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Commentary: Yes, 'The Morning Show' has a #MeToo problem. That's the best thing about it

Meredith Blake, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Apparently, not even Harvey Weinstein thinks he's "as bad as Harvey Weinstein." Last month, he was spotted hanging out at a showcase in downtown Manhattan for the kinds of aspiring actors he allegedly preyed on for decades. When one of these performers, a comedian named Kelly Bachman, joked about needing mace and a rape whistle, she was loudly booed.

Weeks before "The Morning Show" debuted on Apple TV+, ousted "Today" anchor Matt Lauer published an open letter, responding to charges in Ronan Farrow's book, "Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators" that he raped a co-worker. He argued that the woman, Brooke Nevils, was a woman scorned who was attempting to use her story to score a book deal.

"The Morning Show" wasn't supposed to be a show about #MeToo. Announced by Apple in November 2017, it was partly inspired by "Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV," Brian Stelter's dishy nonfiction book about Ann Curry's controversial ouster from "Today" and the show's ratings battle with "Good Morning America."

But a few weeks later, Lauer was fired for sexual misconduct, and the project was revamped. A new showrunner, Kerry Ehrin, was brought aboard and shifted the focus to gender in the workplace. "That's it -- like, the whole thing. That's what the subject is. There's no subject bigger or more important right now," she told The Times.

Though Ehrin has said repeatedly that "The Morning Show" is not based on Lauer, a number of details in the series closely mirror the allegations against the former "Today" host -- including a button on the underside of Mitch's desk that locks his dressing-room door, a feature Lauer reportedly had in his office at NBC's flagship morning program. (Lauer has denied this claim.)

The entire first season of "The Morning Show" is concerned with the fallout and finger-pointing that ensues following Mitch's abrupt firing -- a reckoning that holds more people to account publicly than the real-life one at NBC.

In the series' fourth episode, "That Woman," which premieres Friday, an outside investigator is hired in an attempt "to understand the culture at 'The Morning Show' that allowed Mitch Kessler's behavior to go unchecked."

Meanwhile, NBC has declined to conduct a new outside investigation into Farrow's allegations that the network tried to kill his reporting on Weinstein to cover for Lauer -- claims backed by Farrow's producer, Rich McHugh, who has said he felt their work was "being attacked from the inside."

And despite ongoing criticism from media observers and even top talent within NBC News, including MSNBC's prime-time hosts Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes, news chairman Andy Lack and president Noah Oppenheim -- the executives who are alleged to have protected Lauer and killed Farrow's report on Weinstein -- still have their high-paying jobs. (As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Oppenheim's contract was recently renewed amid the Farrow controversy, and he is expected to take over for Lack after the 2020 election.)

 

"The Morning Show" doesn't end with Mitch's firing, it begins with it. While it's an awkward choice -- one that means Carell spends a lot of time pent up and angry in Mitch's mansion -- it allows the series to dramatize the many complications and ripple effects of #MeToo as they play out.

We watch disgraced men eagerly plotting their comebacks before they've even admitted to wrongdoing. We hear co-workers wondering if their illicit relationship is exploitative -- and if so, who's being exploited -- and different generations of women disagreeing about what's acceptable. We see how victims who speak up are judged by the public and used as props by the networks, and how even women who've endured workplace sexism can perpetuate the cycle of mistreatment.

It isn't pretty. But isn't that the point?

Times staff writer Yvonne Villarreal contributed to this report.

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