Apple used the high-profile platform of its iPhone product launch event Tuesday to showcase the shows and movies coming to the Apple TV+ streaming service this fall—a lineup that includes the return of its marquee series, The Morning Show, and features such big names as Jon Stewart, Tom Hanks, Kevin Durant and Mahershala Ali.
The Cupertino tech giant continues to bet on star power and prestige projects to build its two-year-old streaming service, as it seeks to convert those who have been receiving Apple TV+ free with the purchase of a device into subscribers.
“That remains their M.O.,” said one Hollywood insider, who requested anonymity to maintain a business relationship with Apple, noting that in evaluating whether to purchase a project, “they’ll tell the showrunner or producer, ‘Here’s a list of five actors to lead an Apple show. If you find one, we’ll make it.’”
Apple CEO Tim Cook opened the presentation by touting Apple TV+’s 35 primetime Emmy nominations, including 20 for the acclaimed comedy series, Ted Lasso, and screening a sizzle highlight reel promoting the upcoming lineup. The shows include a second season of the Emmy Award-winning drama The Morning Show, starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, which debuts Friday, followed on Sept. 24 by the premiere of Foundation, a serialized adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s sci-fi novels that reportedly cost $5 million an episode to produce.
The veteran studio executives who run Apple TV+, Jamie Erlich and Zack Van Amburg, have been careful to select projects and partners who are compatible with the image Apple has of itself: as a premium brand. It hasn’t dabbled in reality shows since it acquired James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke in 2016.
The launch shows were met with uneven critical reception in 2019, though The Morning Show and Dickinson, a modern take on poet Emily Dickinson’s rebellious teen years, both collected acclaim and awards.
The streaming service’s break-out series is Ted Lasso, an warm-hearted, optimistic fish-out-of-water tale starring Jason Sudeikis as an American college football coach who finds himself managing a Premier League soccer team. The show, which debuted in August 2020 to broad acclaim, seems to embody Apple’s aspirations for the service.
It’s unclear whether Apple’s investment in original content is paying off. Nielsen tracks viewing of Apple’s shows, but doesn’t report the data to the press. Apple doesn’t release subscriber numbers, either. It lumps Apple TV+ together with the 700 million subscribers to its various services, which include music and games, obscuring its performance.
“We feel really good about where we are,” Cook said during the company’s second-quarter earnings call. “We’re not releasing subscriber numbers.”
The new lineup will be a test of the service’s ability to compete in the streaming wars. Apple repeatedly extended a free trial period for consumers who purchased an Apple device. The freebies ended on July 1, meaning those who elect to remain will pay a $5 monthly fee. One study from Deloitte found Apple TV+ has seen more subscriber defections than peers Netflix, Disney+ or HBO Max.
That could be why Apple is rolling out the big guns to keep people hanging around. The new programming highlights include The Problem with Jon Stewart, a current affairs show that marks the late-night host’s return to TV after he left The Daily Show in 2015; and Finch, a science fiction drama starring Hanks as a robotics engineer who creates a synthetic caregiver for his dog, which premieres on the service on Nov. 5.
Swagger, a drama inspired by NBA star Kevin Durant’s experiences in youth basketball, premieres Oct. 20. Ali portrays a husband and father diagnosed with a terminal illness in Swan Song, a movie that debuts in theaters and globally on the Apple TV+ service on Dec. 17.