The Morning Show: Reese Witherspoon isn’t here for the “demoralising” treatment of female news anchors

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Christobel Hastings
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It’s no secret that over the years, several female TV anchors in America have been unceremoniously chewed up and spat out by the morning news machine. And Reese Witherspoon, who plays an aspiring broadcast journalist in the new Apple drama The Morning Show, has no time for that.

If you’ve been keeping pace with the career moves of Reese Witherspoon recently, you’ll know that the actress and film producer has been taking on some of the most intriguing characters of her acting career so far, not least by way of the effervescent Madeline Martha Mackenzie in the HBO drama Big Little Lies.

All things considered, Witherspoon’s upcoming role as ambitious West Virginia local news reporter Bradley Jackson in Apple’s new TV drama The Morning Show, couldn’t be more of a perfect fit. 

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The series, which follows the story of Alex Levy (played by Jennifer Aniston), a news anchor whose co-star Mitch Kessler (played by Steve Carell) is fired for sexual misconduct allegations, is an exploration of what it means to deal with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements and women in power,” according to the show’s director, Mimi Leder.

In order to immerse herself in the world of morning news, and fully understand what it means to work in a male-dominated industry where women are confronted with sexism and ageism every day, Witherspoon had to go straight to the source. So she went behind-the-scenes at shows like Good Morning America to do some thorough research.

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Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, the Academy Award-winning actor revealed that while spending time on set to understand the world of daybreak news, she also became privy to conversations with female news anchors, who made it clear how they were evaluated on the basis of their appearance, rather than their experience.

“I was astounded by how honest a lot of female anchors were with myself and Jen,” she remarked. “I think most people would find it shocking that women in that position, of what we perceive as power, are looked at as expendable. 

Witherspoon, who serves as an executive producer on the series alongside Aniston, went on to detail how the appearances of female news anchors are constantly policed, and explained how their careers are jeopardised if they don’t conform with rigid standards.

“One thing that I thought was really demoralising was how much they’re analysed: Their wardrobe, their faces, their smile, their laugh are all tested, and they are put on notice if they are not appealing to an audience,” she continued.

“Because test audiences are determining whether or not they’re likeable to an American audience. Women who’ve worked so hard to become incredible journalists and to ascend to a position of what seemed like power are relatively powerless.”

The concept of being put “on notice”, and the pervasive ageism and sexism in the journalism industry is not without foundation. The show’s executive producer, Michael Ellenberg, found inspiration in real-life broadcast journalists who has been “screwed publicly”, such as Jane Pauley, who was replaced on Today in 1989, and veteran newsreader Ann Curry, who was fired from the same show after 15 years in 2012, amid rumours of a personal campaign against her by co-host Matt Lauer. In a scandal that rocked America, Lauer was subsequently fired in 2017 after alleged sexual misconduct on the show.

When The Morning Show airs later this year, Witherspoon and Aniston, who frequently speak out about the obsessive media scrutiny on women’s bodies, relationships, and reproductive status’, will spark important conversations about how high-profile presenters have been - and continue to be - unceremoniously chewed up and spat out by the morning news machine. With the power of their own platforms, the news looks set to receive the shake-up it so desperately needs.

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Images: Getty, Apple