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The first 20 minutes or so of "Designated Survivor" (9 p.m., ABC/Ch. 4) are absolutely outstanding.

(Although what happens won't come as a surprise – ABC has advertised it all over the place.)

As the hour begins, we meet Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland), the secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He's a good guy, a good husband, a good father and a dedicated public servant.

He's also the "designated survivor" as the president of the United States delivers the State of the Union address to Congress — the one in the line of succession who is kept away from the U.S. Capitol just in case something happens.

And, of course, something happens. While Kirkman is talking to his young daughter on the phone — trying to get her to go to bed — bombs destroy the U.S. Capitol, killing the president, vice president, members of Congress and the rest of the cabinet. Which leaves Kirkman as the new president of the United States.

For the first half hour or so, "Designated Survivor" feels a lot "The West Wing" — and that's about the highest praise I can give a show. But then things start to deteriorate.

There's a rather ridiculous plot involving Kirkman's son. Worse yet, there's a plot involving one of the generals who seems to be plotting a coup — and he's a cartoonish villain if ever there was one.

At this point, "Designated Survivor" starts to feel less like "The West Wing" and more like the short-lived 2005-06 drama "Commander In Chief" — a presidential drama that began with great promise and quickly degenerated into a rather ridiculous mess.

Only one episode of this new show has been screened for critics, so I don't know where "Designated Survivor" is going. I'm not entirely pessimistic — there is a lot to like in the premiere.

But there's plenty of evidence that this isn't going to be the next "West Wing," too.

This is worth keeping an eye on … but not worth getting attached to, too quickly.