NCIS Boss Spills Secrets Behind Ziva's Exit: What Changed? Was a Kiss Cut? Could She Return?

Past, Present, and FutureWhen all was said and done (and being watched by 20 million viewers), NCIS showrunner Gary Glasberg says he was “very pleased” with how longtime cast member Cote de Pablo‘s final episodes unfolded. That said, there were wrinkles to be ironed out as he rejiggered his original Season 11 launch plan to accommodate this important goodbye, sprung on him, as it was, late in the process. Here, Glasberg answers TVLine’s burning questions about Ziva’s exit.

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HOW DID COTE DE PABLO’S EXIT CHANGE THE ORIGINAL SEASON 11 PREMIERE STORYLINE? | Most simply said, “There is no comparison,” Glasberg asserts. “My intention was to pick up where we left off and tell the story of Gibbs and where we left him, with the sniper rifle, and set up some of the Parsa/terrorist storyline that is going to follow through this season.” Once it became clear that the actress and show would be parting ways, Glasberg says, “I realized very quickly that we couldn’t [write Ziva out] in one episode — there was no way — and do it properly, and that’s why it turned into a two-parter. And that’s why the significant second half of the [Season 11 premiere] became about her.”

WAIT, SO ZIVA WASN’T EVEN ‘OFF THE GRID’ IN THE ORIGINAL VERSION…? | “No, not at all,” Glasberg makes clear. As originally laid out, DiNozzo, McGee and Ziva “all went off and were doing their separate things [during the four-month time jump], and I had a sense of something that I wanted her to be doing. But while she was separated from the group, it was not to the extent that you saw.”

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WAS THERE A SECOND TONY/ZIVA KISS THAT DIDN’T MAKE THE CUT? | In the two-part premiere, no. But in an episode from a previous season, Glasberg shares, “There was a kiss that existed at one point that was a last-minute addition to a sequence that never got used. It was something we had toyed with once before. And if there’s an opportunity at some point to dig it up out of the archives, maybe I will.”

DID THE GOODBYE SCENE EVER FEATURE AN OUTRIGHT CASABLANCA REFERENCE FROM FILM BUFF TONY? | Noting the similarities to [spoiler alert] the acclaimed Bogart film’s ending, Glasberg says, “We had been talking about visually what we wanted this to be, and there was a lot of talk about being out on an airfield and putting that plane in the background” — but that’s where the Casablanca similarities ended. “There was some joking about [Tony saying, ‘We’ll always have Paris’], actually. But it was never scripted.”

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WHY WERE COTE DE PABLO’S FINAL EPISODES RATHER, WELL, COTE-LIGHT? | Glasberg says, “I understand that reaction to the first [Season 11] episode,” which did not feature de Pablo at all, “but that was stuff that literally had to be written at a time when there were still issues being figured out. Devices and decisions like having them Instant Messaging each other were put together because I had to.” As for “hiding” Ziva until midway through Episode 2, “We just wanted the story to build and ramp properly,” he explains. “We wanted to feel Tony’s search appropriately, and the only way you feel that is, for a little while, to have him looking for her. To not have him connect with her just yet. The only way we can do that is to have her not be present, and then have her appear when we least expect it.

IS THE PROVERBIAL ‘DOOR OPEN’ FOR ZIVA/COTE’S ONE DAY RETURN? | To that obvious inquiry, Glasberg can only note at this early stage, “”Ziva’s not dead! She’s not dead.”

NEXT WEEK ON TVLINE: Gary Glasberg previews life at NCIS after Ziva, reveals what her successors will bring to the empty desk and weighs in on battling those Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.