How Designated Survivor's Newest Showrunner Changed Things Up For Season 3 On Netflix

keifer sutherland designated survivor season 3 netflix tom kirkman
(Image credit: Netflix)

Designated Survivor seemed done for good back in May 2018 when ABC announced its cancellation after two seasons. Rumors of a rescue came to nothing for months, and fans had every reason to give up hope up until the official renewal order came down from Netflix in September 2018. The new season comes with a new platform, a new set of challenges for Tom Kirkman, and another new showrunner.

Neal Baer of ER and Law & Order: SVU fame actually signed on as Designated Survivor's fifth -- yes, fifth -- showrunner back before ABC made the official decision to axe the series. Now, with the Season 3 premiere on Netflix fast-approaching, Baer has shared how he changed things up for the move to the streaming service:

I got to thinking about what new characters we would need to tell the kinds of stories that Netflix would encourage us to do... When I pitched these characters to ABC, they kind of looked at me like, ‘Whoa.’ And when I pitched to Netflix, there were like, ‘Oh, tell me more.' You can go much further, deeper, darker, edgier, and be more realistic, and that was great for us.

There are limits on what can be shown on broadcast television, even in the 10 p.m. ET hour that Designated Survivor occupied on ABC. Netflix lacks the same kind of boundaries. Lucifer star Tom Ellis chatted with CinemaBlend about the benefits of the increased freedom in the move from network to streaming. How will that sort of freedom impact Designated Survivor?

It's too soon to say if Designated Survivor will have characters showing more skin (as happened with Lucifer) or dropping F-bombs, but the possibility for darker and edgier characters is very much there. There are a bunch of new characters on the way. Neal Baer cast an ER veteran in a key role: Anthony Edwards will tackle the part of Mars Harper, a.k.a. Kirkman's Chief of Staff. Julie White of the Transformers franchise will play Kirkman's campaign manager, and her character may not get along so well with Edwards' character.

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NCIS and Motive alum Lauren Holly is on board, as is The L.A. Complex's Benjamin Watson. Holly will play the wife of Anthony Edwards' character, and she's not thrilled about what his job means for their marriage. Throw in an opiate addiction, and their family life is more than a little complicated. Watson will play a Digital Officer, which makes him a modern essential to Kirkman's administration.

All things considered, it sounds like President Kirkman's administration will be packed with capable (and occasionally shady) characters as he begins his bid for election. Since he wasn't elected to the top office in the United States the first time around, this is his first campaign, and he's not the most politically savvy person on television. Neal Baer went on in his chat with TVLine to explain Kirkman's arc in Season 3:

The arc for Kirkman this season is: Can a man of integrity, valor and dignity swim in a muddy political stream and not get dirty? What are the tradeoffs? Can he maintain his honor?

It's hard to imagine a world in which Tom Kirkman would compromise his honor in a bid for President of the United States, but it's almost even harder to imagine him defeating his opponents without fighting at least a little bit dirty. Will he compromise himself for the greater good, or stick to his honor and probably lose? Or will the people of Designated Survivor see through the political dealings and vote for the man who seems above them all?

Only time will tell. Releasing on Netflix means that fans don't have to wait months to find out what happens at the end of the season, as they can binge-watch if they so choose. The third season of Designated Survivor (and first original streaming on Netflix) will be comprised of ten episodes and debut on Friday, June 7 at 12:01 a.m. PT.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. CinemaBlend's resident expert and interviewer for One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and a variety of other primetime television. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).