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The Importance of Tonal Consistency and Character Arcs: An Interview with ‘The Morning Show’ Showrunner and Executive Producer Kerry Ehrin

Kerry Ehrin, the prolific award-winning writer who has in the last few years served both as showrunner and executive producer on 'The Morning Show' shares with Script how she and her writer's room approached character arcs and tone in season two, putting her writer's room together, her writing journey and so much more!

The Morning Show explores the cutthroat world of morning news and the lives of the people who help America wake up in the morning. Told through the lens of two complicated women working to navigate the minefield of high-octane jobs while facing crises in both their personal and professional lives, The Morning Show is an unapologetically candid drama that looks at the power dynamics between women and men, and women and women, in the workplace.

It's very far and between that shows are able to successfully tackle current social issues, and The Morning Show creative team deftly and pointedly does just so. In the throes of a seemingly unwavering pandemic, season two of The Morning Show trudged on, with their key characters at the heart of the show navigating the ups and downs of their lives, their history, careers, a pandemic, and as showrunner and writer Kerry Ehrin exclaims "basic survival of life."

I had the greatest honor of speaking with Kerry Ehrin, the prolific award-winning writer behind some of television's greatest shows, who has in the last few years served both as showrunner and executive producer on The Morning Show. Kerry shared how she and her writer's room approached character arcs and tone in season two, putting her writer's room together and her writing journey.

Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston in “The Morning Show,” now streaming on Apple TV+.

Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston in “The Morning Show,” now streaming on Apple TV+.

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

Sadie Dean: The first season was very topical and how your team approached the subject matter was very delicate yet also like ripping off a band-aid, ‘Here's the truth and what's happening.’ Season two is also very topical with how COVID came into our lives early on – how much were character arcs already in place for the second season and how much changed, if at all because of those current event circumstances?

Kerry Ehrin: In terms of character, I think we stayed true to the essence of what I wanted the arcs of the characters to be originally. Then some of the details changed and how we told those stories. But season two was always to me about characters finding their footing after the upheaval of season one, after the upheaval of all the social changes, and what it was like working at a mega-corporation, after a lot of those rocks had been turned over. So, I felt like we could keep that in place quite well. And then adding the element of COVID I think it was a difficult decision about how to add it in and what part of it to tell and because we were deciding this right after quarantine started, no one knew anything about it, right? So, I'm like, ‘Well, I don't want to be writing something where I'm projecting a year ahead when I have no idea what that's going to look like.’ And then there's also the very interesting question from a news perspective of why didn't we hear more about it? So, it was following that as well about how there were so many interesting news stories, with the primaries, and the impeachment, there was a lot of, honestly, just more clickbaity things to do and I think people perceived COVID as a foreign problem. They didn't perceive that it could actually be here and be this bad. It was really kind of an awakening for a lot of people in this country, myself included, that this was here, this was in our home.

Kerry Ehrin

Kerry Ehrin

Originally, I think the character's arcs were very much about what kind of person am I? And how do I keep my career going in spite of all of the politics? And I think COVID added an extra layer of just like, the most basic survival of life into that mix. And I think that actually was an interesting element.

Sadie: We definitely go into this second season watching their past histories unfold and catch up to their current timeline and watching them navigate how they survive that. How much time did you spend with your creative team in mapping out their worlds for these key characters so that you could tap into that well?

Kerry: A lot of that is really where I, as a writer, start writing. I don't feel like I can write a script until I basically know their childhood situation, what their demons are, what they're afraid of, and what their greatest dream is - those are kind of the things that I need to know before I put a word on a page. I do a lot of biographical work before I start writing, and then in the room, we just continue that. We're always trying to lead story from character and problems that people are trying to overcome themselves.

Sadie: Which is tough for all of us. It's nice to see other people do it on TV do for you. [laughs]

Kerry: [laughs] It is.

Sadie: Working with your writer’s room and the directors over this second season, how do you go about keeping the show tonally succinct?

Kerry: I always treat the scripts as if it's about real people, because to me, it is. I always want everything to stay very grounded. I want there to be room for humor that feels real and grounded. And then tonally, I like a tone that can do a little trapeze work; that you can go super dark, and you can go absurd - and they all land where they're supposed to. And I would say tone is the main thing that I will work on with the directors just because it is kind of an unusual tone, I think. But that's where my joy lies, for some reason. [laughs] The dark and the light together.

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Sadie: It works! When putting the writer’s room together for this show, were there specific voices that you were looking for in terms of specific characters and world-building?

