ABC's Designated Survivor is one of the most highly-anticipated new dramas premiering this fall. The political thriller explores what happens when a low-ranking cabinet member, Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland), becomes the President of the United States after the Capitol is blown up during the State of the Union Address.
The show will not only tackle the mystery of who masterminded the terrorist plot, but track the journey of a man who goes from being an everyday citizen to the leader of the free world. Sutherland, his co-star Natascha McElhone and executive producers talked about what's ahead in the show's inaugural season during the Television Critics Association fall previews on Thursday.
Here's what viewers can expect from Designated Survivor:
1. The show is more than one genre. It's obvious there's a lot going on within Designated Survivor, and it can't be compared to just one other show. Producers Jon Harmon Feldman and David Guggenheim described how the show draws from several dramas and thrillers.
"There are a few tones at play in the show. There is a West Wing component of a man governing and his team governing our nation at this critical time," Feldman said. "It's also the Homeland aspect of investigating the conspiracy. It also has a House of Cards component, which is the characters and the business of government through the eyes of these characters."
There's also a family story at the center of the show. "What he's going through with his family and how he deals with that with everything that's going on is really important," Guggenheim said. "We do spend real time with Natasha and the kids."
2. It's set for a short season, but could be more. The executive producers confirmed that Season 1 currently consists of 13 episodes, but they are ready to extend to a full season of 22 episodes if ABC gives them the green light. "We'd do 52 episodes if we could, but that would probably kill everyone," Guggenheim joked.
3. Don't assume the show has a typical terrorist. Sutherland hinted that the terrorist reveal in Designated Survivor may not point to ISIS or a Muslim extremist group as people might assume. Instead, viewers should be looking more inward for the suspect.
"We actually know who did it, and we know where the show is going. It's not necessarily going to be the thing that everyone seems to jump to," he said. "The situation in Germany was interesting because everyone was talking about ISIS after that [July shooting] in Munich. The reality was that it wasn't that, it was a much more of a homegrown nature. I think that television has a responsibility to confront what's actually happening in the world, rather than covering it in post-tense."
4. Prepare for sane political debates. As Tom Kirkland tries to figure out what type of president he wants to be, he'll have to hear from advisors on both sides of the political aisle. That's a prospect that excited Sutherland about the role, because it means the show can house even-handed political debates that aren't possible in America's current political climate.
"[The pilot] also allowed itself in the format, on a political level, to have discussions that I think we need to have in this country in a rational way and not [be] so divisive," he said. "You'll hear really important and respectable points of view from both the left and the right."
5. Don't expect Tom Kirkman to be your liberal dream president. Designated Survivor may have West Wing-components, but it's not about an Aaron Sorkin dream administration. Tom Kirkland aspires to be an Franklin D. Roosevelt type of leader, but Sutherland admits that the power of being president will begin to chip away at Kirkman's integrity.
"Over time, as that becomes more politicized and the Congress and Senate are being put together — we start to chip away at someone's commitment to what they believe," he said. "That is going to be played out between Natascha's character and mine. He might go quite a long way in the wrong direction and then come quite a long way back."
Designated Survivor premieres Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 10/9c on ABC.