The launch of Apple TV+ is star-studded but shrouded in mystery
On Monday morning, Apple finally gave the world a peek at its highly anticipated foray into producing original TV shows and movies, a bid that will put it in direct competition with the likes of Netflix, Amazon, and even Disney. But the announcement, which took place at the Steve Jobs Theater on Apple’s campus in Cupertino, California, felt less like a show-stopping Apple launch and more like an old-school, network-TV upfront presentation, replete with celebrities standing uncomfortably on a dark stage while reading awkward jokes off a Teleprompter.
There was also remarkably little information shared. Apple’s new shows, which will be part of its new Apple TV+ app that’s launching in May, will be available sometime this fall. It’s unclear how much a subscription to Apple TV+ will cost, if anything. (Another new service announced on Monday: Apple News+, which will give users access to over 300 magazines and newspapers like the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal, and will cost $9.99 a month.)
Apple also announced Apple TV Channels, a new service that will aggregate a user’s cable and satellite subscriptions with their iTunes movie and TV purchases, along with Apple TV+ content, placing all viewing options on one platform. And a redesigned Apple TV app with Netflix-like features such as personalized recommendations will be available in May. For the first time, the app will be included on Mac computers, and in the fall, it will roll out on smart TVs including Samsung, LG, and Amazon Fire TV devices.
Ironically, the highlight of the TV presentation had little to do with the new shows themselves–which include The Morning Show, with Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston; See starring Jason Momoa; and Little America, a series of immigration stories from The Big Sick team of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon–but with the A-list names whom Apple has recruited to work with the company. Those creators, including Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Ron Howard, and Sofia Coppola, all spoke poetically about the creative process in a beautifully produced, black-and-white spot that opened with Spielberg talking about how he would direct the clip, starting with a small, white dot that slowly grows larger and then “explodes.” Which is exactly how the short film opened. Another memorable moment during the nearly hour-plus TV showcase was a piano performance by Sara Bareilles, who is composing the music for (and coproducing, with Abrams) the series Little Voice, about a young singer trying to make it in New York.
In announcing Apple’s new TV offerings, CEO Tim Cook asserted that the new service is “unlike anything that’s been done before.” Yet the rollout of new shows looked very much like what’s been done before by companies like CBS, ABC, and HBO over the years. Witherspoon, Aniston, Momoa, Oprah Winfrey (she has two new series as well as a revived version of her book club), and others dutifully came onstage and gave a general description of their shows, along with scripted banter. The only actual glimpse of footage was rolled together in a sizzle reel, which may or may not be related to the fact that Apple has been experiencing production delays on some of its shows.
For now, all there is to judge of the shows are the names involved with them, which are uniformly A-list in keeping with Apple’s obsession with the highest quality, but therefore also highly predictable. Unlike Netflix’s initial original programming choices, there are no evident risks or bets on daring series, such as Orange is the New Black. As one TV producer noted, “Spielberg opens up to announce . . . a 57-year-old comic and a 40-year-old show,” in reference to Apple’s reboot of Amazing Stories, which Spielberg is producing through his Amblin Entertainment company, which produced the original series in the 1980s.
Anticipation for Apple’s original programming has been building ever since the company announced in 2017 that it had hired two respected TV executives from Sony TV, Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Ehrlicht, to oversee the venture. Apple immediately began to sign up A-list creators to produce shows for the service, but there have been reports of creative differences; in two cases, showrunners stepped down and were replaced.
Monday was seen as a chance for Apple to set the record straight about its new TV venture. But unfortunately, the presentation only raised more questions.