The Soft Bigotry of High Expectations: What Designated Survivor Has Taught Me About Quality


KNXV Designated Survivor_1474335849880_46600607_ver1.0_640_480I have a confession to make. I’m a bigot. Fifteen years of truly outstanding television have raised my expectations to the point that I’ve discovered I can no longer tolerate mediocre TV.

Take Designated Survivor. (Stay with me here; this will tie into marketing communications.) The ABC show, starring Kiefer Sutherland, had a terrific premise: HUD Secretary becomes president when the Capitol is bombed during the State of the Union address.

So I tried it. Binge-watched DS through its entire first season and into its second. And I’m done. No more. Great concept, but I just can’t take the execution.


I hope you’re being paid well, Kiefer. Because you’re better than this.

Oh, if only a cable channel, even basic cable, had picked up this show. If only the writing stables for Mad Men, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Homeland, House of Cards, and The Americans were set loose with a concept like DS. It would make for some high-quality TV viewing — especially considering that the cast is top-notch.

But no. This is broadcast, where imagination goes to die. I don’t know or care who writes Designated Survivor, but I know this: This show could have been great with a quality runner. Instead, DS scripts are formulaic, box-checking and button-pushing, written to network TV’s broadest-common-denominator standards. Its characters are made of cardboard, with not a hint of nuance. Its loud, obnoxious soundtrack alerts viewers when something IMPORTANT is occurring. And its credibility-straining plot devices tumble over each other to prevent channel-changing.


Oh, Virginia. You stole my heart in Sideways. And now you’re reduced to a two-dimensional foil.

(In a recent two-episode span — spoiler alert — the President is shot, the FBI Deputy Director’s child is killed, and the Vice President is killed by his wife…who then commits suicide. Alrighty then.) Speaking of plot, the sloppy holes in same can easily fit a few Secret Service Suburbans. And no, none of this is done with a Scandal-esque wink and smile. It’s dead serious.

Okay, enough Designated Survivor-bashing. The point is that where writing is concerned — any kind of writing, including marketing communications — you can go in one of two directions. Cheap out, pay standard rates and get standard fare that checks boxes and fills white space. Or pay a tad more and get something that differentiates you from the crowd, and makes you proud.

Maybe a TV review was a roundabout way to make my eventual point. But I’ll admit, it felt good to vent about 15 hours of my life that I’ll never get back.

6 comments on “The Soft Bigotry of High Expectations: What Designated Survivor Has Taught Me About Quality
Alice E.Says March 29, 2017 at 4:46 pm

thanks, John, you just saved me from investing any time on this one! How do you like The Americans this season?


    John FatterossSays March 29, 2017 at 5:14 pm

    Americans gets a thumbs up from me, Alice. Enjoy!


David LevySays March 30, 2017 at 12:54 am

Nailed it Fatt Man. Feel the same way about this show. Thanks for the spoiler. Now I don’t have to watch the rest.


    John FatterossSays March 30, 2017 at 11:11 am

    Thanks, David. On the bright side, The Americans’ new season is underway.


AaronSays March 30, 2017 at 8:15 pm

Great point(s). I couldn’t agree more, John. Many industries rely far too much on “checking the box” rather than breaking out of the box. Thanks for the insight and for the spoiler alert =)


    John FatterossSays March 31, 2017 at 11:37 am

    Thanks,Aaron. Glad you enjoyed the diatribe.



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