ABC’s Designated Survivor is making yet another change at the top.
Showrunner Jon Harmon Feldman has been replaced by Army Wives grad Jeff Melvoin, The Hollywood Reporter has learned. Feldman will stay in business with co-producers ABC Studios. The well-regarded showrunner is near a deal for a rich new overall deal with the studio and will be attached to multiple new projects heading into pilot season.
This marks the latest showrunner change on ABC’s freshman Kiefer Sutherland political soap. Amy B. Harris (The Carrie Diaries, Wicked City) was originally tapped to serve as showrunner on the drama created by David Guggenheim. After boarding the Mark Gordon Co. drama ahead of the pilot, Harris was replaced as Designated Survivor scored its official series pickup in May as the show’s creative changed direction.
Logistically, Designated Survivor has become a difficult show. Production takes place in Toronto; the writers’ room is in Los Angeles; and creator Guggenheim is based in New York. The series is the first to come out of Gordon’s new independent banner outside of ABC Studios, with the latter set as the lead producer on the show. Melvoin, who will be based in L.A., will now take over showrunning duties. The deal reunites Melvoin with Gordon — with whom he worked on Army Wives — as well as ABC Studios, who produced the former Lifetime drama. Sutherland, who remains an executive producer on Designated Survivor, effectively does a pass on each script before it is finalized alongside Guggenheim, who continues to write and exec produce.
The well-liked and respected Feldman took over for Harris and helped the drama, co-produced by ABC Studios and the Mark Gordon Co., launch to decent reviews and impressive ratings (including DVR records) ahead of its full-season pickup. Insiders have routinely praised Feldman for his ability to keep the show on track. His new pact, expected to be a two-year deal, is his second with ABC Studios, where he most recently took over as showrunner on last year’s one-and-done Don Johnson drama Blood & Oil. Repped by WME, his credits also include No Ordinary Family, Dirty Sexy Money, American Dreams and The Wonder Years.
Melvoin is a veteran producer and Emmy winner for his work on Northern Exposure. His credits include Army Wives, Alias, Picket Fences, Hill Street Blues and Remington Steele. The five-time Emmy nominee was awarded the WGA West’s Morgan Cox Award for his service to the guild, which has included co-founding and chairing its Showrunner Training Program. He is repped by CAA.
Designated Survivor remains a key property for ABC. Despite cooling off following its strong out-of-the-gate launch, Netflix inked a multiple-season deal with co-producers Entertainment One, Mark Gordon Co. and ABC Studios for international rights to the show, helping to solidify its likely renewal.
Designated Survivor becomes the latest freshman drama to see a change at the top. Other rookies to make showrunner changes include Lee Daniels’ Star; NBC’s DC Comics comedy Powerless; Fox’s live-action/animated hybrid comedy Son of Zorn; and CBS’ Kevin James comedy Kevin Can Wait.
The 2016-17 broadcast season is starting to mirror last year, in which multiple showrunners departed and network series featured a startling number of recastings in what one insider described as the season of “bad marriages” as networks continue to face the pressure of “too much TV.”
Designated Survivor centers on a lower-level U.S. cabinet member (Sutherland) who is suddenly appointed president after a catastrophic attack during the State of the Union kills everyone above him in the presidential line of succession. The series is described as a family drama wrapped around a conspiracy thriller about an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation.