‘The Morning Show’ production designer Nelson Coates on going ‘bigger’ and ‘around the world’ in 2nd season [Exclusive Video Interview]

Apple TV+‘s “The Morning Show” was three and a half weeks into filming when production on its second season was forced to shut down in early 2020 due the then-oncoming COVID-19 pandemic. Although more than half of the second season had already been written at that point, the writers decided to rewrite it in order to incorporate what would become the global health crisis of our time into the original storyline. This decision, of course, had a significant effect on the entire production of the season. “After COVID, they decided that everything was going to get bigger and go around the world,” says production designer Nelson Coates, who boarded the show ahead of Season 2, in a new webchat with Gold Derby. Watch our exclusive video interview above.

Developed by Kerry Ehrin and partly inspired by consulting producer Brian Stelter‘s behind-the-scenes book “Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV” (2013), the series follows the behind-the-scenes drama at the titular daily morning news program. The first season explored the fallout from the #MeToo movement as one of the show’s anchors, Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell), is fired amid sexual misconduct allegations. While the second season continues that storyline, it also tackles the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, as well as the initial days of the pandemic in Italy and New York City, two of the early epicenters. The drama series stars Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon.

SEE Kerry Ehrin interview: ‘The Morning Show’ showrunner

While there were countless new sets that had to be created for the second season, the pandemic required Coates to also refurbish permanent sets and locations from the first, including UBA headquarters. “In eight and a half weeks, [we] built a 12,000-square-foot set from scratch — from drawing to filming — that had offices, hallways, elevators and huge bullpens,” he details. Elaborating on the changes that were made to the set of the titular daily news program itself, he adds, “We changed the actual ‘teacup’ area/the anchor area with graphics and lighting and added a conference room, so you could do viewing and have scenes off to the side while the show is in progress or being set up, as well as a lot of niches for people to hide in or have side conversations [in], such as a large craft service-type kitchen.”

About updating the look of the show’s main location, Coates reveals, “The goal for me was to really bring in a full complexity of New York City into the show.” This process entailed exploring different neighborhoods, giving viewers a better sense of where in Manhattan the main events of the show take place and bringing the city into some of the character’s private spaces — and all of that while working out of Los Angeles, which fills in for New York City.

Indeed, New York City style is certainly imbued into the luxurious hotel suite of Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup), among other living spaces. In regard to said suite, Coates expounds, “Since we had the ability to bring in some more prewar architecture, I wanted this to look like a presidential suite at an older hotel that had the balustrades out of the windows and the old gilding.” He continues, “Since the first season dealt so much with the whole sexual harassment aspect of this corporate workspace, I wanted to show the pervasiveness of the visuals that we’re bombarded with all the time.” This idea translated into Lalique Erté-style light fixture sconces of a nude male and female and America Martin’s painting of a reclining nude over Cory’s bed. As the production designer describes, the result thereof is that the space still looks like a high-end suite more so than a personal space, thereby creating a level of separation from Cory’s personal items. “And yet, it does feel very New York; it feels very dark and intriguing,” he concludes.

In our chat, Coates also describes in detail the process of transforming Southern California into Wuhan, Beijing and Lake Como, Italy, where the season finds Mitch hiding out in a cliffside villa — one that is actually a 1920s building constructed by architect Wallace Neff and situated in the outskirts of Pasadena, where it has been willed to a local Catholic high school as an event center.

For his work on the second season of this show, the production designer landed an Art Directors Guild Award nomination alongside his colleagues. Although this year will be the first time he competes at the Emmys for the Apple TV+ series, he was previously recognized by the TV academy with a bid for the miniseries “The Stand” in 1994.

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