Written by: Anthony Madigan, MD
I’ve just watched the finale of The Morning Show on Apple TV+, one of the best hours of TV drama I’ve seen in a long time. And I watch quite a lot (as research you understand).
If you haven’t seen the show, do what you can to revel in all its glory. It’s worth the subscription to Apple TV+ on its own, watching people in the crucible of a ratings-leading US breakfast TV show deal with the fallout of #MeToo allegations against one of the high profile co-hosts. More on this later (but no spoilers).
Endings are so important in stories: they’re the resolution that we’re waiting for. In ongoing series, finales aren’t full endings – they are big milestones, where some storylines come to fruition but others begin. Whatever the context, there’s focus, anticipation and energy. All the things any communicator would love to get from an audience.
And yet so many engagement and communications plans don’t have finales of any sort. Often built in blocks of theme and message, they run like information campaigns. One day, they just stop.
Having a finale to aim for gives your plan focus and intent. You’ll need to tackle your plan in a way that achieves your objectives and sets up your finale to deliver real punch. Let’s look at some of the ways The Morning Show (TMS) achieves this:
1. Start your story well
I actually didn’t like the first episode of TMS very much – a lot of histrionics from characters I didn’t yet know or care about. But there was something there. A situation was set up very quickly; we knew what was at stake.
And here’s a big storytelling tip: badly told stories start way too early. There’s too much preparation, too much lead up. TMS starts fast and strong. Grab your audience’s attention, promise something worthwhile and set up what’s coming later.
2. Don’t plan in blocks
Themes and storylines run in parallel not in sequence. The TMS finale pulls expertly on all the storylines it has developed over the first nine episodes to deliver a big impact at the end. All the components of the story are live in our minds, as everything begins to pay off.
How is your finale going to work if three quarters of what you’re going to reference hasn’t been talked about for three, six or nine months? Make sure you keep your themes alive through the year.
3. Themes are stronger when they relate to each other
Not only are the TMS storylines running in parallel with each other through the season, they relate to each other, reinforce each other, enable each other. TMS is about power: its abuse, its opportunity, its effects, how to take it and how to lose it. Each of those threads has its own part in the story.
Many comms plans are organised around standalone topics, but it’s tough to engage an audience in several free-floating and independent ideas. Connected themes and storylines engage people much more deeply. Why? Because it’s deeply human.
4. Make sure something needs to happen
All of the main players in TMS need to make something happen, whether for themselves or other people. How those needs are resolved makes that final hour pulsate.
In drama, conflict is a great source of energy. In business, you need something more positive, and we talk about the tension of possibility. The need to make something happen gives a story momentum. ‘We are innovative’ is not a theme or a storyline, however much you want your people to believe it. ‘Innovation is the only way we’ll succeed’ is a story with some drive.
5. Tie need to purpose
Where The Morning Show really succeeds is where it ties its storylines together around a purpose. At its heart TMS is a #MeToo story (if that puts you off, watching the show may change your perceptions). The show has something to say and uses the drama to do that.
You can do the same. Tie your communication tightly into purpose and intent. Again, there’s energy in this. ‘Innovation is the only way we’ll succeed’ may be a story with drive. ‘Innovation is the only we’ll fix this problem for the world’ has heart and meaning too.
6. Give people real characters to believe in
If I’m honest, the lead characters in The Morning Show aren’t immediately likeable. Disruptive TV exec Cory Ellison, played gleefully by Billy Crudup, is a very notable and brilliant exception. But a live national morning TV show is a fraught place with big egos, so we’re seeing truth (which draws you in to the characters). What we’re travelling with is not their personalities, it’s their personal journeys. And wow, it’s the direction those journeys take that sets The Morning Show apart from many lesser dramas.
Bringing personal journeys into your communication and storytelling will root what you’re communicating in truth, whatever the state of the personalities involved.
7. Leave some unanswered questions
Do I want to watch another season of The Morning Show? Can’t wait. Is that just because I liked this one? No – it’s because I want to know what happens next. ‘What next?’ is one of the most powerful questions in story. It’s irresistible. If you want your show to have another season, then set up some storylines at the end of the current season to take your audience into the next.
The same is true of your comms plan. What’s coming next? What possibilities does next year hold? Make sure you tackle these questions in your finale if you want a properly engaged and expectant audience.
The Morning Show returns later this year. Sow the seeds of your story finale now and you can reap all the benefits of a well planned story too.