Elizabeth Vargas Interviews Kiefer Sutherland And Real Designated Survivors This Week On ABC’s ‘20/20’

Kiefer Sutherland’s new ABC TV series, Designated Survivor, is a huge hit which averages 7.3 million total viewers according to Nielsen’s Live + Same Day viewing. The show is ABC’s most-watched and highest-rated show in the time period in 19 years and 10 years respectively according to The Wrap. The former hits were Primetime Live (1997-1998) and Lost (2006-2007). Before the show began airing, many Americans were not even aware that a designated survivors really existed, but they have since at least 1984 if not earlier.

During the State of the Union addresses or other times of the year when the president and the top officials are all meeting at the same location, a member of the United States Cabinet is chosen by the White House chief to serve as a designated survivor (or designated successor) and stay at a secret location until the event is over. If for some reason tragedy strikes, the designated survivor would assume the presidential duties if all other employee above him or her are killed.

Dan Glickman
Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman speaks before the Senate Agriculture Committee Wednesday, Oct. 8, 1997 in Washington. [Image by William Philpott/AP Images]

This week, Elizabeth Vargas will interview, Dan Glickman and Gale Norton, two real designated survivors, for a 20/20 broadcast airing this Wednesday at 10:00 p.m. on ABC. Dan Glickman, who at one time served as President Bill Clinton’s Agriculture Secretary, was a designated survivor during the 1997 State of the Union address.

“I’ve often thought about the fact – what if I did have to become president?” Glickman told KOLO TV. “And you know, you just have to do it.”

At the time, the instructions given to him were pretty simple: stay away from Washington during the President’s speech. He was also told that he would be accompanied by “appropriate people.” He chose to visit his daughter in New York. According to Mic.com, that meant he had to travel by Air Force plane with a doctor, Secret Service agents and a military officer who had nuclear codes. That was before 9/11.

“Today, I think the scenario is viewed as much different,” he said. “The security is just remarkably stepped up, because the threat levels are much higher.”

Gale Norton Gale Norton, left, nominated to be Secretary of the Interior by President-elect Bush. (Image by Michael DiBari/AP Photo)

In 2002, President George W. Bush selected Interior Secretary Gale Norton to serve as designated survivor, the first to serve following the 9/11 attacks. Elizabeth Vargas interviewed both Glickman and Norton for Wednesday’s broadcast to discuss how the role has changed over the years and will also share insight about real top secret bunkers and underground “cities” where the surviving government would operate if a real catastrophe were to occur.

The special 20/20 presentation also includes an interview with DesignatedSurvivor’s Kiefer Sutherland (who plays the mythical President Tom Kirkman), co-star Kal Penn (who is actually a former White House staffer) and TV series consultant Rich Klein on how the show goes about making the series as accurate as possible.

David Muri and Elizabeth Vargas
David Muri and Elizabeth Vargas host ABC's "20/20." [Image by ABC]

Also included during the hour-long broadcast:

  • A report about the 2010 Smolensk air disaster, which had killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski as well as some top Polish government officials and military leaders. The report will address what caused the plane to go down and how the Polish government was able to pick up and move on afterward.
  • Martha Raddatz, ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent will give an in-depth look at what happened during the assassination attempt of Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley Jr. by talking to former ABC News White House Correspondent Sam Donaldson who witnessed the event and Richard Allen, Reagan’s then National Security Advisor.

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[Featured Image by ABC]