Los Angeles, Oct 26 (AP/UNB) — "The Morning Show" started life as a behind-the-scenes peek at a slice of network TV as familiar and routine as a wake-up cup of coffee. Then shocking revelations of sexual misconduct engulfed NBC's "Today" and beyond, and the story changed.
The 10-part drama series, part of the first wave of shows launching the Apple TV Plus streaming service Nov. 1, expanded its original focus on women's role in media to include the repercussions of workplace bad behavior. It all plays out in the lucrative, hypercompetitive world of A.M. news-and-fluff programming.
"When the Me Too movement happened it was really hard to ignore, nor would we want to ignore it. We would be negligent," said Mimi Leder, an executive producer and director for "The Morning Show."
While Hollywood has paid glancing attention to the sexual abuse and harassment scandals that have roiled it and other industries, with accusations derailing the careers of actors, executives and journalists, "The Morning Show" is among the few major projects to delve more deeply.
Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon lead the cast that includes Steve Carell, Billy Crudup, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mark Duplass, Nestor Carbonell and Desean Terry. Aniston plays Alex, the long-reigning queen of the now-slumping "Morning Show," and Witherspoon is Bradley, an outspoken TV reporter with a shaky job history who lands hard on Alex's turf.
But Alex's longtime co-anchor Mitch (Carell) has already wreaked havoc. The drama opens with him fired by network UBA for multiple instances of alleged misconduct, evoking Matt Lauer's dismissal from "Today." Mitch's banishment creates career and psychological upheaval for Alex and opportunity for those waiting in the wings for their shot at network glory.
Among them is Daniel (Terry), an African-American co-anchor who chafes at what he considers pressure to downplay his ethnicity and hopes the top anchor job will be his reward. There are impressive displays of ambition and plot twists galore in the three episodes Apple made available of the glossy, expensive-looking drama that's debuting three episodes on Nov. 1. Remaining episodes will be released consecutively on Fridays.
Apple TV Plus costs $4.99 a month after a seven-day free trial, and a subscription can be shared with up to six family members. The streaming service is free for a year to buyers of a new iPhone, iPad, Mac or Apple TV box.
Alex's somber on-air response to the scandal evokes memories of Samantha Guthrie and Hoda Kotb telling "Today" viewers about Lauer's November 2017 firing for what NBC called "inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace." The fallout has yet to subside: co-anchors Guthrie and Kotb returned to the subject of Lauer earlier this month after further allegations against him emerged in Ronan Farrow's new book, "Catch and Kill."
"Morning television is where the women in television were left to pick up the pieces," observed Mary Murphy, an associate professor at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Series executive producer Michael Ellenberg began work on what became "The Morning Show" before #MeToo, saying he was intrigued by "what it means to be a woman in media" and specifically a woman with power in the morning network realm. He found the "authentic, precise" details he needed in journalist Brian Stelter's 2013 nonfiction book, "Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV."
Ellenberg optioned the book, Aniston and Witherspoon were attached and Kerry Ehrin ("Friday Night Lights," ''Bates Motel") was brought in as writer and showrunner (Stelter, a former reporter with The New York Times and now with CNN, is a consulting producer). Leder said the drama from a nearly all-female slate of executive producers — including Aniston and Reese — is at its core about the relationship between Alex and Bradley.
The two are "colliding at a certain point in their lives," Leder said, with Alex at "a plateau where ageism is starting to hit, and Bradley being this character who's trying to make her mark, and what can these two women give each other?"
From Aniston and Witherspoon's takeaway on what women in TV endure, they need all the friends they can find.
Women face more scrutiny on "how they're allowed to dress, what jewelry they can and cannot wear," Aniston said. "You never see a man being told you have to ... get that gray out of your hair. You also never really see a gray-haired female newscaster."
Added Witherspoon: "There's just great disparity, gender disparity for sure" among on-air talent.
While viewers may play a guessing game about the fictional duo's possible real-life counterparts, comparisons between Mitch and Lauer are inevitable. But Leder said the character and his actions were woven from many strands.
