How ‘The Morning Show’ & ‘The Girls on the Bus’ Took Notes From Fox News

After “The Morning Show” began its third season last fall, showrunner Charlotte Stoudt received a text message from “a very well-known anchor on a national news network” with some constructive criticism.

This unnamed person had seen Episode 3, in which June Diane Raphael makes her debut as the anchor of Eagle News, a fictional conservative news network that is seen reporting on an internal scandal at UBA, the network that employs Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon’s characters. With a smile on her face, Raphael’s anchor reads incriminating emails sent by the UBA board president (Holland Taylor). While she’s enjoying this news more than an objective reporter probably should, she doesn’t say anything inaccurate. That’s what Stoudt’s mystery texter took issue with: “She’s not telling enough lies,” they texted her.

“It was a great moment,” Stoudt tells Variety. “I never thought anyone would accuse me of being too nice to Fox News.”

While Eagle News isn’t exactly Fox News, Stoudt appreciates the reaction, good or bad, because there is an art to creating fake news — not the kind that is ruining the minds of voters every day, but rather the fictional news networks on TV series. In this case, Eagle News is a thinly veiled stand-in for right-wing networks like Fox News. But legally, “The Morning Show” can’t speak for that real entity, even on fictional matters, so it creates its own version.

June Diane Raphael portrayed an Eagle News reporter in Season 3 of “The Morning Show.”
Apple TV+

“It just felt like we wanted a Greek chorus to comment on how messy UBA was this season,” Stoudt says. “You want the mean girl in high school to shine the least sympathetic light on everything you’re doing, so I think that was the energy we went for.”

Raphael only fleetingly appears in Season 3 of “The Morning Show,” returning in the season finale to drop buzzwords like “woke” paired with a photo of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — hallmarks of Fox News’ coverage that would be more recognizable to Stoudt’s mystery texter. But Max’s new political dramedy “The Girls on the Bus” had a much taller order in creating its own fake news network.

The series is based on Amy Chozick’s book, “Chasing Hillary,” which chronicles her experiences covering Hillary Clinton’s 2008 and 2016 presidential runs for the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, respectively. None of the real people she encountered on the campaign trail are featured in the show. Instead, a general lineup of Democratic presidential hopefuls is covered by roving reporters, including Kimberlyn (Christina Elmore), a Black conservative working for Liberty Direct News, another fictional Fox News stand-in.

Christina Elmore portrays Kimberlyn, a reporter for Liberty Direct News, in “The Girls on the Bus.”
Apple TV+

Chozick, who served as an executive producer on the series, says that because Liberty Direct News is so prominently featured in the series, they had to build it from the ground up, from its color scheme to its journalistic tone. But the first major decision was choosing a name, for which she polled her friends who had appeared on networks like Fox.

“I always liked Liberty News; it just has this patriotic quality,” Chozick says. “But legal told us something called Liberty News actually exists. So we added Liberty Direct News, and I kind of like the ‘direct’ part of it. Sometimes legal clearances lead to better names.”

In “The Morning Show,” Raphael’s character is only seen behind the anchor desk. But Kimberlyn is one of the four leads of “The Girls on the Bus,” and as such, she had to embody the visual cues of right-leaning news media while out in the world, right down to her clothes — inspiration for which came from real Fox personalities such as Laura Ingraham.

“The colors were very important,” she says. “It had to be bright. We really wanted those poppy bright colors. And the colors and the costumes were part of Kimberlyn’s whole arc. You eventually see the skirts getting shorter and the necklines getting lower, and part of her growing discomfort with the network is actually represented in the clothes.”

While Kimberlyn pounds the pavement on the campaign trail, she’s occasionally in the studio at Liberty Direct News, multiple sets for which were constructed with an appropriate smattering of red, white and blue by production designer Curt Beech. For those scenes, Chozick pulled from her own experiences appearing as a commentator on Fox News.

“They were really caking on the makeup and lashes and toner when I was there,” she says. “I joked with the lady, ‘Are you going to make me a blonde?’ and she totally, deadpan, said, ‘No, we don’t have time.’ So there is an aesthetic for sure.”

In its reporting, Liberty segments are noticeably more bombastic and high-energy, standing “in stark contrast to what the other journalists on the bus are doing,” Chozick says. While she admits they did go over the top with some characterizations of Kimberlyn’s coworkers at Liberty, they showed restraint in other ways.

“I think our Liberty is snarky and they obviously don’t like the Democrats,” she says. “But because we are not living in a real political landscape, I don’t think there is this insipid lying or trying to stoke insurrection. Those things that people could say about right-wing media in the real world, that is not the kind of fictional world that we created.”

Similarly, Stoudt says they didn’t turn to Eagle News for comment on matters of national interests in the world of “The Morning Show,” but rather media mudslinging.

“June brings a kind of lightness to it,” she says. “Everybody can watch Fox News if they want and decide if it is for them, but I kind of didn’t want to go from a position that these people are awful and humorless. It just didn’t seem like the right way to touch it, and so I liked the idea of making her strangely appealing.”

If anything, it’s a reminder why people watch the real thing.

“It is kind of a show,” Chozick says. “When Kimberlyn calls out our hosts, Nellie and Mike, they are kind of stoking rage, but behind the scenes, they admit they are doing it for ratings. We wanted to portray this kind of theater of it all with Liberty.”

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