Why are there so many new TV shows about TV shows?

The Morning Show - Apple TV

The Morning Show, one of of the TV shows debuting with Apple’s new streaming service in the fall, got its first full trailer this morning. Starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Steve Carell, the series depicts “the free fall of an early morning newscast in the wake of a scandal,” according to Apple.

It solidifies what’s become a popular trend across American television: TV shows about TV, specifically TV news.

Based on the trailer, Carell’s character seems to be a thinly-veiled take on disgraced former NBC Today host Matt Lauer, who was fired from the network in 2017 following allegations of sexual misconduct. Aniston plays a seasoned veteran host in the mold of Katie Couric or Ann Curry, while Witherspoon is a slightly younger up-and-comer, not entirely unlike current Today co-host Savannah Guthrie or failed NBC experiment Megyn Kelly.

The characters’ real-life counterparts aren’t totally clear, but what’s obvious is the show’s desire to riff on the actual TV news drama of the last several years—particularly what’s occurred at major US networks like Fox and NBC.

Showtime’s The Loudest Voice, which features Russell Crowe as a ghoulish Roger Ailes and chronicles the rise and fall of the late Fox News founder, takes a more literal approach. The Loudest Voice debuted the same month as Late Night, a comedy about sexism in broadcasting, starring Emma Thompson as a veteran late-night talk-show host.

Entertainment about TV journalism isn’t new, but these recent (and upcoming) releases are a departure from the glitzy—and largely inaccurate—on-screen representations of the news industry of old. Instead, this string of news-focused entertainment seems to be confronting the reality of the modern industry in sharp detail and with a healthy dose of cynicism.

The second season of HBO’s Succession, which aired its second episode last night, made waves on media Twitter for referencing highly-specific problems that the digital media industry is currently facing. Succession is a mainstream show, but the references themselves—including changes to Facebook’s news algorithm that caused widespread drops in traffic, and the infamous “pivot-to-video”—were as accurate as they were esoteric.

We know that Hollywood’s favorite topics tend to closely follow the news cycle, and now that the news itself is part of the news cycle, it makes sense that the entertainment industry would bet that it’s something people will watch (and subscribe for, in Apple’s case). From Donald Trump’s reality-TV circus of a campaign and presidency, to fake news, to the #MeToo movement, to the media’s existential crises, the time is ripe for entertainment about the people and institutions shaping the information shared globally. Why not repackage all that as premium content?

That Apple is choosing to make The Morning Show the staple of its forthcoming subscription service suggests that the TV-news-themed TV show trend may be only just beginning.





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