Kiefer Sutherland returned to television Wednesday in the new political drama “Designated Survivor.” He plays mild-mannered cabinet member Tom Kirkman, who is thrust into the presidency following a terrorist attack — think Jack Bauer with glasses. Reviews were “generally favorable” per Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes described the critical consensus thus: “Kiefer Sutherland skillfully delivers the drama in ‘Designated Survivor,’ a fast-paced, quickly engrossing escapist political action fantasy.”
Predicted to be the breakout hit of the fall season, 10 million Americans tuned into the premiere, which rated a 2.2 in the key sales demographic (18-49), solid for a show in 2016. Although not quite a “breakout hit,” this is good news for fourth-place ABC. Designated Survivor” is instantly the network’s most-watched show, although not its highest-rated, as Sutherland increasingly draws an aging demographic.
In a rave review for the San Francisco Chronicle, David Wiegand asserted that not only does ABC’s new drama provide Sutherland with “one of the best roles of his career,” but that Tom Kirkman is “an even better role than Jack Bauer.” That is especially high praise in light of how many Best Actor awards Sutherland won for playing that character on “24” in over 200 episodes from 2001 to 2014. He took home an Emmy in 2006 on his fifth of sixth consecutive nominations for the show (he also contended in 2009 for one of the telefilm), a Golden Globe in 2001 on the first of six bids and two Screen Actors Guild Awards (2003, 2005) from six. He also reaped five nominations from the Television Critics Association and one from the Critics’ Choice Awards.
A nomination for Sutherland in Best Drama Actor at the 2017 Emmys would the first for a star of the big four commercial broadcast networks since Hugh Laurie contended for the penultimate season of Fox’s “House” in 2011, as well as the first for a rookie network show since Simon Baker in CBS’s “The Mentalist” in 2009. No other acting category has experienced this drought, so perhaps limited options are to blame.
On the Best Drama Actress side, the Emmys have nominated five first-season performances from broadcast networks since Simon Baker. Each woman had significant awards cachet: Emmy winner Julianna Margulies (“The Good Wife,” 2010), Oscar winner Kathy Bates (“Harry’s Law,” 2011), Emmy nominee for multiple roles Connie Britton (“Nashville, 2012), two-time Oscar nominee Viola Davis (“How to Get Away with Murder,” 2014) and Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson (“Empire,” 2014). Sutherland might be the male star that the Emmys have been waiting for, with a film career spanning three decades to boot.
No part of “24” was more celebrated by the Emmys than its score. Composer Sean Callery received 10 nominations — a perfect record — including three wins (2003, 2006, 2010). He has 16 career Emmy nominations and won his fourth Emmy this month, for the “Jessica Jones” main title theme music. Callery has reunited with Sutherland for “Designated Survivor” and is probably the show’s best chance at Creative Arts recognition, given his extraordinary track record.
Nearly as recognized as the achievement by “24” in score was its achievement in sound editing. The show received nine nominations, missing only in 2002 for its first season, and three wins (2005, 2007, 2010). While the sound editors from “24” did not follow Sutherland and Callery to “Designated Survivor,” the show has compensated with sound effects editor John Peccatiello and foley atist Adam De Coster, who were Emmy-nominated for the first season of “Fargo.”
Finally, “Designated Survivor” could contend for Best Contemporary/Fantasy Production Design even if it is snubbed elsewhere. In the three years of this category, the Emmys have nominated at least two programs without any above-the-line bids. “House of Cards” has been nominated all three years; the branch’s affinity for White House sets is good news for “Designated Survivor” and it helps that three-time Emmy nominee Cabot McMullen is in charge of these ones.