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Kiefer Sutherland returning to TV with ‘Designated Survivor’ after 2-year hiatus

Kiefer Sutherland appears in his role as Cabinet

Kiefer Sutherland appears in his role as Cabinet member Tom Kirkman in the upcoming ABC drama "Designated Survivor." Photo Credit: ABC / Bob D'Amico

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Kiefer Sutherland and television appeared to have gone their separate ways for good after the last “24” reboot two years ago. But sirens have an insistent way of singing and Sutherland — nearing 50 and officially past his Jack Bauer days — has heard the song again. At the Television Critics Association press tour here Thursday, he recalled the moment he did:

“I was doing a small film” in New York, when friend and superproducer Mark Gordon handed him the script for ABC’s “Designated Survivor,” about a low-level Cabinet member who suddenly becomes president.

“I had no intention of doing a TV show, but I felt I needed to give this a cursory read so I could respond with some intelligence and explain why I couldn’t do it,” he said. “Then I found myself on page 22, and I thought I was potentially holding the next ten years of my life in my hands.”

He plays Tom Kirkman, a family man married to Alex (Natascha McElhone). During the State of the Union address, Kirkman is sequestered away from the Capitol, as part of a formality — a real one — in which one Cabinet member must not attend the address in case something catastrophic happens.

Something does, and Kirkman suddenly finds himself in a job he is woefully unprepared for. It’s unclear whether the catastrophe is an act of terrorism, or war.

“It has the thriller aspect of trying to find out who had done this,” said Sutherland. Plus family drama: “What happens when, overnight, you go from a very structured life to the life of the president of the United States and first lady? What happens to your children? What sacrifices are made there?”

“Designated Survivor” will air Wednesdays at 10 p.m., starting Sept. 21.

BLACK BACHELOR? Could there be a black “Bachelor” or “Bachelorette?” ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey stopped short of answering “yes” during a question-and-answer session with the press here Thursday, but she did say it was under discussion:

“I would very much like to see some changes there” she said. “I think one of the biggest changes that we need to do is increase the pool of diverse candidates in the beginning because part of what ends up happening as we go along is that there just aren’t as many candidates to ultimately end up in the role of the next bachelor or bachelorette. That’s something we really want to put some effort and energy towards.”

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