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Designated Survivor Exclusive Interview With Italia Ricci & Jessica Grasl Co-Executive Producer and Writer

While in LA for the #PixarCocoEvent and #ABCTVEvent I visited the Disney ABC TV Building to screen the newest episode of Designated Survivor. After we screened the newest episode of ABC TV’s Designated Survivor we had an exclusive interview with the show’s Co-Executive Producer and writer Jessica Grasl. As a surprise guest, Italia Ricci who plays the Cheif of Staff in the show joined us via video chat. This show is an edge of the seat thriller that keeps me guessing at how they will handle the next hurdle the world seems to throw at them.

“Designated Survivor” airs on Wednesdays at 10|9c on ABC. Episodes are also available via streaming and on demand.

Make sure you tune in tonight for the newest episode of ABC’s Designated Survivor Episode. It has a twist that you just have to see for yourself! Check out tonight’s synopsis and then view the full Offical Trailer of the show if you haven’t had a chance to before. Definitely one of my favorite Fall Lineup TV Shows to watch this season.

“Family Ties” – When a Turkish activist ignites protests in the U.S., Turkey’s president demands his extradition while the first family unknowingly finds themselves in the center of a battle that could threaten Leo’s future, on ABC’s “Designated Survivor,” airing WEDNESDAY, NOV. 15 (10:00—11:00 p.m. EST).

Interview With Italia Ricci and Jessica Grasl Co-Executive Producer and Writer

I had a great time interviewing ABC’s Designated Survivor Co-Executive Producer and writer Jessica Grasl and Italia Ricci who plays Emily the Cheif of Staff. This interview was definitely empowering and gave me great insight into what it takes to make this political drama from the writing room to our TV screens.

 

Storyboarding

Jessica Grasl: Designated Survivor uses storyboards with color-coded notes that are designated for each of the cast they go from marker boards to index cards, to computers. Previous shows Jessica has worked on had magnets, which is really cool, so you can move the magnets but all involve a lot of writing, and erasing, and rewriting, so it gets into your brain.

Keeping The Stories Cohesive

Jessica Grasl: it’s a puzzle, the challenge is that if something changes in episode fourteen, it affects what’s happening in episode fifteen and sixteen. It happens a lot, where you’re like, oh wait, I thought that you were killing off this character. That’s the fun of a serialized show is you’re not just like, doing the beginning, middle, end in every episode, that these things are continuing, you’ve gotta be flexible because it’s all gonna change. Sometimes it’s right before it starts shooting.

DESIGNATED SURVIVOR – ABC’s “Designated Survivor” stars Kiefer Sutherland as Tom Kirkman. (ABC/Bob D’Amico)

Is There Ever A Such Thing As Too Much Drama?

Jessica Grasl: I think that the challenge is probably more, um, to make the drama compelling rather than complicated, one of the challenges of storytellers is, you know, we have six acts to tell in an X amount of time, you need to have the story, it has to keep moving. And what we always have to be aware of is how many times are we sort of twisting things and is that intriguing, or does that just become confusing.

“Designated Survivor,” airing WEDNESDAY, NOV. 15 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST). (ABC/Sven Frenzel) ITALIA RICCI, KIEFER SUTHERLAND, PAULO COSTANZO

Realism With a White House Setting

Jessica Grasl: We have really good consultants, we always have somebody on our staff who used to work in the White House, and so I knock on his door all the time, and I’m like, what do you call this? Or what would you do about this but we also have consultants on the episode that I wrote which was last week, it took place on a Navy ship. I know nothing about the Navy, you can go to Wikipedia, and then you grabbed a lot of books, and there a lot of really boring books on my desk about ships.

But I also got to spend a bunch of time on the phone with an admiral, he’s actually, he’s a contributor on CNN, that’s really fun about a show because it’s the White House, you’re not just solving crime every week; you’re not just dealing with political or law stories every week it’s like a new sandbox that you’re gonna have to play in.

DESIGNATED SURVIVOR – ABC’s “Designated Survivor” stars Italia Ricci as Emily Rhodes. (ABC/Bob D’Amico)

Italia With Her Script and Work Environment On Set

Italia Ricci: We’ll get the script maybe three days before we search to the end, but there will be more days where I’ll have to learn ten minutes before I work that.

You develop this muscle that is sort of like fear and panic and it’s great because it keeps you on your toes, and the writing is usually for the better, so it’s great in that aspect. Your performance, you feel like you haven’t really been given the time to prepare, so you feel like, if only I had a couple more days, but it happens like that on every show- that’s the struggle on television is that all has to happen so quickly.

Television is more based in directors, media, one person on set could have a change to a line, and then you know, by the time all the phone calls are made, it’s changed- the scene, or the ending of a scene that somebody’s spent so long working on, and you just sort of hold your breath and say, let’s do it.

ABC’s Designated Survivor, airing WEDNESDAY, NOV. 15 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST). (ABC/Sven Frenzel) ITALIA RICCI, ADAN CANTO

What Italia Hopes She Portrays With Her Character As Chief of Staff 

Italia Ricci: Well, I hope that she is able to portray that women are just as smart, just as strong, and just as tough and present, and capable as a man in that world, if not better. I think I’m a better Chief of Staff than Aaron was, but you know, I’m a little biased. I like the idea of saying, hey, we can do it, too, and we can wear killer heels while we do it, so I really enjoy being able to have that sort of an especially since she didn’t think she was ready for it, and then so push your own limits and really see what potential you don’t even know that you have. So I’ve really enjoyed that part about Emily.