Kerry: Well, a couple of the writers which I brought from Bates, Erica Lipez, and Torrey Speer, because I knew and loved them, I knew they were great writers and great character writers, and could do both of those tones. In terms of looking for new people, really you just read the script. It’s all like dating. It's like there's something in the script and you're like, ‘Oh yeah, I connect with that. I get that.’ And then you meet them. Like Adam Milch I met with him and on at the end of our meeting, I was like, ‘I love him. I love being in a room with him. I like the way he thinks.’ It’s just very much like dating. [laughs] You just click with people, and that's what I look for in writers and I look for a range of life experiences and ages. Particularly young writers. Having a variety of ages is important, too.

Steve Carell and Jennifer Aniston in “The Morning Show,” now streaming on Apple TV+.

Steve Carell and Jennifer Aniston in “The Morning Show,” now streaming on Apple TV+.

Sadie: And having those life experiences, especially for something like this. I'm curious for you, and maybe even just for your writers collectively, were there any characters that kind of gave you pause of this is going to be a tough one to write for? Or a little uncomfortable? One that immediately comes to mind is Mitch – how do you navigate what he’s done?

Kerry: All the characters, before I write, they're very real to me, they are very real people. So, part of Alex's whole story with him and arc with him was her trying to place what the relationship was, that he did these things, that she actually kind of contributed because she knew it was happening, and she was pretending like she was innocent, and then has a nervous breakdown and becomes a feminist hero. She's dealing with all these things, she can't be grounded herself. To me, that is always been her arc through the first two seasons is her trying to find her footing. And I think that her relationship to Mitch is a huge part of that. And yes, we did know, it was a tricky road to go down. And we worked really hard to try to not fall into a ravine. [laughs]

Sadie: Which is tough. And it’s just such a tragic friendship love story between these two.

Kerry: It's tragic because it was all preventable, just by not being an asshole. [laughs]

Sadie: [laughs] Exactly. All that I could think about was his kids and he’s in Italy.

Kerry: It's brutal, the whole thing is brutal. But I did very much want to get into the messiness of the relationship, the messiness of having had a history or loving someone who did bad things. And if you're still capable of loving them, the idea of can a person who did bad things, how do they see themself? And how do they go forward? I think is interesting. There were so many messy and not easy subjects to take on, certainly. But it just felt like to avoid it was dishonest because it is so much at the heart of what the first season was about for Alex.


Sadie: You’ve written on some of the best television shows in your career that have very rich characters at the forefront. What has attracted you to those kinds of shows and getting to explore those characters during your writing journey?

Kerry: I always liked writing. I never thought about writing to make money. It was just something I always did. I always really loved theater. But, it's pretty hard to make money in theater unless you're Lin-Manuel Miranda. [laughs] It's not that easy. I definitely needed to make a living when I got out of college. And my friend's dad was a science fiction writer, and literally, the reason I'm a writer is because he suggested that I write a script because he read a paper I wrote in school, and he was like, ‘You're a really good writer, and you should try writing a script.’ And so that's why I started. No career prospects. [laughs] ‘Sure, why not?’ So, I was working in retail by day and writing scripts. And after two or three years trying to get someone to look at stuff and same old story, you know, finally get in the right place at the right time. But what really made me want to write I think, was just growing up in a kind of a very wonderful household, but a very emotionally chaotic household with a lot of artistic people in it. So much of I think me writing is like wanting to be heard or wanting to be seen, wanting the world to make sense, wanting to reach into these troubled characters and try to help them fix it. Now the truth is, they usually can't, you know, like a Cory Ellison, or even an Alex or Bradley - they usually cannot. They're not capable of it. But that's also kind of the dance we do as humans - it's very hard to escape from yourself. [laughs]

Sadie: [laughs] Isn’t that the truth.

Kerry: No matter how hard you try. I think the other theme that I write about a lot is how we will lie to ourselves about how our life is going, how successful we are or how important we are. Social media is such a vulgar representation of that. It's quite funny.

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Sadie: Any advice for writers on how to approach tapping into human emotion for character development – is there something they should consider leaning into like live experiences or writing what you know?

Kerry: It's funny because I find it very difficult to write anything autobiographical, but I find it completely possible and necessary to take any subject I write about and inject all that shit into it. [laughs] You know? Like, I would just say, try to connect with whatever story you're telling. Try to connect with it personally, and find your way, find the character's way, while you're connected to it, because you're really telling your story over and over again. You're telling your story of trying to find happiness, love, survival, whatever it is, meaning. And don't give too many people your stuff to read because too many notes can just destroy you. Because honestly, most people don't know what they're doing. A lot of times, writers will pass their stuff to other writers, and I don't know if that's really helpful. [laughs] Have a couple of people who you super value and stick to that and watch your own compass. And be a good reader. Know how to read your material and know when it's boring. I think being a good reader is hugely important.

Watch The Morning Show Season 2 now on Apple TV+.

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