WNEP Goes Behind The Scenes of ABC’s ‘Designated Survivor’

TORONTO -- Every Wednesday, you can see some familiar faces on ABC's new hit show "Designated Survivor."

For the past six months, on-air personalities at WNEP have appeared on the popular show.

Newswatch 16 took a drive up to Toronto, Canada to visit the set and take a rare look behind the scenes. The show prides itself on making its set as close to the real White House as possible.

"We went to great lengths to buy furniture of the appropriate period and we went to the White House Historical Society to get access to the paintings that are in the White House, and the paintings that are hanging in our White House are duplicates of the real paintings," said Co-Executive Producer Ann Kindberg. "Our Oval Office is I think more exact than many of them. It's the exact dimensions in terms of the width and the length and also in terms of the height."

"There's a reverence you have for [the Oval Office] and all of the sudden you find yourself sitting straighter and for what has gone through that room for what has gone through that room and the things that have been dealt with in that room," said Sutherland.

The set is so vast with multiple stages, rooms, and long hallways. Italia Ricci, who plays the president's chief of staff, tells Newswatch 16 her favorite scenes to shoot are the ones where she's walking and talking down a long hallway, showing off the set's impeccable design and attention to detail.

"You can walk from room to room to room," said Italia Ricci. "That's why we have so many walk and talks where we're moving throughout the thing. It's because you feel like you're in an actual building. Other than the giant lights and cameras in your face, you feel like you really have places to go and you really are in this environment and it really just adds to the authenticity of it."

The shows imagines the country after a tragedy, when the Capitol blows up during a state of the union address. The designated survivor--in this case, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development played by Kiefer Sutherland--becomes President.

In an effort to make the show as authentic as possible, the creators of "Designated Survivor" chose to use real newscasters to play newscasters on the show.

"To be able to have what you're listening to actually be in front of you and get a sense of the speed at which the other person is talking, it allows you to react in time to that and it also sets up the pace to where when we stop watching the newscast and how we are going to talk to each other," said Kiefer Sutherland, who plays President Kirkman on the show. "It's incredibly helpful. Trust me. Of all of the fantastic actors that I have seen out there, trying to do a newscast having never done one is incredibly difficult and so we are so incredibly grateful that you guys helped us out."

When Newswatch 16 anchors and reporters appear on televisions on the show, the actors are actually seeing our newscasters on television and then reacting.

"I think on set we were never quite sure if, was this made for our show or did we write the show around this because it is so authentic and it's just so great and it helps us too," said Ricci, who plays Emily Rhodes, President Kirkman's chief of staff. "Instead of staring at a blue screen with X marks on it, we get to see you guys and we get to actually buy it and engage with it."

"It is always a problem on shows that use a whole lot of television anchors and pundits, to get actors who can do this properly and who have the right cadence and know how to read news," said Co-Executive Producer Ann Kindberg. "I tell them that it's a miracle that we send the words off to Pennsylvania and WNEP and then we get back people saying them correctly! It feels like the real news reports."

While sometimes our jobs as newscasters on this show have us critiquing the president, or delivering harsh truths to the American people, Kiefer Sutherland tells Newswatch 16, President Kirkman is grateful for our part, no matter how small. And he is thankful that our Newswatch 16 viewers continue to tune in to "Designated Survivor" each week.

"It is because of you the viewer or the fan that allows us to do this, so I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart," he added. "It's an honor and a privilege. Thank you."

"Designated Survivor" airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m.

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