Michael Ellenberg: ‘The Morning Show,’ ‘Pachinko,’ ‘Scenes From a Marriage’
“The shows we’re focused on, they’re all made with love, they’re all made by hand and we pour our hearts and souls [into them],” proclaims executive producer Michael Ellenberg about what keeps a producer up at night — not whether a show will be a success or a failure, but what if nobody cares? “The greatest fear,” he says about the prospect of a project getting lost in the noise of an overcrowded market. For our recent webchat, Ellenberg adds, “if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? You know, that’s the fear everyone has right now,” he says. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
As the former head of drama at HBO, Ellenberg founded Media Res, an independent studio that develops prestige scripted content for multiple streamers and networks. Since branching out on his own in 2017, the producer has been busy, shepherding numerous high-profile projects, including three critical and commercial hits this season alone. His first foray under his Media Res banner was “Scenes From a Marriage,” which is based on the acclaimed 1973 Ingmar Bergman miniseries, examining the painful disintegration of a couple’s relationship. The HBO adaptation was adapted by Israeli writer/director, Hagai Levi (“The Affair”), starring Oscar Isaac and Oscar winner Jessica Chastain, who had previously starred together in 2014’s “A Most Violent Year.”
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Ellenberg also serves as executive producer on “The Morning Show,” which was developed by Kerry Ehrin (“Friday Night Lights,” “Parenthood”) 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’ second season boasts a stellar ensemble, including Emmy winner Jennifer Aniston and Oscar and Emmy winner Reese Witherspoon, Emmy winner Billy Crudup, Emmy nominee Mark Duplass, and Emmy winners Steve Carell and Julianna Margulies. The show follows the behind-the-scenes drama at the titular daily morning news program, with season 2 exploring the #MeToo fallout from the sexual misconduct allegations that exiled Mitch Kessler (Carell), while also tackling the outbreak of COVID-19 in China and the initial days of the pandemic in Italy and New York City, two of the early epicenters.
His latest passion project is “Pachinko,” which was adapted by Soo Hugh based on the novel of the same name by author and journalist Min Jin Lee. The epic drama about a Korean immigrant family that spans generations follows Sunja, who grows up in Japanese-occupied Korea, tracking her life through old age. The Apple TV Plus saga stars Oscar winner Yuh-Jung Youn (“Minari) as the older version of Sunja, with Kim Min-ha co-starring as the teenage Sunja and Yu-na playing Sunja as a child. Korean actor Lee Min-ho and American rising star Jin Ha (“Devs,” “Love Life”) also co-star among a sprawling ensemble that spans decades across two continents. Critics are hailing how the family drama confidently weaves together numerous narrative threads from Sunja’s early life to her twilight years, calling it “miraculous,” “timeless,” “the most impressive series yet on any streamer” and “close to a masterpiece.”
“The joy of my job,” Ellenberg admits, is to work “with these really brilliant artists. When you get in sync with what they’re after, you enjoy this incredible partnership, where we’re all trying to be irresponsibly ambitious to help them figure out how to realize their ambitions. ‘OK, we’re going to China and Italy during COVID in Los Angeles, yes okay we’re going to do that,” he smiles, referring to converting Southern California into China and Italy on “The Morning Show.” “Let’s get two giant brilliant movie star actors and give a brilliant experience,” he says about “Scenes From a Marriage,” finally turning to”Pachinko” by adding, “let’s take you to Korea in the twenties, Japan in the thirties and Tokyo in the eighties, and yes, we’re going to integrate all these timelines and in one season and you’re like ‘that’s amazing and then the next day you’re like, oh, we actually have to figure out how to do that!'”