New York’s Lincoln Center has lately turned into a high-profile backdrop for the streaming wars.
Last month, Netflix stormed the bastion of high culture during the New York Film Festival. On Monday night, Apple took over Lincoln Center’s vast plaza for the world premiere of The Morning Show, which producer and star Jennifer Aniston described as the tech giant’s “beloved flagship” of its closely tracked TV debut.
The plaza’s fabled fountain (memorably seen in films like The Producers) went silent and the Metropolitan Opera had a scheduled night off, making way for one of the city’s most elaborate premieres in recent memory. Festooned with Apple’s distinctive black and white iconography and a test pattern of primary colored bars, the event’s footprint extended down the steps to Columbus Avenue. Once inside David Geffen Hall, the 1,500 cocktail-attired attendees sipped from flutes of Veuve Clicquot as a jazz combo played inside and standards boomed on the plaza below.
The premiere unfolded just days before the November 1 launch of Apple TV+. The new subscription service will be jockeying for viewers with incumbents like Netflix and new entrants like Disney+ (launching November 12) and HBO Max (whose spring debut is getting a major corporate push today on the Warner Bros. lot).
The priority of the streaming launch motivated CEO Tim Cook to don a jacket and tie to make a rare foray onto the red carpet (or black, in this case). (No doubt Cook will keep stumping for the show Wednesday when the company reports its quarterly earnings.) Eddy Cue, SVP of Internet Software and Services, and Apple’s TV co-heads Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, also made the scene. Cast and crew members were surrounded by a large contingent of TV journalists from several eras — from Joan Lunden to George Stephanopoulos and many in between — invited as a nod to the show’s DNA.
Cook did not take the microphone inside the hall, leaving the speaking to others. “Jennifer and Reese, before anybody believed in us, before we started anything, before we knew what we were going to call it, they believed in Apple,” Cue said before the show’s first two episodes unspooled.
Erlicht recounted a trek two years ago to CAA’s headquarters with Van Amburg to hear a pitch for the show. It was just the third day on the job for the former Sony executives, Erlicht said, so even once they decided to move quickly to buy the show, the logistics of securing an offer letter and payment were mystifying. Even once the lay of their new corporate land was more clear, three to four months of negotiations ensued, he said. “Nothing about this show has been what I would call easy,” Erlicht said. “But the great ones never are.”
Aniston, marking her return to series television in her first role since Friends, made a brief appearance alongside co-star and fellow executive producer Reese Witherspoon. “We’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’ve known Reese for a really long time,” she said. “The fact we get to be here at this stage of our careers and show you something that we feel this passionate about and so grateful to be part of is quite extraordinary,” she said.
The crowd greeted the show warmly, chuckling during a monologue by Billy Crudup’s corporate entertainment overlord character, who offers a bleak assessment of traditional TV’s prospects. “We’re all going to get bought out by Big Tech,” he grouses. Along with an opening flurry of scenes prominently featuring iPhones during the show’s opening minutes, the night’s message was unmistakable but it went down stylishly enough.