'Designated Survivor' Officially Revived at Netflix (With Another Showrunner)

Months after ABC canceled the Kiefer Sutherland drama, the streaming giant has handed out a 10-episode third season renewal with Neal Baer set as its fifth showrunner.
Ben Mark Holzberg/ABC; Greg Doherty/Getty Images
'Designated Survivor' (Inset: Neal Baer)

It's official: Netflix has revived yet another canceled broadcast network show.

The streaming giant has renewed the Kiefer Sutherland vehicle Designated Survivor for a third season — months after ABC canceled the political drama. Neal Baer (Under the Dome, ER) will replace Keith Eisner (The Good Wife) as the Entertainment One drama's fifth overall showrunner. The third season will consist of 10 episodes, less than half the order for its first two runs on the Disney-owned broadcast network. The series will be produced as a Netflix original, meaning ABC Studios is no longer involved as a producer alongside eOne. 

Season three will debut in 2019, with Netflix also landing U.S. and Canadian streaming rights to seasons one and two of the drama as part of the deal. (Hulu had stacking rights in the U.S. to the first two seasons as part of its deal with ABC.) The first two seasons will be available to Netflix subscribers in the U.S. and Canada in the fall as season three is being billed as a global original series.

"Timely and gripping, Designated Survivor has quickened the pulses of our Netflix members outside the U.S. and Canada in its first two seasons," Netflix vp content Bela Bajaria said Wednesday in a statement. "The international audience for the show drove our interest to bring the show to the world as a Netflix original for its third season and we are excited to bring the first two seasons to our U.S. and Canadian members as well.”  

Season three will see Sutherland's President Kirkman explores today's world of campaigning, smear tactics, debate, campaign finance and "fake news." Executive producers on season three include Baer, creator David Guggenheim, eOne's Mark Gordon, Sutherland, Suzan Bymel, Simon Kinberg, Aditya Sood and Peter Noah.

Netflix was the international streaming home for Designated Survivor, with the sizable SVOD funds helping to keep the low-rated drama profitable from the start. The dealmaking to bring the series to Netflix started almost immediately after ABC's May cancellation, with the official deal closing after sorting out streaming rights with Hulu.

"I am thrilled to have the opportunity to play President Kirkman for season three of Designated Survivor with Netflix, eOne and Neal Baer," Sutherland said. "I believe this format will allow us to continue to delve deeply into storylines and issues concerning the American electorate that were not previously possible.”

While not a ratings or critical breakout, Designated Survivor was a profitable show for ABC thanks in part to a lucrative Netflix SVOD deal and strong international sales. The cancellation was among this past upfront season's biggest surprises.

At the time of ABC's cancellation, the network was in talks with Baer to take over as showrunner. During a press call with reporters shortly after lowering the ax on the show, ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey noted that the Disney-owned network's creative concerns about the series were the primary reason for its cancellation. "The show had a lot of behind-the-scenes churn with the number of showrunners," Dungey noted of Designated Survivor, which burned through four in two seasons.

Amy B. Harris (The Carrie DiariesWicked City) was originally tapped to serve as showrunner on the drama created by Guggenheim. After boarding the project ahead of the pilot, Harris was replaced when Designated Survivor scored its official series pickup in May, as the show changed creative direction. She was replaced by Jon Harmon Feldman (Blood & OilNo Ordinary Family), who helped launch the ABC Studios and Mark Gordon Co. co-production to decent reviews and impressive ratings (including DVR records) ahead of its full-season pickup. Feldman left in December 2016 for an overall deal with ABC Studios; he was replaced by Jeff Melvoin (Army Wives). Eisner replaced Melvoin in April 2017.

Logistically, Designated Survivor is a difficult show. Production takes place in Toronto, the writers room is in Los Angeles and Guggenheim is based in New York. Sutherland, who exec produces the series, is said to be highly involved in the show's creative. The show was the first to come out of Gordon's independent banner outside of ABC Studios, with the latter now no longer involved after serving as the lead studio on the series.

"The continuation of the show via Netflix is a win-win for all involved," Gordon said. "The story of President Kirkman and those around him has not been fully told and we look forward to working with our new partner in continuing the show for a global audience.”  
 
For his part, Baer is a veteran showrunner whose credits include CBS' Under the Dome, NBC's Law & Order: SVU (where he spent more than a decade on the Dick Wolf drama) and NBC's ER. He most recently had a pod deal with 20th Century Fox Television, where he moved after a stint at CBS Television Studios. Baer is repped by UTA and Gendler & Kelly.

Designated Survivor becomes the latest broadcast show to be saved by Netflix. The streaming giant also revived Lucifer for a 10-episode fourth season after Fox canceled the Warner Bros. Television drama. Established shows and pilots continue to move beyond their initial homes as the Peak TV era offers more choices where one outlet's miss is another's hit. Other network jumpers this season included Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox to NBC), The Expanse (Syfy to Amazon) and Last Man Standing (ABC to Fox, a year after its cancellation).

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