Designated Survivor

Designated Survivor Information

Designated Survivor is an American political drama television series created by David Guggenheim that aired on ABC. Kiefer Sutherland stars as Thomas Kirkman, an American politician named the designated survivor for the State of the Union, who suddenly ascends to the position of President after an explosion kills everyone in the line of succession. Kirkman deals with his inexperience as President while looking to uncover the truth behind the attack.

The project skipped the pilot stage and was ordered straight to series on December 14, 2015, followed by a formal announcement on May 6, 2016. The first episode premiered on September 21, 2016, with a full season order coming eight days later. The series was renewed for a second season on May 11, 2017, which premiered on September 27, 2017. On May 11, 2018, ABC canceled the series after two seasons, ostensibly due to a decline in ratings, though other reasons have been mentioned. Shortly after, eOne announced they were in "active discussions" with other networks to revive the show, including Netflix, which streams the series internationally.


On the night of the State of the Union, an explosion destroys the United States Capitol building and claims the lives of the President and everyone in the line of succession except for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Thomas Kirkman, who had been named the designated survivor. Kirkman is immediately sworn in as President, unaware that the attack is just the beginning of what is to come.

Cast and characters


  • Kiefer Sutherland as Thomas Adam "Tom" Kirkman, the President of the United States and the former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who is sworn in following an unprecedented attack.
  • Natascha McElhone as Alexandra "Alex" Kirkman (season 1-2), Tom's devoted wife and a former immigration lawyer, who finds herself thrust into a role she was not prepared to take on. McElhone's move to Hulu's The First resulted in the First Lady being written out of the second season.
  • Adan Canto as Aaron Shore, the White House Deputy Chief of Staff, who becomes Chief of Staff in the days following the bombing; he resigns after being interrogated about the attack. He works as an aide to Speaker of the House Kimble Hookstraten before returning to the White House as Tom's National Security Advisor.
  • Italia Ricci as Emily Rhodes, Tom's Chief of Staff from his days as HUD Secretary, who becomes his Special Advisor and, following Aaron's resignation, his Chief of Staff.
  • LaMonica Garrett as Mike Ritter, a Secret Service agent originally assigned to Tom's personal security detail, who tries to ensure the Kirkman family's safety following the bombing.
  • Tanner Buchanan as Leo Kirkman (season 1; recurring season 2), Tom's teenaged son, who does everything he can to support his little sister, but struggles to keep it together after a shocking secret about his past comes to light.
  • Kal Penn as Seth Wright, a speechwriter who initially harbors doubts about Tom's abilities to lead the country but quickly becomes one of his closest advisors and the new White House Press Secretary.
  • Maggie Q as Hannah Wells, an FBI agent assigned to investigate the events surrounding the bombing who suspects that the people responsible are not yet finished with what they started.
  • Paulo Costanzo as White House Political Director Lyor Boone (season 2), a highly skilled yet socially inept political consultant hired to help develop the Kirkman administration's political strategy.
  • Zoe McLellan as White House Counsel Kendra Daynes (season 2)
  • Ben Lawson as Damian Rennett (season 2), an MI6 agent assigned to find the bombing's chief architect who develops a competitive relationship with Wells.



