Netflix’s Edgier ‘Designated Survivor’ Will Share DNA From ‘West Wing,’ ‘ ER’ & ‘SVU’

Ben Mark Holzberg/ABC

Netflix’s Designated Survivor reboot will be an edgier, more topical species than its ABC precursor, which was shelved after two seasons. Think The West Wing with a bit of ER and SVU filtered through. So says Survivor’s new executive producer Neal Baer, who produced and wrote for those beloved shows.

To help with that new vision, Baer — who jumped at joining the Netflix version several years after rejecting an offer to work on the ABC original — has brought former West Wing writer Peter Noah and SVU writer Dawn DeNoon on staff.

“It’s not ER nor West Wing,” the EP shares, “but it’s out of that well of good people forced to do things that are not always ethical or moral for the greater good or sometimes — out of their own hubris.”

Here’s some scoop about the 2019 model of Designated Survivor that Baer offered to TV Insider in an exclusive interview. While everyone’s still mum about the season premiere, it seems it could be as early as late spring/early summer.

Designated Survivor

Season 3 is all about the campaign

Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland), now tougher and more canny than he was as the onetime designated POTUS, will run for another term as an independent against Democrat and Republican candidates. “We take on all comers,” Baer says, “the Right, the Left, conservatives and liberals, on the show.” Former President Cornelius Moss (Geoff Pierson), Kirkman’s mentor turned duplicitous rival, is the GOP candidate.

And real-life issues that Baer says he’s “obsessed” with

Among them: Fake news, health care (Baer is an MD), access to transplants, child marriage in the U.S., dark money in politics and “whether one can stay true to his or her ethics as a politician.” Don’t expect “a procedural crisis of the week,” Baer promises. There will be no more tsunamis.

The show’s key regulars return

Emily Rhodes (Italia Ricci), last seen making a furtive exchange with now dead Russian spy Valera, is back with a new job that keeps her close to President Kirkman. Fans of Maggie Q’s Hannah Wells will be happy to know she’ll still be a “kick-ass government operative,” Baer says. Look for a new — possibly more global — conspiracy for Wells to uncover that will lead to “situations that will scare the s**t out of you.” Speechwriter Seth Wright (Kal Penn) and onetime Chief of Staff Aaron Shore (Adan Canto) also return to work for Kirkman.


Seth Wright (Kal Penn) and Emily Rhodes (Italia Ricci)

There’s a host of new faces

Elena Tovar plays Shore’s new girlfriend Isabel Pardo, the White House Director of Social Innovation, which funds worthy sustainable business projects around the world. Baer tapped his old ER buddy Emmy winner Anthony Edwards to join the cast as Kirkman’ respected Chief of Staff Mars Harper; Lauren Holly plays his wife. Tony-winner Julie White (Lorraine Zimmer) is “the take no prisoner” head of Kirkman’s campaign, Benjamin Charles Watson (Dante Evans) is the digital-polling whiz; and trans actress Jamie Clayton recurs as someone connected to the president.

Footage of real life people will mix with the drama

When Evans goes out on the street to ask questions like “why don’t people vote?” the answers will come from regular folk, non-actors who were filmed by the documentary crew Baer worked with on his popular Netflix doc, If You Build It. “We have many issues that weave through the show with our documentary partners,” Baer reveals. “I’ve never seen a show do that.”

Designated Survivor, Season 3, Coming Soon, Netflix