

This season very much is about the state of the truth in journalism and the state of the truth. And the truths and lies we tell ourselves. Paul forces them to face that, and he comes in as a savior, as this rich guy. But we find out he’s just as vulnerable to capitalism and the shifts of power, just like everyone else is.

This was a really interesting viewing experience for me. I’m invested in UBA’s success because I like the show and its characters. I’m invested in the success of journalism because I work in journalism. But I don’t think Elon Musk is good for those things, yet, because this character is on the show, I’m compelled to root for him. What do you make of that tension some viewers might have?

What’s interesting to me is Alex, who’s now the host of her new show, Alex Unfiltered, who [is affected by all this.]

We can’t talk too deeply because of spoilers. But what do you make of Alex’s journey?

In the beginning of this show, it’s the #MeToo movement. She has a nervous breakdown in Season 2, and the death reckoning with COVID. And in Season 3, she steps into her power. Paul [Jon Hamm’s character] forces her in many ways to look inside of herself. In essence, she steps into her power and finds her voice. She’s always had one, but she digs down really deep and discovers what is important. What, you know, having a seat at the table means.

What she says in the season premiere, “I am unprecedented,” while she demands more from Cory—I was reminded a lot of when Kelly Ripa demanded her worth at ABC and it became major news.

Yeah, that’s exactly right. Women are looked at quite differently. We have to ask for the things that we feel we deserve and have worked really hard for, and some people don’t have to ask. We have to fight constantly. And one of the things we really wanted to focus on this season was women’s autonomy, women’s agency. There are storylines about abortion rights and reproductive rights, and the truth and the threats against journalists. Kelly Ripa really did have to fight. It’s really interesting to me, how you look at that. It’s just constant. Women are constantly having to take it. It’s not given to us.

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