‘Designated Survivor’ Revamped as a Netflix Original

Season three of Designated Survivor premieres on Netflix June 7, after the first two seasons were on ABC. Kiefer Sutherland plays President Tom Kirkman, and the new season has him campaigning as an independent.

Neal Baer is the showrunner and exec producer. He’s new to the show, but has been around forever, including stints as exec producer on ER, and E.P./showrunner on Law & Order: SVU and Under the Dome.

The political nature of Designated Survivor attracted him to the project. “I hadn’t done a political show,” he said. “I thought, this is a platform that will allow me to tell a range of stories.”

Baer said around two months went by after ABC cancelled Designated Survivor and Netflix grabbed it. Entertainment One produces.

It will be a somewhat different show on Netflix. Baer mentioned a “more cable-oriented” program. The language won’t be coarse, but it will be more realistic, he said. There’s “very, very little nudity,” said Baer, because it’s “not pertinent to the show.”

“We have the freedom to do what works for the characters,” he added.

Baer spoke of broadcast networks being fearful of offending viewers. That is much less of an issue at the subscription streamers. He mentioned Designated Survivor calling out rival nations by name--Afghanistan, Russia--instead of the producers dreaming up fake names for rogue nations.

Broadcast series might also be more formulaic, with a major risk each episode for the characters to sort out. “We won’t do an event-focused show every week,” said Baer, “where there’s a world threat that the president has to solve.”

All ten episodes launch June 7. Baer promises “a much more character-driven series” now.

Seasons one and two are on Netflix.

Besides Sutherland, the cast also includes Adan Canto, Italia Ricci, Kal Penn and Maggie Q. Anthony Edwards comes on as Kirkland’s chief of staff, and Lauren Holly plays Edwards’ wife, who is battling an opioid addiction.

David Guggenheim created the show, and executive produces alongside Mark Gordon, Sutherland, Suzan Bymel, Simon Kinberg, Aditya Sood, Peter Noah and Baer. Baer said Gordon brought him on board.

He gives Netflix high marks for its support. “The bottom line, to them, is, this is a great story--let’s tell it,” he said.

Look for shades of the Trump presidency in the new season, along with current issues such as voter suppression and white supremacy. Baer speaks of the show touching on the concept of “being a politician--and maintaining your honesty, your integrity, your dignity.”

The series can continue for some time on Netflix. “I’m hoping for four more years,” Baer said, “if [President Kirkman] can win the election.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.