  • Kevin McNally as General Harris Cochrane, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who refuses to accept Tom as the new Commander in Chief and attempts to take matters into his own hands.
  • Virginia Madsen as Congresswoman Kimble Hookstraten, a Republican from Missouri and the designated survivor for the Republican Party who supports Tom's authority while secretly harboring her own agenda.
  • Ashley Zukerman as Congressman Peter MacLeish, a third-term representative from Oregon who becomes a national hero following the bombing but struggles to hide a dark secret.
  • George Tchortov as Nestor Lozano, a former CIA agent and wanted mercenary operating under the name "Catalan" who is heavily involved in the conspiracy.
  • Reed Diamond as John Foerstel, the former Assistant Director of the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility and the current Director of the FBI who occasionally assists Wells in her investigations.
  • Mykelti Williamson as Admiral Chernow, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who quickly becomes one of Tom's most trusted advisors.
  • Michael Gaston as James Royce, the Governor of Michigan who openly defies the Kirkman administration and tries to establish his own supreme authority.
  • Mariana Klaveno as Brooke Mathison, a clandestine operator in league with the people behind the Capitol bombing.
  • Jake Epstein as Chuck Russink, an FBI analyst who occasionally assists Wells in her investigation.
  • Lara Jean Chorostecki as Beth MacLeish, Peter MacLeish's wife and a member of the conspiracy who goads him into following through with their agenda.
  • Rob Morrow as Abe Leonard, a disgraced investigative journalist determined to expose the Kirkman administration's secrets.
  • Geoff Pierson as Cornelius Moss, a former President of the United States whom Tom appoints as his Secretary of State.
  • Mark Deklin as Senator Jack Bowman, a Republican from Montana who seeks to raise his national profile by opposing Tom's legislative agenda.
  • Kearran Giovanni as Senator Diane Hunter, a Democrat from Massachusetts and the Senate Minority Leader who has a habit of sparring with Bowman.
  • Terry Serpico as Patrick Lloyd, the CEO of a defunct private military firm and the mastermind behind the conspiracy.
  • Richard Waugh as Jay Whitaker, the Homeland Security Advisor and second in command of the conspiracy.
  • Breckin Meyer as Trey Kirkman, the President's estranged younger brother, a financial expert who becomes a confidant and advisor to the President.
  • Kim Raver as Andrea Frost, an engineer and space entrepreneur
  • Michael J. Fox as Ethan West, a Washington attorney and special prosecutor
  • Nora Zehetner as Valeria Poriskova, a Russian intelligence officer assigned undercover as a Russian Embassy cultural attach.
  • Aunjanue Ellis as Mayor Ellenor Darby, the mayor of Washington, D.C. who is later nominated by Kirkman as the next Vice President following their successful collaboration and response to the D.C. power failure caused by a cyberattack.


See List of Designated Survivor episodes for more information



Designated Survivor was ordered straight to series by ABC in December 2015, with a formal announcement of 13 episodes in May 2016. A month later, ABC revealed that the series would premiere on September 21, 2016. Eight days after the premiere, on September 29, 2016, ABC gave the series a full season order.

Created by David Guggenheim, the series is executive produced by Simon Kinberg, Sutherland, Suzan Bymel, Aditya Sood, and Nick Pepper. Paul McGuigan directed the pilot episode. Amy B. Harris was set to be the showrunner in February 2016, but after the series' official pick-up in May, it was announced she would be stepping down due to creative differences, and that Jon Harmon Feldman was in talks to replace her. In July 2016, Feldman was confirmed as showrunner/executive producer. In December 2016, Jeff Melvoin was hired as showrunner, replacing the departing Feldman, and supervised the second half of the season. For season 2, writer Keith Eisner serves as the showrunner. Kal Penn, formerly associate director in the White House's Office of Public Engagement, serves as a consultant for the series as well as acting in the main cast.

The series is produced by ABC Studios and The Mark Gordon Company, and is filmed in Toronto, Ontario.


Producers Jon Harmon Feldman and Guggenheim described the series as more than one genre, drawing inspiration from other thriller-dramas, with Guggenheim explaining, "There is a West Wing component of a man governing and his team governing our nation at this critical time. It's also the Homeland aspect of investigating the conspiracy. It also has a House of Cards component, which is the characters and the business of government through the eyes of these characters."


Kiefer Sutherland joined the cast in December 2015, playing Tom Kirkman, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development who suddenly becomes President. Sutherland had no intention of returning to television; he read the first script of the series and changed his mind, saying, "I remember getting to the end of the script and thinking I was potentially holding the next 10 years of my life in my hands."

In February 2016, it was announced that Kal Penn, Maggie Q, Natascha McElhone, and Italia Ricci had been cast as Kirkman's speech writer; Hannah, the lead FBI agent on the bombing of the Capitol; Kirkman's wife, an EEOC attorney; and Emily, Kirkman's Chief of Staff, respectively. Shortly after, Adan Canto had joined the series as Aaron Shore, the White House Deputy Chief of Staff. In early March, LaMonica Garrett joined the cast as Mike Ritter, Kirkman's Secret Service agent, and Tanner Buchanan and Mckenna Grace had been cast as Kirkman's children.

In July 2016, Malik Yoba was announced for a recurring role as Jason Atwood, the seasoned Deputy Director of the FBI, to appear in seven episodes, while Virginia Madsen had been cast in the recurring role of Kimble Hookstraten, a conservative Congresswoman and the designated survivor for the rival political party. A month later, Ashley Zukerman joined the series in a recurring role as Peter MacLeish, an Afghan War veteran and popular third-term Congressman. In September 2016, Mykelti Williamson was cast as Admiral Chernow, a career military man and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. On November 4, 2016, it was announced that Mariana Klaveno had been cast for the show as the Dark-Haired Woman, a clandestine operator in league with the people behind the Capitol attack.

