Here’s Why ‘Designated Survivor’ Has Had So Many Showrunners

Head writer Keith Eisner tells TheWrap the show now has sights set on 10 seasons

Designated Survivor” has been a buzzy show right out of the gate since launching last fall on ABC, thanks in part to Kiefer Sutherland taking the reins as President Tom Kirkman. So why has the sophomore drama had so much turnover in the showrunner position?

Just before the David Guggenheim-created show was picked up for a second season in May, the network announced that Keith Eisner would replace Jeff Melvoin as head writer, making him the fourth person to hold that role for the nascent series. (Amy B. Harris and Jon Harmon Feldman also previously had the gig.)

“I think sometimes this is just the evolution with a new, big tentpole show where it looks to find its proper voice,” Eisner told TheWrap. “I have great respect for everyone who did this before me, and I think they all did a good job.”

“The Good Wife,” “Law & Order” and “Gilmore Girls” alum said the series was looking to develop its character relationships and shorter-term storylines, rather than focus on action and government conspiracy.

“I just think the show was looking for a new direction that encompassed more ‘West Wing’-type issues and more personal issues, and that’s really very much my background,” Eisner said. “My background is more ‘Good Wife’ and procedural stuff, as opposed to just thriller stuff, so I was sought out for that, and that’s the direction I’ve been taking this show.”

He said the show’s team is now concentrating on how to take the hook of its premise and extend it into a project that lasts for years to come.

“It really is a function of how we make the show a show that can go 10 seasons, and the way to do that is to create really good standalone A-stories and really good personal relationships, and that’s something that I have experience doing, and so I think it’s really about that as much as anything else.”

Eisner also spoke with TheWrap about the planned exit for Natascha McElhone (First Lady Alex Kirkman), with Eisner saying that the departure leads to “new ground.”

Designated Survivor” airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on ABC.