“Designated Survivor,” airing WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 25 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EDT). (ABC/Ian Watson) KAL PENN, PAULO CONSTANZO, ITALIA RICCI

Italia and Her Character She Plays

Italia Ricci: I seem always to get lucky enough to play very, confident, smart ambitious women that I kind of feel like if I wasn’t an actor, I would hopefully have been. I want to relate to that, I would like to think that’s what I would be like if in an alternate universe.

“Designated Survivor,” airing WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 4 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EDT). (ABC/Ben Mark Holzberg)
FRED TOYE (DIRECTOR), MAGGIE Q

Shooting Schedule For Each Episode

Jessica Grasl: It takes nine days to shoot an episode, and there are usually two days of that, where there are two episodes at once, so it’s a lot. Our days are averaged, I wanna say, between thirteen to sixteen hours, and then you go home, and you have to learn your lines, and you go to bed, and you wake up. That’s like this house, it goes by so quickly because it’s so fun and when you finish it, you’re like, did we really shoot that full episode already.

It’s, it feels like it’s non-stop. But talking to Kal who worked in the White House basically, that’s why everybody sort of end up dating because they never meet anybody else. You’re forced to sort of live within that building because you never go home, and you never have a chance to relax. That sort of is your life, and then touching back on the authenticity shooting with a consultant who was in the White House is amazing because they’ll be like that would never happen, they’re like, oh, artistic differences- stop it, stop it.

ABC’s “Designated Survivor,” airing WEDNESDAY, NOV. 15 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST). (ABC/Ben Mark Holzberg)
KIEFER SUTHERLAND

Freedom to Change Characters Positions in Episodes

Jessica Grasl: There’s so many people involved and so many storylines with a great writing team, I have a lot of trust in our, our writing team. everybody gets their episode. If I feel she should be more something, it’s like, just hold on and wait, you’ll see. And then it’s like, oh, okay, it makes sense. I trust them and they haven’t done her wrong yet.

ABC’s “Designated Survivor,” airing WEDNESDAY, NOV. 15 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST). (ABC/Ben Mark Holzberg)
NATASCHA MCELHONE, KIEFER SUTHERLAND, TANNER BUCHANAN

From the writing room to the actors, interactions

Jessica Grasl: Every show is a little bit different in terms of how often writers are on set. Honestly for writers that’s the fun part because you’re hard part is kind of over, and then now it becomes everybody else’s hard work, so you get to sit in the director’s chair and eat snacks, I wear my pajamas on set so you don’t feel like you’re really fat, and nobody’s gonna notice. That’s how it is when I’m in the director’s chair because it’s, like, overflowing with mini candies. So there’s, like, a mouse got in there. So, sorry, that’s not very professional, but I think being on set for a writer is a combination of both super fun, but then also, moments of total stress because if somebody’s coming to you as a writer on set

There’s an issue or something in a case of like, the best case scenario, and the reason it’s good to be there is because it’s supposed to be a collaborative experience. It’s supposed to be that we’re a team, for example, the one day that I got to be on set for my episode of Designated Survivor, and then I had to go back to being in the writer’s room. I got to work with Italia and she was totally right.

Fun Fact: Italia Ricci: had some great input on a line that never made it into an episode, sometimes as a writer you need to hear the line said out loud to really feel the full impact. In this case, the line was omitted from the episode thanks to Italia’s input. 

ABC’s “Designated Survivor,” airing WEDNESDAY, NOV. 15 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST). (ABC/Sven Frenzel)
ITALIA RICCI, ADAN CANTO, KIEFER SUTHERLAND, JENNIFER VALLANCE, BLAIR WILLIAMS, MARCELLO CASTIGLIONI, ROBERT FULTON, TROY CAYLAK

Inspiration for this Political Drama

Jessica Grasl: The Kirkman White House lives in a different universe. Um, you know, obviously it started from a very unique place. I think it’s been really exciting to sort of live in a space that feels so different from the real world. I think, really gotten to explore a lot this year because we’ve sort moved past the crisis point and the rubble, if you will, and now it’s about Kirkman and his team, and his administration moving the country forward into Kirkman’s vision. And so really, you know, as writers, that’s the world that we live in. Obviously, we all read the newspapers, and we follow the news, and sometimes we pull stories from things that are happening,

Fun Fact: Italia Ricci expressed how sometimes when they are shooting an episode or recently shot an episode it will happen in real life. FREAKY!

I really hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did when I was in LA. For more ABC Fun make sure you check out my Kevin (Probably) Saves The World Exclusive Interview With The Creators & Executive Producers. There are so many great shows ABC you won’t want to miss any one of them. For more #PixarCocoEvent Fun make sure you click on the button below to check out some fun articles on Disney Pixar’s Coco, in theaters Thanksgiving Day November 22, 2017.

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June S.

Sunday 18th of November 2018

(Designated Survivor Exclusive Interview With Italia Ricci & Jessica Grasl Co-Executive Producer and Writer) Very interesting to read about. My son and daughter-in-law watch this show all the time.

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