Apple TV+: How a Tech Company Built a Streaming Service From Scratch by Going All-In With Originals

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Apple’s streaming service launches Friday with just four original shows, some kids’ and nonfiction content — and no library

Apple TV+'s "The Morning Show" World Premiere
Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Apple TV+ will finally be available on Friday, and the new streaming service is being rolled out with just four original shows — and zero library content. Aside from some kids’ and nonfiction content — including “Oprah’s Book Club” — these four shows are what Apple is counting on to sell Apple TV+ to customers at $4.99 per month. There’s the expansive, mythology-heavy drama “See,” starring “Game of Thrones” alum Jason Momoa; the winking, anachronistic period biopic “Dickinson,” starring Hailee Steinfeld; the stately alternate-history drama “For All Mankind,” which wonders what would’ve happened if the Soviets beat the U.S. to the moon; and the streamer’s crown jewel, the Jennifer Aniston-Reese Witherspoon drama “The Morning Show.” It remains to be seen if Apple’s cheaper subscription price compared to other streaming services — including well-funded newbies like Disney+ and WarnerMedia’s HBO Max — will offset the thinness of the initial content offerings, particularly given the lackluster reviews for the first wave of programming.

Still, the creatives behind the four shows,  strategically curated by Apple programming executives (and former Sony Pictures Television presidents) Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg to best exemplify the company’s brand aspirations as a content provider, insist they weren’t feeling any undue pressure — and shot down suggestions that the development process was more fraught than usual.

For All Mankind
“For All Mankind” (Apple)
Ronald D. Moore, showrunner and executive producer of “For All Mankind” told the TheWrap that the show came together as part of “a really normal development process,” in no small part thanks to the Apple TV+ team’s decades of collective experience. “The people who populate the network are people who have been in television for a really long time, so it was a lot like making any other TV show, more or less.” To hear Moore tell it, he was “always aware” of how significant the role of his show would be to the larger corporation, but those concerns existed mostly “on the periphery.” “We certainly knew that this was a big deal, and that this was a big moment for Apple,” he said. “But I don’t remember there being any conversations about this being a show that’s going at launch, so it has to be like this or we want it to be like that, or anything along those lines.” “Dickinson” creator Alena Smith echoed Moore’s sentiment, saying she saw it as an “exciting” opportunity to help set the tone for Apple TV+, but she was more or less left to make her “strange” and “dissonant” show exactly as she had first envisioned it years ago.
“Dickinson” (Apple)
That’s a departure from the bumpy road to the launch of Apple TV+ that others have described, including in a lengthy report in The Hollywood Reporter earlier this month des a “hands-on” approach by Apple’s development execs seeking to mold the shows to fit the company’s “aspirational brand identity.” That approach was blamed for some of the development hurdles Apple’s shows have faced thus far, including the exits of original “Morning Show” showrunner Jay Carson, as well as Bryan Fuller and Hart Hanson, the duo originally tapped to reboot Steven Spielberg’s “Amazing Stories” anthology. While creatives interviewed by TheWrap acknowledged that Apple went through some growing pains as it developed its network operation, most described the overall process as collaborative and effective. “In all honesty, we spoke to them about two years ago and there were very few people in the division at the time,” “See” director and executive producer Francis Lawrence said. “So as we were making it, they were becoming a real network. [But] they bought scripts that were very specific tonally in terms of maturity, and they never censored us.” Lawrence, best known for directing three hit “Hunger Games” movies, added: “I was worried as they started to really form that maybe they would, but they never did. I never had any issues. They came on in saying they wanted to do something different, they wanted to approach the stories differently and they stuck to it and they were nothing but supportive with everything we wanted to do.”
Morning Show Jennifer Aniston Reese Witherspoon
“The Morning Show” (Apple)
The way the four launch titles vary in both genre and target audience seems to suggest that the service is going for the broadest reach possible, but Apple’s biggest bet — the show that’s received the most attention in the months leading up to Friday’s launch and will surely continue to in the months after — is “The Morning Show.” Not only was it one of the first shows announced for the new platform nearly two years ago, “The Morning Show” also came with two of the biggest names in Hollywood attached as stars and executive producers: Reese Witherspoon, then hot off the first season of HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” and Jennifer Aniston in her first regular TV role since “Friends.” “It’s exciting to be the flagship show, if you wanna call it that,” said Mimi Leder, “The Morning Show” director and executive producer. “And it’s been an incredible show to bring to life that hopefully people will respond to.” The drama, about the inner workings of a network morning show, received a two-season straight-to-series order paid for by the sizable $1 billion war chest allotted to fund Apple TV+’s first year of content — a projection that by all accounts has already been exceeded.
“See” (Apple)
The intervening two years were hardly smooth sailing, with Carson’s departure in 2018 and a subsequent Writers’ Guild arbitration over whether he or his replacement, “Bates Motel” alum Kerry Ehrin, would receive credit for creating the show. Observers also noted Apple’s apparent reluctance to provide launch and pricing details, most notably at a presentation in Cupertino, Calif.. earlier this year where the company touted the long list of collaborators it’s enlisted — including Aniston, Witherspoon, Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams and Oprah Winfrey — but failed to provide any concrete information about the streaming service’s debut. For all Apple has invested in “The Morning Show,” including an estimated $2 million per episode for both Aniston and Witherspoon, critics’ reviews of the show have been less than glowing. The series currently sits at a score of 57 out of 100 on Metacritic, and a just-shy-of-fresh 59% on Rotten Tomatoes. And the four launch titles are hardly the sum total of Apple’s multi-billion-dollar investment. Apple TV+ will start rolling out additional new shows within a month, beginning with M. Night Shyamalan’s “Servant,” followed by the Octavia Spencer-Aaron Paul thriller “Truth Be Told,” with dozens more in the pipeline. Apple TV+ has also already begun moving forward with the second seasons of “The Morning Show” and “For All Mankind.” “I go back to work in November and we start shooting in the beginning of the year. So Kerry is leading her incredible band of writers and the story is being broken as we speak,” Leder said. “We’re moving things along.”