Designated Survivor is based on the idea that the entire US government was killed in a terrorist attack, save for the "designated survivor", Tom Kirkman, who was off-site at the time. The line of succession for president was followed and Kirkman, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (12th in line), became the president.

However, the show early on has the problem that he does not have any cabinet members since they were all killed in the terrorist attack. But why can't they follow the line of succession for each of those?

For instance, the Secretary of State has its own line of succession. While I'm not sure who all would attend a president's state of the union, I'm quite certain that not all of the United Nations representatives (10th in line) or the ambassadors to six different countries (11th in line) would be there, so they would have survived. Why didn't people like these become cabinet members?

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    Because it's a TV show...and that would take too long to explain.
    – Paulie_D
    Jan 20, 2017 at 19:42

1 Answer 1


The senior surviving official of each department would become ACTING Secretary but to become actual Secretary requires confirmation by the Senate and they had all the Senators killed. (They were quite unrealistic,though,in having the Governors refusing to appoint new Senators until Kirkman made offers that they couldn't ask of him but their appointed Senators could...in reality the Governors would have been racing each other to fill Senate seats because of the seniority system,and the president pro tempore of the Senate elected once a quorum of Senators was seated would have been next in line to succeed Kirkman until the House,whose election would be governed by widely varying state laws rather than nationally simultaneous as on the show,had elected a Speaker).

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    It's my understanding that in the real world, the surviving official would still become the actual cabinet member, rather than an acting member (for the same reason that Kirkman is the real president, not an acting one). So I don't think this explains why they weren't there. The show does have Congresswoman Hookstraten approving appointments, but no mention is made of any acting cabinet members already serving (and of course, Kirkman has a few scenes where he looks sadly at the empty cabinet table). Jan 22, 2017 at 23:23
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    @Thunderforge: Kirkman was not automatically made the President. He was the acting President, who was then sworn in (which made him the real President). Before he was sworn in, Kirkman was only the acting President. He wasn't acting President for long, as the nation would be inclined to appoint its new President much faster than it would its cabinet members.
    – Flater
    Sep 18, 2017 at 12:37

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