"We're not just telling one story. Our stories are inspired by every story we've heard about, read about, witnessed or experienced in our personal lives," said the veteran movie and TV director whose credits include "On the Basis of Sex" and "The Leftovers."
Carell said he found the script "very honest" and with a layered depiction of his character.
"I thought, that's what my approach is: That he was a guy who was at the top of his game, very popular, very liked, a narcissist, an egomaniac, but charming. And within his power, he had this enormous blind spot" to his failings, said Carell. In one notable scene with a friend (played by Martin Short) who's also accused of sexual wrongdoing, the men spout off about their anger and frustration — until Mitch gets an eye-opening lesson in culpability.
"We're so right in the middle of this process, in this moment of history, in the midst of this reckoning," Leder said. "I think it's exciting to explore all the gray and all the nuances of misconduct."
Los Angeles, Oct 10 (AP/UNB) — Aaron Paul's character in the popular series "Breaking Bad" was supposed to get killed off at the end of the first season. But producers had a change of heart after witnessing the strong chemistry between his Jesse Pinkman character and Bryan Cranston's Walter White in a pilot.
The decision to keep the story revolved around the duo for five seasons panned out for the series, which won several Golden Globe and Emmy awards. Paul won three supporting actor Emmys for his breakout portrayal of the overly emotional, loud-mouth and meth-taking Pinkman.
Now, Paul returns as Pinkman in the Netflix film "El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie," which premieres Friday on the streaming service. The movie has cameos from some of the show's best characters.
"The dynamic between Walter and Jesse changed the whole dynamic of the series and my life," said Paul, who has gone on to star in the TV series "The Path" as well as the films "Need for Speed" and "Central Intelligence."
"This was a role of a lifetime," Paul said. "I thought I said goodbye to this guy years ago. So, it's sort of nice to revisit in this state of mind and continue this journey with him. Then reconnecting with everyone from the show. It was like a family reunion."
"Breaking Bad" concluded its five-year run on AMC in 2013. The show primarily focused on White, a high school chemistry teacher struggling to financially support his family, including a son who has cerebral palsy and has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
In desperation, White uses an old RV as a place to build a lucrative meth empire with the help of Pinkman, a former student, before their drug operation turns violent. The series ended with White dying from a gunshot wound after using a remote-controlled machine gun to kill an Aryan Brotherhood gang and free Pinkman, who had been held captive for six months.
"El Camino" picks up after a scar-faced, dusty Pinkman flees the bloody scene in a stolen El Camino vehicle. The story focuses on Pinkman as he tries to escape his former drug life to start anew while on the run from the police.
"He's a different person," Paul said of Pinkman. "Jesse has gone through torture and chaos. He's a combination of all those things that happened to him in the past. He's escaping from captivity. He's been there for half a year. He's been tortured and forced to cook a drug that has completely destroyed his life and destroyed the lives around him. He lost the love of his life. ... When we last saw him, he was screaming in sort of a relief and also agony. He's laughing and crying all at once."
Paul said the film answers the question he's heard almost every day since "Breaking Bad" ended: "What happened to Jesse?" The actor said venturing back into Pinkman's story was an "itch that needed to be scratched" by "Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan, who also directed, produced and wrote the film.
"It felt like there was still more story to tell," Paul said. "They left the unknown in the series finale, which was beautiful. When I was asked about coming onto this project, I was onboard instantly. You know, I trust Vince so much. I thought the ending was perfect for this film. But I also know that Vince wouldn't just tell a story to just tell one. There's a reason behind it. I was excited to go on this journey with him."
New York, Oct 6 (AP/UNB) — Lauren Cohan walked away from "The Walking Dead." Now she's headed back.
At the end of Saturday's New York Comic Con panel for the apocalyptic AMC zombie series that has spawned its own universe, a masked cast member stood and revealed herself to be Cohan, whose return was subsequently announced.
AMC also announced an 11th season of the series, whose 10th starts Sunday night.
Cohan, who played Maggie Greene on the show starting in season two, left as a full-time cast member to pursue other projects after the eighth season then made a few guest appearances in the ninth.
The 37-year-old actress has since appeared in the short-lived ABC series "Whiskey Cavalier" and the Mark Wahlberg film "Mile 22."
