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.

Donald Bellisario Talks About Donald Bellisario

donald_bellisarioHey, c’mon, that’s what successful writers do.

And, man is Bellisario ever successful. We’re talking about the creator-writer-producer of NCIS, JAG, MAGNUM P.I., AIRWOLF, BLACK SHEEP SQUADRON, QUANTUM LEAP. All that good stuff.

This interview isn’t new. It was recorded several years ago as part of the TV Academy’s “Archive of American Television.” But everything Bellisario says about TV writing and the TV biz is as valid as it ever was.

Besides, you love hearing other writers’ war stories. You know you do. And Bellisario’s got plenty of ’em.

Check out the site for more about Donald Bellisario 

Why Do Audiences Hate Scripted TV?

This really is something to worry about:

ncis with exwife

Ever wonder how to plagiarize without being called on it? The technique goes something like this:

The top 10 regularly scheduled television broadcasts of 2012 were dominated by sports and reality shows, with very little scripted programming represented, reports MediaPost’s MediaDailyNews.

Three of the top 10 regularly scheduled shows were sports, with NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” ranking No. 1 in total viewers, the story says. The NFL series has averaged 21.2 million viewers this season.

Fox’s “American Idol” holds the second and third spots with its two weekly airings (18 million for the Wednesday performance show and 16.5 million for the results show), while NBC’s pregame show for its “Sunday Night Football” is in fourth place with 15.7 million.

ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” holds fifth and sixth place with its two weekly airings, drawing an average of 15.5 million for the performance show and 13.9 million for the results show.

CBS’s “NCIS” is one of two scripted shows to make the list, placing seventh with an average of 13.6 million viewers. NBC’s “The Voice” holds eighth place, with 13.3 million.

In ninth place is the only cable series on the list: ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” with 13.2 million viewers.

CBS also has the only other scripted series in the top 10, the new drama “Vegas,” in 10th place with an average of 11.7 million viewers, the story says.

Cool, huh? But don’t thank us. This example is courtesy of one of the most helpful TV sites on the web: TVBizwire. Without it, we’d have to – gulp – think for ourselves. And you know the chaos that would bring. (Of course, we did find the above pic on our own. Thanks, CBS!)

munchman Sees NCIS

The Good:

Last week’s was the best episode in the run of the series.

The Better:

Because there was no episode on last week.

The Bad:

It’ll be back on the air Tuesday night, and if that isn’t enough, USA is presenting a “Special NCIS Superfan Marathon” tonight at 10 pm Eastern/Pacific Time.

Sorry, boss.

EDITED BY LB TO ADD: Nothing to be sorry about, munchman. Yes, I’ve said this is my current favorite show. But I’ve also said that I’ll be damned if I can figure out why!


NCIS Marathon on USA Network Sunday

…And we’re going to watch. Because, hell, man, it’s Gibbs. And his mother hunchin’ rules!

The only thing better than watching Leroy Jethro Gibbs use his inhumanly astounding sniper skills is listening to him spout his life rules. Which often comes just before he amazes us with the aforementioned sniper skills. Fortunately for NCIS fans, somebody with some power at USA  realizes this, resulting in a:

Starting Sunday, August 19th, at 12:00 Eastern Time.
(Check your local listings to see if that’s A.M. or P.M. because as unbelievable as it sounds the silly press release doesn’t say.)

We don’t need a press release to tell you that NCIS is the highest-rated drama show on television these days. (Yes, it’s a loose definition of “drama.” Deal with it.) Or to fill in the sadly unwashed on the fact that the show stars Mark Harmon as Leroy Jethro Gibbs, a former Marine Gunnery Sergeant now a special agent for NCIS. Gibbs’ team includes special agents Anthony Dinozzo (Michael Weatherly), Timothy McGee (Sean Murray) and Ziva David (Cote de Pablo), who are supported by forensic specialist Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette) and medical examiner Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard (David McCallum), and it’s their interaction that makes this show work.