This Tuesday at 8/7c, CBS’ NCIS kicks off a two-part trip to New Orleans, where it will introduce viewers to another team — one headed up by TV vet Scott Bakula — and hopefully pave the way for a new spin-off to premiere this fall. NCIS boss Gary Glasberg, who developed the prospective off-shoot with Mark Harmon, shared with TVLine a preview of the Big Easy adventure, as well as updated us on the status of the mothership’s Season 11 finale, which needed to shift gears in the wake of a real-life tragedy.
TVLINE | First, tell me the genesis of this spin-off idea. Am I right that it just started off as, “Hey, maybe we’ll set an episode in New Orleans…”?
I always sit down during hiatus and talk to Mr. Harmon about the ideas that I have for the coming season, and this started off as what was originally just going to be a sweeps two-parter. He looked at me and said, “We should do this as a spinoff,” and next thing I knew we were going in with a very colorful pitch that involved music and imagery and all kinds of stuff, and people got excited, and here we are.
TVLINE | When you talk about the music and imagery — and in the promos we see Bakula doing some form of an accent — is there a fine line to toe, between giving the episodes a distinct flavor and possibly brushing up against what some people might feel is parody?
I hope it doesn’t feel like parody. At the end of the day, the city of New Orleans is a huge part of what drew us to the idea and why we wanted to do it in the first place. We want to treat New Orleans like a character, and that was why we wanted to shoot on actual locations, and in the French Quarter, and really make an effort to depict it as best we could.
TVLINE | So if it goes to series, where are you going to film it?
You know, I’m not sure yet. It really comes down to the network and the studio and business, and there are lots and lots of influences. But I feel like no matter what, you have to spend a certain amount of time [filming] down there in order to make it work, in order to continue to inject the color and the flavor that we’re trying to capture in the story.
TVLINE | Now, who on Gibbs’ team already knows Bakula’s Agent Dwayne Cassius Pride?
It’s suggested that there’s a really strong tie that goes all the way back to Mike Franks. Gibbs and Pride were probies under Franks and a group of other agents — they were referred to as the Fed 5 — and this Agent McLane, who had become a Congressman since, ends up getting killed, and that’s the genesis of the story.
TVLINE | Who all goes on the field trip, who doesn’t and why?
A tremendous portion of this story happens in Washington, so I needed really significant anchors in both places. So Tony and McGee and Fornell and Vance hold down the fort in Washington, while Gibbs pulls Bishop along [to New Orleans].
TVLINE | What’s the bullet on the members of Pride’s team — Agents Christopher Lasalle and “Merri” Brody, and Dr. Loretta Wade?
Lasalle, played by Lucas Black, in my mind is kind of “Alabama’s Steve McQueen.” He handles himself with a fantastic degree of calm and ease, he’s terrific with the action and he’s a lot of fun. Brody, played by Zoe McLellan (JAG), is confident and cool and direct and strong. CCH Pounder (The Shield) is just a natural [as Wade]. She comes onscreen and you listen to every word she says. And then to have Scott Bakula as Pride, with his appeal and warmth and fun…. I couldn’t honestly have asked for much more in terms of a group.
TVLINE | How would you say Pride differs from Gibbs?
Oh, they’re incredibly different. Pride doesn’t hide his feelings in any way. There’s no wall going on there in terms of what he’s thinking, what he wants to do. It’s all very much on the surface, and there’s an accessibility and a fun to him that Gibbs doesn’t show. So although, in theory, the characters kind of grew up at the same time, they’re very, very different people. Also, Pride is married and trying to work out some issues with his wife (Person of Interest‘s Paige Turco), which is very real in the world of NCIS.
TVLINE | Now looking ahead to May, how is the season finale shaping up? Last time we spoke, you thought it might be Tony-centric-ish. But then Ralph Waite passed….
You know what, the penultimate episode is a fantastic story for Tony that actually sends him to France, and we’re really excited about that. It’s sort of a Three Days of the Condor story that is action-packed and fun with lots of twists and turns. And that leads us into the finale, which I’m co-writing with Gina Monreal, and although it has a significant crime story happening, that honestly turns out to be our homage to Ralph Waite, to Jackson Gibbs. Mark has been talking about it and invested in it since the day we got the news, and it’s important to us to give Ralph Waite the farewell he deserves.