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ABC’s Designated Survivor has tapped its fourth showrunner.
The Good Wife grad Keith Eisner has signed on to serve as showrunner on the anticipated second season of the Kiefer Sutherland political thriller, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.
Eisner takes over for Jeff Melvoin (Army Wives), with the latter staying on as an executive producer and to train his replacement. The duo will work together on Designated Survivor’s expected second season. (A formal renewal has not been announced, but the show’s lucrative SVOD deal with Netflix makes the decision a relative no-brainer.)
Designated Survivor will be the first showrunning gig for Eisner, whose credits include Epix’s Graves, Law & Order, Shark, Gilmore Girls and NYPD Blue. He was part of the Emmy-nominated writing team for The Good Wife in 2011 and received multiple WGA Award noms for the former CBS drama.
All told, Eisner becomes Designated Survivor‘s fourth showrunner. 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. 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 & Oil, No 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 for an overall deal with ABC Studios.
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 highly involved in the show’s creative and effectively does a pass on each script before it is finalized alongside Guggenheim. The series is the first to come out of Gordon’s independent banner outside of ABC Studios, with the latter set as the lead producer on the show. Melvoin is based in L.A. and was handpicked for the role after collaborating with Gordon on Lifetime’s ABC Studios drama Army Wives. Melvoin is a veteran producer and Emmy winner for his work on Northern Exposure and counts Alias, Picket Fences, Hill Street Blues and Remington Steele among his credits. He co-founded and chairs the WGA West’s Showrunner Training Program. Eisner and Melvoin will be based in L.A., with the duo already having been working on wrapping up season one. Melvoin also is poised to bring Eisner to the Toronto set to introduce him to the cast and crew.
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. A second-season pickup is all but a done deal.
Designated Survivor becomes the latest freshman drama to see a change at the top. Other rookies to make showrunner changes include Lee Daniels’ Fox music drama Star, which will have had more showrunners than seasons when it returns for its sophomore run. NBC’s DC Comics comedy Powerless, Fox’s live-action/animated hybrid comedy Son of Zorn and CBS’ Kevin James comedy Kevin Can Wait also replaced their showrunners.
The 2016-2017 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.
Eisner is repped by CAA, the Shuman Company and Gendler & Kelly
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