'Designated Survivor': Canceled Netflix Series' Final Season Holds Odd Connection to Coronavirus Pandemic

The third and final season of Designated Survivor, starring Kiefer Sutherland as the U.S. president, has cut a little too close to reality for some viewers during the coronavirus pandemic. Coincidentally, the last episodes of the show, produced by Entertainment One, centered on a pandemic and how the government responds to it during an election year. The story was plotted by showrunner Neal Baer, a licensed physician who worked on ER and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, in 2018.

Designated Survivor centered on the most extreme scenarios that could shake the U.S. government. It begins with a terrorist attack at the Capitol Building during the State of the Union, leaving the inexperienced Tom Kirkman (Sutherland), the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, to become president. Season 3 followed his re-election bid, and just as the campaign heats up, a viral outbreak starts. The virus appears to be targeting people of color, and conspiracy theorists begin to wonder if the virus was released for political reasons.

"I'm hoping that COVID-19 provides us with a drill," Baer told Variety this week. "Even though it’s caused terrible calamity, it’s also preparing us for what could be much worse. That was my idea in doing it in Designated Survivor."

Baer said he met with Johns Hopkins University, MIT and Harvard experts before writing the season. He started writing in August 2018 and production wrapped in February 2019.

"It's amazing that we can be so technologically advanced in some areas, but we're asking people in Boston to make (protective) masks out of clothes like we're in the time of Betsy Ross," Baer told Variety, referring to the shortages of medical supplies around the country.

Designated Survivor was created by David Guggenheim and originally aired on ABC for two seasons, but moved to Netflix for a third season due to poor ratings. All 10 episodes were released on June 7, 2019 and the show was canceled for good the following month.

Although Designated Survivor Season 3 was released months ago, Netflix users just coming to the show now have been shocked by the similarities the series has with real life.

The third season also touched on another real-life crisis in the U.S., opioid addiction. Lauren Holly joined the show to play a new character who brings up the crisis to Kirkman.


"This is just an enormous problem, and it affects everyone from all walks of life," Holly told PopCulture.com last year. She later called the crisis a "frightening" and "terrible, terrible thing."

Photo credit: Ben Mark Holzberg/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images