August 13, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT

After the massive success of her fashion-magazine-set comedy The Devil Wears Prada, screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna says she was constantly being asked to re-create her winning formula: ”Devil Wears Prada with a guy” or ”Devil Wears Prada in another workplace.” She found herself fixating on morning TV news shows, those moneymaking spectacles starring personalities who must be able to handle heavy political stories as well as fluff pieces, sometimes with awkward results. ”I loved the idea that they are covering serious, hard news and they have to pivot on a dime and do segments on making banana bread,” she says. ”They say ‘On a lighter note…’ a lot.”

So she wrote Morning Glory, in which Rachel McAdams plays an up-and-coming producer charged with pulling the pathetic program Daybreak out of its last-place ratings rut. To do so, she persuades a respected former evening newsman (Harrison Ford) to assume the anchor chair beside the show’s established lightweight host (Diane Keaton). McKenna and producer J.J. Abrams immediately thought of Ford for their host, Mike Pomeroy, but weren’t sure if he’d bite. ”I sent it to him with a note that said, ‘Nothing would make us happier in the world than you playing this character,”’ Abrams says. ”I didn’t know what he’d think, because it was a much more curmudgeonly character than he has played. Mike’s an older guy who’s been through the wringer a little bit and in no way the kind of heroic character that you often think of when you think of Harrison. But he called and said, ‘I love it.”’ Says Ford: ”It seemed perfectly phrased to give me the opportunity to do something different from what I’d done. It’s a role that was both funny and emotionally invested.”

Things don’t always go smoothly for Ford’s character on screen. Once Mike signs on to Daybreak, he quickly clashes with both of his co-workers. While Keaton’s character is more than willing to put on a tutu or a sumo-wrestling suit to boost ratings, Mike won’t deign to do a cooking segment. McAdams, meanwhile, is forced to coddle her new employee. ”She has to spend the night at his house to make sure that he gets up on time,” says director Roger Michell (Notting Hill). Deadpans Ford about their relationship: ”If it’s a mentorship, it’s a mentorship from hell.” (In case you’re worried, the filmmakers assure us that Ford, 68, and McAdams, 31, do not embark on a romance.)

Once Ford donned his newsman regalia, he seemed to fit right into the network scene. ”When I saw him with the hair and the makeup and the clothes as an anchorman, it was incredible,” says McKenna. ”We had a day where [veteran newsmen] Morley Safer, Bob Schieffer, and Chris Matthews did a cameo where they’re all having drinks together at the 21 Club. And if you didn’t know we were shooting a movie, you thought [Ford] was one of those guys.” Says the actor: ”Basically, we just sat around for three hours while they lit and staged various camera shots. We told jokes and had a good time.” So who had the best jokes? ”Me!”

As if Morning Glory’s trio of stars isn’t promising enough, the movie also features Modern Family breakout Ty Burrell in a performance that was shot before his smash sitcom debuted. Playing the Daybreak host whose early exit paves the way for Ford’s character’s entrance, Burrell apparently gives new meaning to the word smarmy. ”From the second he shows up, you want Rachel to fire him,” says McKenna. ”It’s not a huge part, but it’s a pivotal part. And he just crushes it.”

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