It's not clear when or how Cohan's character will return.
Bangkok, Sep 30 (AP/UNB) — Their story gripped the world: determined divers racing against time and water to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped for more than two weeks in a flooded cave deep inside a northern Thai mountain.
The ordeal in late June and early July 2018 had barely ended when filmmakers began their own race to get the nail-biting drama onto cinema screens. The first of those projects will premiere this weekend, when director Tom Waller's "The Cave" shows at the Busan Film Festival in South Korea.
The film was shot over three months earlier this year and has been in post-production since then. The 45-year-old Thai-born, British-raised filmmaker said the epic tale of the Wild Boars football team was a story he simply had to tell.
The boys and their coach entered the Tham Luang cave complex after soccer practice and were quickly trapped inside by rising floodwater. Despite a massive search, the boys spent nine nights lost in the cave before they were spotted by an expert diver. It would take another eight days before they were all safe.
Waller was visiting his father in Ireland when he saw television news accounts of the drama.
"I thought this would be an amazing story to tell on screen," he said.
But putting the parts together after their dramatic rescue proved to be a challenge. Thailand's government, at the time led by a military junta, became very protective of the story, barring unauthorized access to the Wild Boars or their parents. Waller often feared his production might be shut down.
His good fortune was that the events at the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai province had multiple angles and interesting characters. Especially compelling were the stories of the rescuers, particularly the expert divers who rallied from around the world. He decided to make a film "about the volunteer spirit of the rescue."
Other people proposed telling the story from the point of view of the boys, and Netflix nailed down those rights in a deal brokered by the Thai government.
"I took the view that this was going to be a story about the people we didn't know about, about the cave divers who came all the way from across the planet," Waller said. "They literally dropped everything to go and help, and I just felt that that was more of an exciting story to tell, to find out how these boys were brought out and what they did to get them out."
Waller even had more than a dozen key rescue personnel play themselves.
Waller said they were natural actors, blending in almost seamlessly with the professionals around them, and helped by the accuracy of the settings and the production's close attention to detail.
"What you are really doing is asking them to remember what they did and to show us what they were doing and what they were feeling like at the time," he said. "That was really very emotional for some of them because it was absolutely real."
Waller said his film is likely to have a visceral effect on some viewers, evoking a measure of claustrophobia.
"It's a sort of immersive experience with the sound of the environment, you know, the fact that is very dark and murky, that the water is not clear," he said.
"In Hollywood films, when they do underwater scenes, everything is crystal clear. But in this film it's murky and I think that's the big difference. This film lends itself to being more of a realistic portrayal of what happened."
Some scenes were filmed on location at the entrance to the actual Tham Luang cave, but most of the action was shot elsewhere, Waller said.
"We filmed in real water caves that were flooded, all year-round," he said. "It is very authentic in terms of real caves, real flooded tunnels, real divers and real creepy-crawlies in there. So it was no mean feat trying to get a crew to go and film in these caves."
"The Cave" goes on general release in Thailand on Nov. 28.
Dhaka, Sept 6 (UNB) - Amazon has cast actor Will Poulter for the lead part in its highly-ambitious Lord of the Rings series.
Poulter, best known for starring in Bandersnatch episode of Black Mirror, The Revenant and Aris Aster’s Midsommar, joins Australian star Markella Kavenagh in the project.
The details of his role are currently being kept under wraps, reported Variety. Amazon is also yet to make an official statement.
Jurrasic World: Fallen Kingdom helmer JA Bayona will be directing the first two episodes of the show. He will also serve as executive producer alongside partner Belen Atienza.
Bryan Cogman, who worked as a writer and co-executive producer on Game of Thrones, recently boarded the project as a series consultant. He is helping out the writing team of Patrick McKay and JD Payne, who were announced as series developers last year.
Amazon has made a multi-season production commitment to the TV series. It will produce the show in cooperation with the Estate of J R R Tolkien, publishing house HarperCollins, and New Line Cinema, a division of Warner Bros.
However, the series will not be a retelling of Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning trilogy. It will explore story set before the events in the first LOTR novel, The Fellowship of the Ring.