The Untold Reason ‘Designated Survivor’ Season 4 Has Not Returned to TV Yet

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When fans thought the -led presidential drama Designated Survivor had come to stay after its ABC cancellation, it was ditched yet again by the same streamer that saved it. The American network gave it the hook in May 2018 but then the streaming giant, Netflix swooped in like a phoenix to save it out of the ashes, ordering it for a fresh 10-episode third season. Sadly, after just one season, every hope for a fourth season was dashed by the same streamer.

The political thriller drama had a breakout season with strong reviews and a very healthy audience following its debut in 2016, with more than 10 million viewers tuning in to watch the season one premiere. It follows Sutherland as he takes on the role of an American politician, Tom Kirkman who becomes the US President after an explosion kills everyone in the line of succession ahead of him.

Unfortunately, the series was axed by ABC following its sophomore run after ratings fell pretty hard. Netflix picked it up and gave it an opportunity for a third season which subsequently hit the streamer on June 7, 2019. On July 24, 2019, they announced that the ABC cast-off would not be renewed for season 4 after the season 3 try-out. It was established that the cancellation wasn’t about rating. What could it be then?

The Untold Reason Designated Survivor Season 4 Has Not Returned to TV Yet

It was easy to conclude ABC ditched Designated Survivors due to a decline in ratings but that was ruled out after then-ABC chief Channing Dungey didn’t even cite it while commenting on the network’s decision to cancel the show. Instead, he pointed to “behind-the-scenes churn” which made the network feel less than confident with the creative direction of the show. The series had a number of showrunners come and go in a short time.

Created by David Guggenheim, the series had four various showrunners in its first two seasons alone including Amy B. Harris, Jon Harmon Feldman, Jeff Melvoin, and Keith Eisner. This, probably, added to the drop in ratings, led to its first demise in May 2018.

Four months later, Netflix known for their habit of reviving broadcast and cable castoffs stepped in to save the series, apparently not fazed by the “churn”. Season 3 premiered on June 9, 2019, with Neal Baer at the helm.

It picked up on the intense cliffhangers from the previous season and shows President Kirkman struggling with a moral dilemma, higher stakes, as well as bigger consequences which sets up Season 4. Unfortunately, it was never to happen as Netflix officially cancelled the series in July 2019, less than two months of possible viewing time.


Just like in its first outing on ABC, Designated Survivor started pretty well on Netflix. It was well-received by critics and was also one of the service’s most-watched shows ranking. Thus, it came as a surprise to many when Netflix decided not to continue the series.

With ABC, the rating plunge was apparent but it is somewhat difficult to know just how bad things were ratings-wise on the streaming service. They are not ones to reveal their viewing figures even though ratings are a major deciding factor for any shows continuity. One thing it is known for, however, is that the streamers watch analytics carefully and if a revival doesn’t resonate with the viewers, it quickly cast it off.

Notwithstanding, the show’s star and executive producer, Sutherland pointed out that complicated contracts rather than ratings were the central issue in the show’s cancellation, during a conversation with Simon Mayo on Scala Radio. As per his revelation, contracts were so complicated and different from network television to Netflix. As such, when the streaming agent didn’t book a lot of the actors on the show, they took other jobs.

While Designated Survivor Season 4 isn’t happening, Netflix in a statement it released after the cancellation noted that all its 50-plus episodes will remain available on their platform for years to come.

Given that Designated Survivor has been cancelled by both ABC and Netflix, it’s highly unlikely that season 4 will ever happen on any other network. As a result, Tom Kirkman’s story is, unfortunately, officially over.

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