I had a chance recently to stop by ABC in Los Angeles to watch an advance screening of today’s Designated Survivor episode.
After the screening, we had a conversation with two incredibly talented women, Jessica Grasl, the show’s Co-Executive Producer and one of its writers, and Italia Ricci, who plays Chief of Staff Emily Rhodes on the show. Italia joined our conversation via teleconference from Canada.
Jessica Grasl has worked in television production for fourteen years and as a writer since 2008. Her credits include Leverage (TNT), Hawaii Five-0 (CBS), White Collar (USA), Proof (TNT), The Player (NBC), and Shades of Blue (NBC).
Italia’s credits have included many roles for television and film including a recurring role on “Supergirl” as Siobhan Smythe, aka Silver Banshee, and guest-starring roles on “CSI: Las Vegas,” “House,” “Greek” and “How I Met Your Mother.” She also starred on ABC Family’s (now Freeform), “Chasing Life,” where she played the lead role of April.
From the beginning, I could sense the team behind Designated Survivor are tight and they have a lot of fun together. Italia was teleconferencing from her living room, drinking a glass of wine, and holding her impossibly cute dog on her lap. She has an easy laugh and shared generously with us like we were old friends.
Jessica was with us in the same room and was equally warm, generous and funny, and she answered every, single one of our many questions.
If you’re not familiar with the Designated Survivor storyline check out this trailer:
Now, here are some tasty tidbits I learned about the show that I thought you might find interesting:
Fun Facts about Designated Survivor
1. Writers organize the stories by character using colors. They assign a color to a specific character, this way they can look at the board and track and make changes.
2. Since there are several writers on the show, communication is vital to keep the stories cohesive, because any change in an episode could potentially affect the arc or outcome of another episode.
3. Making the story credible is paramount, that’s why a group of consultants are available for the writing team. There is always a person on the team who used to work at the White House.
4. The time between when the actors receive the script and the filming can be very short. Italia says with a smile, “if we’re lucky, we’ll get the script maybe three days before…”
5. During shooting, work days average between 13 and 16 hours. It takes an average of 9 days to shoot an episode, and there are often days when they are shooting two episodes at once.
6. Italia shares a few traits with Emily Rhodes, stubbornness and confidence. She says “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…”
7. One of Jessica’s favorite, fun parts of the job is getting to be on set after her work is done. With a big smile, she says: “[after the writing is over]…now it becomes everybody else’s hard work, so you get to like, sit in the director’s chair and eat snacks.”
8. The show is obviously fiction, but the writers read newspapers, keep up on current events, and sometimes they pull stories from things that are happening, like “Two Ships,” the episode aired on November 1st and written by Jessica.
9. Five times something they’ve written actually happened afterward in real life. The room busted out laughing when Italia said that she would like it very much if they would write an episode in which Emily wins, like, a million dollars.
Jessica ended by saying, “I just get really excited that I get to go to work every day and live in Kirkman’s world….and his vision for America“
Thank you so much, ABC, Jessica, and Italia for the interesting and entertaining conversation.
Enjoy this sneak peek of today’s episode:
Watch Designated Survivor and see Italia’s in action and hear Jessica’s words, Wednesdays at 10/9c on ABC. Episodes are also available via streaming and on demand.