Almost a year ago, NCIS executive producer Gary Glasberg was pitching storylines to star Mark Harmon when he brought up the idea that would spawn much more than the episode he was hoping to flesh out that day.
“I had learned that there was this small office in the city of New Orleans — a real NCIS office — that this sort of fantastic, larger-than-life character/agent ran for 25 years. It was just him and a couple of other people — and that was it,” Glasberg says. “And I wanted to do it as a sweeps episode, and then Mark said to me he thought there was more to it than that.”
It turns out there was.
On Tuesday night, NCIS airs the first of a two-part backdoor pilot, NCIS: New Orleans, which was filmed in The Big Easy. While still very much an episode that features the core team — among them Gibbs (Harmon), Tony (Michael Weatherly), and McGee (Sean Murray) — it also introduces the faces and personalities of the spin-off.
At the helm of this micro-office is Scott Bakula as warm, fun, and focused Special Agent Pride, who fights Gulf-area crime with his team, which includes Lucas Black as a Southern-fried “Steve McQueen”-type and JAG alum Zoe McLellan as fish-out-of-water Agent Brody. “The big challenge is trying to capture that chemistry and putting together a group of people you want to spend time with every week and I really do believe…I lucked out. It’s a terrific group,” says Glasberg.
The storyline introduces the new office as Gibbs and Bishop (Emily Wickersham) head to New Orleans to work on a case while Tony and McGee anchor the story in Washington, D.C. “There’s a lot,” says Glasberg of the two-parter, “and I wanted to do it all justice.”
Following the spin-off episodes, Glasberg says the show will power toward its season finale, which will be a tribute to Ralph Waite, who died in February at 85. “We’ve talked about [the episode] since Ralph’s passing, and I think we’ve come up with a really great crime story that will bookend into the passing of Jackson Gibbs. That’s going to be a really emotional storyline that Mark Harmon has been involved with since day 1. We’re working on that right now.”
While Glasberg says he always had an idea for a season-ending crime story, emotionally, the tone changed in light of Waite’s death. “This really changed the dynamic of it and added a whole emotional element to it that I wasn’t planning on,” he says. “But we wanted to do it justice and do it right and really make it a tribute to Ralph.”
Also on tap, according to Glasberg:
+ A “really strong” McGee and Delilah story that will find them tackling some big relationship issues.
+ A story about sexual assault in the Navy on which writers have worked closely with the real-life Navy to produce. Kelli Williams will guest star.
+ A penultimate episode that will send Tony to France. “It’s sort of a Three Days of the Condor storyline that we’re having a lot of fun with. We’re putting that together right now.”
+ A season finale without a cliffhanger. Possibly. “I’m not 100 percent sure we’ll be going out on a cliffhanger this year,” he says. “We may let the resonance of what’s happened with Gibbs settle a little bit and start fresh come season 12. We’re working on that and figuring it out.”