For the second season, Paulo Costanzo, Zoe McLellan, and Ben Lawson joined the cast as series regulars, portraying White House Political Director Lyor Boone, White House Counsel Kendra Daynes, and Damian Rennett, respectively.



Designated Survivor began airing on September 21, 2016, on ABC in the United States, and CTV in Canada. Netflix airs the series outside the U.S. and Canada, adding the episodes weekly, with distribution handled by eOne.


A teaser trailer for Designated Survivor was released on May 6, 2016, with the full trailer released on May 17. Producers and some of the cast members promoted the series at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2016, showing a special preview screening with co-stars Maggie Q and Kal Penn in attendance.


Critical reception

Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gave Season 1 of the series an approval rating of 85% based on 53 reviews, with an average rating of 6.98/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Kiefer Sutherland skillfully delivers the drama in Designated Survivor, a fast-paced, quickly engrossing escapist political action fantasy." Metacritic reported a score of 71 out of 100 based on 35 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".

Terri Schwartz from IGN gave the first episode a rating of 8.0/10, saying, "Designated Survivor is a strong debut for a show that will fit well alongside Quantico and Scandal in ABC's government-set political drama lineup." Variety said that the episode "does everything it needs to, checking off the necessary boxes for the unwilling American hero-president in efficient, compelling scenes." Chuck Barney from Mercury News called the first episode "suspenseful". Writing for TV Insider, Matt Roush compared Designated Survivor with other series as he said "fall's niftiest new drama has West Wing idealism, Homeland suspense and House of Cards political intrigue in its robust and compelling DNA." Zack Handlen from The A.V. Club wrote positively about the show and the premiere, praising Sutherland's performance and commented on the symbol of Sutherland's glasses as he said, "The glasses he's wearing serve as a way to tell us this is a different kind of hero, but they're also a form of camouflage, making it easier for us to understand why so many people would underestimate this man."

The editors of TV Guide placed Designated Survivor first among the top ten picks for the most anticipated new shows of the 2016-17 season. In writer Alexander Zalben's overall review, he pointed out the keys to one of the strongest pilots he had seen so far: "Designated Survivor is the rare show that delivers on the hype, and surpasses it," and later stating "It's shocking that a show can balance all of these elements, but credit a magnetic cast that hits the ground running, a crack script that makes the first hour feel like 10 minutes and, of course, Sutherland as the anchor that keeps it all grounded." Zalben's review concluded with this recommendation: "There's a reason Designated Survivor wasn't just the top pick across all of our Editors' lists, but also on the list compiled from viewers' Watchlist adds: this is a show that delivers on its premise, feels timely, and most importantly, is a ton of fun."

On the other hand, after watching the first episode of the first season, The Guardians Brian Moylan criticized the dialogue, writing in his review that "this drama needs dialogue that won't make the citizenry's eyeballs roll", adding that the show features "meaningless platitudes" of a "we're going to do this my way" attitude, and concluded by writing, "All we're left with is a really great concept without the backing of a real leader behind it." Moylan also wrote that "there's not enough family tension for it to be a domestic drama, not enough government intrigue to make it a political show, and not enough investigation to make it a procedural." TVLines Dave Nemetz drew references between Kirkman and Jack Bauer, Kiefer Sutherland's role in drama thriller 24, writing that "Sutherland does a good job portraying Kirkman's deep ambivalence about the situation he's been handed. But when he has to play hardball with an Iranian ambassador, the tough talk comes too easily to him. It's like Kirkman has been possessed by the ghost of Jack Bauer". Nemetz also questioned the series' longevity; "As compelling as Designated Survivor's concept is, it's hard to see how it will sustain itself as a weekly series".


The first episode set a record for DVR viewers with 7.67 million, surpassing the September 25, 2014, record of almost 7 million set by the pilot of How to Get Away with Murder.


Year Award Category Recipient(s) Result
2016 TV Guide Most Exciting TV Series Designated Survivor
Critics' Choice Television Awards Most Exciting New Series Designated Survivor
2017 People's Choice Awards Favorite New TV Drama Designated Survivor
Favorite Actor In A New TV Series Kiefer Sutherland
Saturn Awards Best Action/Thriller Television Series Designated Survivor

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