When Charlotte Stoudt was approached to take over as showrunner of Apple TV+’s hit “The Morning Show” in Season 3, she couldn’t resist the challenge. “I wasn’t sure I could do it, so I had to try,” she tells Variety, which will honor Stoudt with its showrunner award at the SCAD TVfest in Atlanta on Feb. 9.
The latest season of “The Morning Show,” which aired last fall, continued to dial up the drama as Bradley (Reese Witherspoon) discovered that her brother was involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection — and covered it up, putting her life and career in jeopardy. Alex (Jennifer Aniston) started a relationship with billionaire Paul Marks (Jon Hamm), who was in line to acquire the UBA network in a deal orchestrated by CEO Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup).
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As is “The Morning Show” formula, all of this was going on while real-life matters — including the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the reckoning over equality in the workplace — were also taking place. It’s a recipe for disaster, and sure enough, almost all of it blew up in the characters’ faces.
“The show lives in a very particular zone,” Stoudt says. “Biden is really president. You can’t invent Supreme Court justices or say Putin’s been overthrown. UBA can’t just report the news, it has to become the news somehow, every season. The call always has to come from inside the house. But once you accept those restrictions, you realize how much the show can examine and hold: The erosion of reproductive rights; difficult parents; the awful persistence of institutional racism.”
Stoudt is no stranger to adapting real-life drama, having learned to do so while working on Showtime’s “Homeland,” which also reflected the war on terror, as well as FX’s “Fosse/Verdon,” which depicted the personal and professional dynamic between choreographer Bob Fosse and dancer Gwen Verdon. Stoudt’s other credits include the Netflix thriller “Pieces of Her,” starring Toni Collette.
She was drawn to “The Morning Show” after seeing the opening to its 2019 pilot, which she calls “weird and sexy and mysterious. The show looked stunning. It had glamour and bite. You start a scene in one emotional register, but you never know where you’ll end up.”
The issue of female agency, which has evolved on the show from the Season 1 storyline about Mitch (Steve Carrell), was also key. In taking the gig, Stoudt says she was eager to “explore other challenges women face to control their lives and bodies. And I was lucky enough to have a room full of writers who had a lot to say about what they were living through: Black Lives Matter, the pandemic, January 6, the fall of Roe.”
Writing is currently underway for Season 4, and Stoudt admits that it’s tough to predict where the 2024 election cycle might go and how that could impact storylines.
“You’re always wondering if some current event will ambush your season and make it irrelevant,” she says. “But that’s just an occupational hazard of this show.”
Stoudt works closely with Aniston and Witherspoon, who also exec produce, in walking through season arcs and storylines at the top of every season. They also give feedback on each script and notes on the edits they see. With everyone involved still so invested in telling the tales of “The Morning Show,” Stoudt says there’s plenty more to share about these characters’ journeys toward real awareness of themselves and the world.
“For now, I’d say these characters have more messes to make,” Stoudt says. “And the show’s themes remain relevant. We haven’t toppled patriarchy — yet.”
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