DESIGNATED SURVIVOR: Neal Baer on Staging an ER Reunion, Kirkman's Re-Election Campaign - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

DESIGNATED SURVIVOR: Neal Baer on Staging an ER Reunion, Kirkman’s Re-Election Campaign

June 7, 2019 by  

Designated Survivor Season 3 preview

Credit: Netflix

When DESIGNATED SURVIVOR returns for its third season on Friday, June 7, there will be a number of obvious changes: a new home (Netflix, after its ABC cancellation), new faces (including Anthony Edwards and Julie White), and longer episodes that dive deeper into current social issues as President Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) runs for re-election.

Off-camera, there was also a transition, as Neal Baer (ER, LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT, UNDER THE DOME) stepped in to run the series.

“I was sent the pilot in year one,” Baer, who is the drama’s fifth showrunner, recalls. “I read it, I thought it was cool, and I asked what was the conspiracy? And they hadn’t worked things out yet. I’ve done network only and had just come off of running UNDER THE DOME at CBS. But I had an offer to take a deal at Fox…So I turned it down.”

Baer developed a number of pilots during his time with Fox, but nothing moved forward. And then DESIGNATED SURVIVOR came calling again.

“I was the third showrunner [in] year two of SVU, so I had a reputation of trying to bring everyone together,” he says with a laugh. “I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this is a platform I’ve never worked in, but I’ve certainly done politically-based shows with SVU and ER and even UNDER THE DOME and A GIFTED MAN with Patrick Wilson. This platform is just too good to pass up.’ I’ve loved Kiefer’s work, so I had to say yes.”

Transitioning the show from network to a 10-installment streaming series was a delicate, but welcome, challenge. “We didn’t just want to do in-your-face nudity because we could,” he explains. “That’s not the show. It’s really freeing, because Netflix was completely supportive. When I pitched the [bioterrorism] storyline, they were like, ‘Bring it on. Tell us more.’”

One of the new faces in Kirkman’s life is Mars Harper (Edwards), the new Chief of Staff. In addition to Harper’s White House duties, the new CoS is juggling a complicated personal life, including a wife (Lauren Holly) who is facing her own struggles.

Baer recruited Edwards for the role—the duo worked on ER together—and admits he is delighted by how well the actor fit in with the show.

“The first episode when we see [Harper], he’s the first person you see and that’s on purpose,” Baer says. “[It’s like,] ‘Here’s Dr. Greene!’ He’s doing a oner and going down a hallway. And we’re introduced to all the characters…and then we see Kirkman. It was amazing to see the dailies; I was close to tears.”

The showrunner has worked with a number of his former ER stars off- and on-screen post their tenures on the long-running medical drama, and that innate knowledge came in handy when the writers asked Edwards to do some out of the box—and emotionally draining—things. “It felt like ER,” Baer says. “It felt incredible to write these intense scenes for someone who is one of the most honest actors I’ve ever worked with. The writers were like, ‘Neal, do you think Tony will [do this]?’ And I said, ‘Tony will run naked around the block if it’s right for his character. Don’t worry about that.’ It was a thrill.”

The writers also got to push boundaries with Kirkman’s re-election efforts in season 3, which takes center stage as the accidental president runs his first real campaign.

“What I love about the re-election, is Kiefer[‘s character] is running as an Independent, which was [established] in season 2, so we can take on Democrats and Republicans and not tip-toe,” Baer says. “We’re not vague. We take on everything. And really, what the theme of the season for [Kirkman] is can a man of integrity, honesty, balance, dignity, a man who really cares, can he really maintain that integrity and still win? Can he swim with political sharks and not become one himself?”

DESIGNATED SURVIVOR, Season Premiere, Friday, June 7, Netflix

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