[This story contains spoilers from the first two episodes of The Morning Show season three, “The Kármán Line” and “Ghost in the Machine.”]
In the first episode of The Morning Show‘s return, Jennifer Aniston’s character’s hot take on the new tech titan played by Jon Hamm is that he’s a “need-for-speed, hardass from Silicon Valley.” Top UBA news anchor Alex Levy (played by Aniston) gets to meet the Apple TV+ media drama’s curious new character as she preps for him to launch her into space. The billionaire, named Paul Marks (Hamm), has recruited her for the maiden voyage of his Hyperion One suborbital rocket, which will mark his entry into the spaceflight race.
The audience is sure to have a similar hot take on Paul Marks, who invokes Elon Musk comparisons after the two-episode premiere. “Paul Marks is a character who is an amalgam of a lot of different individuals,” however, executive producer Lauren Neustadter tells The Music news. “And he’s also incredibly grounded and authentic in a way that feels very Charlotte Stoudt.”
Neustadter, who produces the series with star Reese Witherspoon through Hello Sunshine, credits Stoudt, their new season three showrunner, for how the character will reveal himself across the 10-episode season. “He obviously is a divisive individual and a person who acts as a catalyst for so much of the drama and the conflict inside of the season,” she says, “but he’s also a living, breathing human being who subverts expectation in really interesting ways.”
Media Res executive producer Michael Ellenberg says Paul Marks was conceived to be a foil for many of The Morning Show characters in a season that confronts a media landscape in crisis. In the premiere, Alex discovers that UBA boss Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup) has sought Paul out as a buyer of the legacy media company. That storyline, as well as his evolving relationship with Alex, is a throughline as the episodes unfold.
“The entire season pivots around his moves,” says Ellenberg. “The audience will see what the dynamic is like with him and Alex Levy, but it’s a complicated one; it’s an emotional one. We also wanted someone who would be an equal force with Billy Crudup and Greta Lee [who plays UBA President Stella Bak]. The new man’s in town who can give them all what they want; there’s a big price to it. I don’t know that there was anyone better than Jon Hamm that we could have gotten for that role.”
As it turns out, the dream list for who would play Paul Marks only had one name on it.
“Who would play Paul was a list of one,” reveals executive producer Kristin Hahn to THR. “Jen [Aniston] and Jon [Hamm] have been friendly for years and have wanted to work together I think for a while. So when Paul Marks became a part of the conversation, it was a list of one. And so it was a little scary because if he had said no, I don’t know what we would have done. It was this or bust. Thankfully, he said yes.”
Hahn, Aniston’s producing partner with Echo Films, called Hamm a pro for jumping right into the ensemble, many of whom have been on the series since its start (Karen Pittman, Greta Lee, Mark Duplass, Nestor Carbonell and Julianna Margulies all return). And onscreen, he keeps viewers guessing about his intentions. “You’re always asking yourself, is he on the right side of trying to save journalism? Or does he just want to implode this world?” says Hahn.
Ellenberg, who previously teased Paul Marks as either being the white knight to save UBA or the maverick who will destroy it, credits Hamm for his character’s gravitational pull. “I think the opportunity to access the legacy of Don Draper, but in a new fashion, was kind of undeniable to us,” he says of Hamm’s iconic Mad Men character. “Paul is quite a powerful guy and a wealthy guy. He does have a heart and he’s quite handsome.”
Through the vehicle of Paul, The Morning Show season three confronts a troubled network like UBA and how limited its options are to survive amid a changing media landscape in the streaming era. “Paul Marks is going to fold the news division into an algorithm, or make it a mouthpiece for [his company] Hyperion. Whatever is is, we’re fucked,” says Alex at one point, after bailing on the spaceflight and issuing a warning about a looming deal with the billionaire.
“Certainly, when thinking about UBA and the future of the network, and also just thinking about broadcast entities and media companies in general, there was a lot of looking into the future and imaging, but also a real determination to tell these stories and think about these things from very nuanced and varied perspectives,” says Neustadter.
The Morning Show has already been renewed for a fourth season, but amid the ongoing dual WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, the show’s creatives have not yet begun plotting out plans for next season. “Season four is coming. But in our evolving media landscape right now that involves a massive labor action, so we’re on hold for now,” says Ellenberg.
When asked how he imagines a topical series like The Morning Show — one that has covered everything from the #MeToo movement to the outbreak of COVID-19 and, in a future episode, the overturning of Roe v. Wade — will factor Hollywood’s current labor strife into its future storytelling, Ellenberg has this to say: “The right person to ask is Charlotte, who can’t be here [doing press] because of this. What I can say about it is what the show has been all these seasons, which is that we want to tackle the biggest questions that we’re living through in the moment, and the strike certainly reflects some of what this season is about.”
He continues, “The media is changing so rapidly, who is really in control? Who should be in control? How should it be governed? What does the public want out of it? What do the people who make it want out of that? It’s all in flux. There are highly specific issues tied to the unions’ demands and then the network’s position, but the global thing going on is a real debate about the future of the media itself. And this season explores that a lot, and I’m sure we’ll continue to explore that in future seasons.”
Ellenberg is choosing to be optimistic in a pessimistic time. “I’m hopeful that when we come out the other end of this the industry is on more sustainable footing overall, both for the people who make the shows and for the people who finance the shows,” he says. “Right now is a tough time, but I think on the other end of it, the industry will be on a lot healthier grounds and I’m looking forward to it.”
The Morning Show releases new episodes Wednesdays on Apple TV+