Inside Apple’s High-Flying Bid to Become a Streaming Giant

More than 50 buildings and soundstages sprawl across the 44 acres of the Sony Pictures lot. That's a lot of window­less oblongs, and even more distance between them. If you need to get from, say, the Jimmy Stewart Building to Stage 15, golf carts and Sprinter vans are the customary mode—even on sunny days. On a particular Saturday in February, while an atmospheric river settled over Los Angeles, those vehicles were a necessity. The downpour was bad luck for the dozens of journalists there that day, but it was also a touch allegorical. After what felt like years of anticipation, Apple was about to take us behind the scenes of a show it was making for its still ­mysterious, still unnamed subscription streaming service . We were going to find out if Apple, maker of so many devices that have redefined the way we consume content, could finally make content—good content—of its own.
After the journalists handed their phones to Apple staffers to be taped up with camera-blockings stickers, the vans shuttled the group to Stage 15. (The Sony complex is also home to HBO's Insecure and Showtime's Ray Donovan. Apple may have a near-trillion-dollar market cap, but it still leases soundstages like everyone else in Hollywood.) Dryness maintained, we walked into the control room of NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center circa 1969.

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Apollo 11: Mission Out of Control Mission Control, as it's more commonly known, was painstakingly refurbished by NASA in its original Houston location and reopened to the public earlier this year. The Hollywood version in front of us, taking up almost 8,000 square feet of Stage 15, is its utter replica, from the soft packs of Kools strewn on long tiers of desks to the million-­buttoned BOOSTER consoles that tracked the Saturn V rockets powering the Apollo spacecraft into orbit. Rotary phones. Horn-rimmed glasses. Even the ceiling tiles have been custom-­made to match the ones in Houston.
Such millimeter-perfect verisimilitude is to be expected. After all, we're standing in a Ronald D. Moore project. A veteran of multiple Star Trek series and creator of numerous other shows, including the beloved mid-'00s space opera Battlestar Galactica, Moore is known for paradigm-busting genre television , creating worlds that are meticulously designed and populated by fully realized characters. This newest project, a series called , imagines how our society might look today had the space race never ended. It's at once rueful and optimistic, a journey that undoes decades of declining ambition by imagining how an alternate past spawns a new future.

For all its attention to the little things, though, For All Mankind is bigger and riskier than anything Moore has created. The show is one of the first series appearing on the (now named) Apple TV+ streaming service, a multibillion-dollar push that includes projects from Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey. And Mission Control is more than the simulated nerve center for the zero-g space walks and lunar landings of For All Mankind. It's also the launchpad for Apple's own moon shot. The company sits at a crossroads, its hardware approaching market saturation and its updates increasingly incremental; part of the path forward, by its own admission, involves being a purveyor of services. So, after Apple's two decades of windfall as a manufacturer and distributor, TV+ is the company's highly anticipated—and very expensive—attempt to become an entertainment studio, one that competes not just with the upstarts that inaugurated the streaming wars (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon) but also with the old hands that are now trying to muscle in (Disney, Warner Bros., NBCUniversal). The landscape is crowded, but there's room among the stars.