NCIS Boss Talks Of Life After Ziva and Deflecting S.H.I.E.L.D. -- Plus: Abby Gives McGee [Spoiler]

NCIS Season 11 Ziva QuitsAs CBS’ NCIS continues its 11th season (tonight at 8/7c), the tweaked opening credits may lack a certain “kick,” but the song remains the same, as Leroy Jethro Gibbs and his team of agents — minus Cote de Pablo‘s Ziva David — go about doing what they do best. Showrunner Gary Glasberg shared with TVLine a look at certain reactions to the squad room shake-up and previewed new stories to come. Plus: an exclusive peek at a bittersweet Abby/McGee moment.

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TVLINE | As the show returns, will much time have lapsed since Tony said goodbye to Ziva?
It’s a few days after Tony’s return from Israel — a literal week, because we try to play things in real time.

TVLINE | So, her absence is hanging in the air?
Oh, it’s very present. It’s a big part of quite a few episodes. You’ll see glances and references to the empty desk, but at the same time we try to get back to the fun and the humor and the lightness and the banter of the squad room — all the things that people like about our show. But we’re not hiding from it, it’s acknowledged.

TVLINE | When last I spoke to Michael Weatherly, he was quite excited about where he sensed Tony was going after this. What can you say about his story moving forward? Has Tony changed?
Yes, I think Tony has changed a bit. He’s matured. He’s experienced a loss in his personal life, and I think it’s going to affect how he moves forward. It’s certainly affecting how we as writers are handling him. He’s still very much Tony — he still cracks a joke and lights up the room with a smile and has some fun, but there’s also a seriousness. NCIS Preview Ziva QuitsThere’s a step forward that has happened, and I don’t think we’re hiding from that.

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TVLINE | Who would you say is second-most affected by Ziva’s absence?
That’s an interesting question…. I think Abby certainly feels it. Ducky comments on it. McGee certainly feels it….

TVLINE | Gibbs seemed to dread taking her phone call….
The interesting one for me is Gibbs, because I think he really does feel it, but in classic Gibbs fashion, he’s not going to show it. That’s the challenge of writing to it, and that’s the brilliance of Mark Harmon as an actor — how do you show that beneath the surface and not have someone come out and say what they’re feeling?

TVLINE | New opening credits, I assume?
Yes, a different main title sequence. That was an interesting process, as well — emotional and challenging. But yeah, a little different.

RELATED | NCIS Recap: A Kiss Before Goodbye-ing — What Grade Do You Give Cote de Pablo’s Exit?

TVLINE | Is Benham Parsa the Season 11 big bad you told me about at summer TCA?
[That threat] is significant and it will pop back up again. It’s going to mean something. And I think it represents interesting stuff that’s happening in our world. As we move into what I call the “more traditional” episodes of the show, just be aware that he’s still out there. He will end up on the Most Wanted wall.

TVLINE EXCLUSIVE PHOTO:  Abby gives McGee one of Ziva's scarves.

TVLINE EXCLUSIVE PHOTO:
Abby gives McGee one of Ziva’s scarves.

TVLINE | What else is coming up?
You’ve got this [week’s] “Under the Radar” episode, which is kind of a “reset” for us. That’s where Roma Maffia (Nip/Tuck) has this fun stint as a retiring agent who helps us out in the squad room. In the episode after that, Muse Watson comes back as Mike Franks, in a really emotional storyline for Gibbs. Those are all flashback scenes, and they’re really nicely done. Lolita Davidovich (Blaze) is also in that episode. After that, you’ve got Tony’s return to Baltimore, for some more insight into who he was — even before he became a detective.

TVLINE | What precipitates that?
There’s a crime that comes up that “connects the dots” a little bit and brings up some memories, and honestly revisits a whole bunch of things. Again, I’m really content with the slow build of getting back on our feet after [Ziva’s departure]. And then coming up in November, we’ll introduce everybody to [Ziva’s potential replacement] Ellie Bishop.

TVLINE | Some fans worry Bishop will be just a “female McGee.”
That was because there was a line that either I or someone threw out there, that described her in a specific way, as being… I forget what the phrase was. But she’s not [like McGee]. Emily Wickersham is a terrific actress and she’s going to bring a whole new spin and life to this character. That episode starts prepping next week, and I think she’s going to bring something fun to this group.

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TVLINE | Lastly, were you relieved to see ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. not ding your numbers much at all? Was that on your mind?
It’s funny — every season, this stuff comes about and I’ve learned that all I can do is focus on the shows that I make. Especially this season, more than ever. Season 11 wasn’t supposed to have all the bumps and curves in the road that it has, and I’ve focused on making the best show that we can make. Whatever unfolds elsewhere, that just happens. There’s not much I can do about it.

Want more scoop on NCIS, or for any other show? Email insideline@tvline.com and your question may be answered via Matt’s Inside Line.