Insights from the PaleyFest NCIS: Los Angeles Fall Premiere

HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 12: Actors Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Tobias Menzies and executive producer Ronald D. Moore attend The Paley Center for Media's 32nd Annual PALEYFEST LA "Outlander" at Dolby Theatre on March 12, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

By Kelly Jo Brick

To celebrate the arrival of the fall TV season, the Paley Center for Media held its annual PaleyFest, featuring premieres and panels highlighting several new shows as well as some returning favorites, including a special evening with the cast and creative team of NCIS: Los Angeles sharing their experiences and reflections as they begin their 7th season.

When did Executive Producer Shane Brennan know this cast would work for the show? “I knew, to be honest, the very first scene that we shot, James Whitmore was directing it. It was the first scene we shot when we were making the imbedded pilot on NCIS and the very first scene we shot was Chris and LL Cool J together and the director and I stood in video village and we watched these two guys appear on screen and we thought, is there going to be chemistry? And it was there. At that point we knew we had it, because that’s the thing.”

Where ideas for the show come from – According to Executive Producer R. Scott Gemmill, some stories are inspired by news headlines, sometimes it comes from the characters, sometimes from research.

What the writing team loves the most about working on this show – The writers love coming up with story ideas for this cast of characters. As EP Shane Brennan added, “The great thing about this show is, it’s fun. It’s action. It’s relationships, but most of all it’s fun and if we’re not laughing when we’re writing a script, then it’s not working for us. We really love what we do.”

Chris O’Donnell on directing several episodes – “I enjoy it. It’s tough because of the schedule and you’re kind of half-assing your acting and your directing because you have to do a week of prep and then you have to be there to act and direct and try to get the post done, but it’s a great film school and a privilege to be able to do it.”

How the show balances fun and seriousness – “I think one of the reasons this show is so successful is its ability to balance that drama and comedy. You have incredibly likable characters and you have huge action sequences, amazing stunts, explosions, but you also have these great teams that really do have a fair representation of what life is like, which is dramatic and which is these wonderful moments of brevity and comedy and of love and partnership.” – Eric Christian Olsen (Marty Deeks)

The role the real NCIS plays with the show – “We have a constant interaction with them. We visited them when the show first started. We have agents come visit us all the time. There have been, I think, in the 7 years of the show, there have been three Directors of NCIS who have actually appeared on the show. And we have a former NCIS agent who is on stage as a tech advisor and helps on scripts and that sort of stuff, so we have a constant interaction with them.” – Shane Brennan

Does the cast get feedback from soldiers on what the show means to them? – “It’s interesting that I think ultimately we all recognize that we’re having a fun time and enjoying what we’re doing, but at the same time we are representing a group of people who are truly heroes who don’t get the opportunity to laugh and joke everyday as much as we do. The things that we do on television, these people do in real life and so when I run into military people, I run into military families, veterans, they’re always very happy that we’re out there representing. There is a certain amount of responsibility that comes with playing characters like this. Because a lot of people get upset when they break nails, these men and women put their lives on the line every single day, so we’re clear about that and I think that also makes it a lot of fun for us to be a part of a show like this.” – LL Cool J (Sam Hanna)

The crime-fighting tendencies of their characters have carried over into their real lives – Across the board, the cast has noticed that they find themselves more aware of their surroundings and drawing on behaviors that they’ve learned from playing their respective characters.

“I walked into a public restroom the other day and I’m looking around corners. I’m checking my six. It really does get a little freaky. You walk in rooms, you notice stuff. You’re looking, you’re peeking, you’re watching. We took trips down to Camp Lejeune, we met with Special Ops guys, we have done a lot of training with some really great people to learn how to bring these characters to life in the most realistic way, so we have learned a lot. It rubs off.” – LL Cool J

“I was on a walk with my wife and I saw a guy kind of creep around with a backpack and went in towards this house and like went through this gate that wasn’t really a gate and I heard a scream. And I ran and I jumped the gate and my wife goes, ‘You’re not a real agent.’ It was pure instinct, because it happens in the show. If something happens, you just go.” – Eric Christian Olsen

“I actually helped solve a crime.   My dad had his car parked out on Long Island, my hometown, and I was home for the summer and his car was hit. There was a hit and run. And I said, ‘Are there any pieces left behind?’ And we went outside and we found a piece of the car, like a bumper of the car and I said, ‘It probably has a code.’ I went on the computer, I plugged in that code and sure enough, Mercedes from 1998 to 2002 comes up. My dad starts patrolling, looking for neighbors that have that car, finds the guy and makes him pay.” — Renee Felice Smith (Nell Jones)

What viewers can expect this season – “This season is fun because everyone sort of has a moment. Every character has a really challenging episode at some point. We’re going to play out the Internal Affairs investigation. There are things that happen to Sam and his family this season. There’s a good chance we might wind up back in Russia and there may be a reunion of some sort there. We have a lot going on. We think of this season as a lot of tent poles in terms of characters getting their sort of day in the sun and we’re excited about it.” – R. Scott Gemmill


Kelly Jo Brick is a Contributing Editor at TVWriter™. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.