Host to a U.S. president: It’s a familiar role for William & Mary. But Wednesday night’s “breaking news” mention of the university wasn’t for a real President but a fictional dignitary — TV President Tom Kirkman, commander-in-chief in ABC’s hit drama “Designated Survivor.”
In this week's episode Kirkman, played by actor Kiefer Sutherland, attended a Town Hall meeting staged at William & Mary. The episode aired April 5. The plot had the event broadcast live across the country.
If you think you missed a celebrity sighting, don’t be sad. Sutherland and the show’s crew didn’t come to campus to film the scenes. Those were captured on a soundstage in Canada. But, the show’s producers contacted University Communications in February asking for permission to use the William & Mary name.
“Designated Survivor” is in its first season on ABC. The show’s premise is the rise to the Oval Office of a lower-level cabinet member, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, following an attack on the Capitol the night of a State of the Union address.
Government practice is that on the night of the State of the Union — when the entirety of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial Branches of the government are in one location — that one cabinet member (selected on an undisclosed rotating basis) is asked not to attend the address and instead wait in a secret and secure location in the event of a catastrophe. That cabinet member is known as the “designated survivor.”
This isn’t the first time William & Mary has been named in TV or film. Just last week, the university was mentioned in another ABC program, “Quantico.” Characters in that show were even represented visiting the Gold Leafe bar in Williamsburg (sound familiar?). Several years ago, lead character Nick George of the television series “Dirty, Sexy Money” (also on ABC, hmmm … perhaps there’s an insider) was cast as an alumnus of William & Mary Law School. It was even part of that show’s plot that George (played by Peter Krause) and his wife met at the university, something they discussed in dialogue during the course of the show. You would have needed a keen eye, but that set also included a prop diploma provided by the university in George’s law office. “Dirty, Sexy Money” aired from 2007 to 2009.
In film, fans of actress Jodie Foster may recall seeing her character (Alexandra Rover) in 2008’s “Nim’s Island” sporting a William & Mary T-shirt. At the time, a representative for Fox-Walden, U.S. distributors of the film, said it was the directors' recollection that while discussing the character with Foster during prep for the movie it was she who came up with the notion that her character should be an alumna of William & Mary.
On “Designated Survivor,” this week’s show didn’t have “Kirkman” on campus long, but producers said they’d be happy to have him return.