This Tuesday on NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS, 9/8c), a perplexing case in Idaho finds Callen & Co. collaborating on location with the “Red” team, in an two-parter that serves as a pilot episode for a new offshoot of the JAG/NCIS franchise.
Kim Raver (24) and John Corbett (Parenthood) lead the planted pilot’s ensemble, respectively playing Special Agent Paris, the athletic, witty and bold leader of the Red team, and Roy Quaid, a former Special Agent forced to retire from active service who now works as an analyst. Rounding out the mobile unit are Gillian Alexy (Damages) as brainiac/military junkie Clare, Scott Grimes (ER) as forensic specialist Dave and Edwin Hodge (Cougar Town) as Kai, the IT guy.
Showrunner Shane Brennan shared with TVLine a look at the origin of that which could become known as NCIS: Red, revealing along the way what NCIS: LA fans can look forward to in the coming weeks.
TVLINE | How long ago did you get the first idea for this Red spinoff?
It was a couple of years ago, actually.
TVLINE | OK, because in January 2011, I asked [CBS president] Nina Tassler about a third NCIS, and she said, “No, no, no. Not yet.”
Well, I didn’t tell anyone that I had an idea until last year. It came out of a conversation I had when I was in Washington, D.C. at the real NCIS office, where I learned about these deployment teams that they have. Often, the studios and networks — and the fans, really – look for ways of getting to “go home” with the characters that they love. But once you set a show up, it’s very hard to do that in this fairly sort of strict genre, the crime procedural. The moment these guys started telling me about how they deploy as a team I thought, “Wow, here’s an opportunity to create a team of people and not go home with them because they’re already home. They eat, sleep and work together 24/7.”
TVLINE | In what scenario is a Red team deployed?
In our television world, they’re deployed across the country anywhere there’s a crime involving the Navy or the Marine Corps and where there are no NCIS field officers. NCIS obviously has a field office in all of the large ports where the Marines or Navy operate….
TVLINE | But if something goes down in Chillicothe, Ohio….
Yeah, where they don’t have a presence but it does involve a Marine or Navy personnel, they send someone there — and they take everything with them when they go. They are very much a mobile unit. Now, NCIS does have what they call it a Contingency Response field office, and they deploy overseas as well as within the continental United States if they need to add support or backup or additional bodies at a field office. This unit is loosely based on the way they operate the Contingency Response field office.
TVLINE | Of course, when you talk about traveling crime solvers, part of me pictures Criminal Minds. How is this going to feel different from that show?
Because [the NCIS Red team members] actually live together, they have a shared bathroom, in the morning they get up and argue about who’s used the last of the bread for the toast, and then they strap on their guns and grab their laundry on the way to the crime scene.
TVLINE | Do they travel by jet, or a tricked-out Winnebago like in Stripes?
They basically pack out a couple of 40-foot containers with equipment to take everything they need with them when they deploy. I took that concept and said, “Well let’s give them accommodations,” so they have two big tractor-trailers. If they need to get across the country, they fly across in big C-17s, then spit the trucks out of the planes and drive to their location. The trucks then fold out into a living space and a working space, with the flick of lever.
TVLINE | That’s got to make for some fun visuals.
It’s fun visuals. But unlike NCIS: Los Angeles, where all of the technology is whiz-bang and state-of-the-art, sometimes it doesn’t work here as well as it should. They’re never quite sure what’s going to happen when their office and home unfolds.
TVLINE | How would you compare the tone of Red versus NCIS proper and LA?
The humor and the camaraderie of the team working together is front and center — that is clearly the main ingredient of the success of the NCIS franchise. But this has a cherry on top. Because they are living together, it’s much more intense, it’s much more of a pressure-cooker environment. They don’t get to leave the office; they get to go to their bedroom or they go to the kitchen and start cooking dinner.
TVLINE | So whereas for years Ziva could only wonder what Tony did after work, these people know.
Exactly. In the second part of the two-parter, you get to see what Clare wears to bed. And poor old Dave has to sit there and endure that, because she’s a very pretty woman.
TVLINE | Do any of the L.A. agents already know these Red folks? Daniela Ruah told me there’s “tension” between Callen and Agent Paris.
There is definitely some wonderful chemistry that develops between Paris and Callen, who do know of each other. I think the audience is going to be bowled over by what they see. And it wouldn’t be NCIS: Los Angeles without Hetty’s involvement, behind the curtain pulling strings. She has a very interesting arc in these two episodes. Linda is in top form.
TVLINE | Does Hetty have an issue with the Red team…?
No, it’s much more Machiavellian than that. Hetty is very aware of the Red team. She has a relationship that goes back a long way with Roy, and we see that in the first episode. It’s very intriguing. And there is a big mystery about Roy and Paris, a very dark secret that they share. And for NCIS: Los Angeles fans, apart from introducing these new team members, in the first episode there’s a big revelation about Kensi and Deeks that pays off something that was set up earlier in the season. I’ll tell you that “the box” makes a return that is most unexpected, and it creates a very interesting dilemma for Deeks that ultimately will affect their relationship for the rest of the series.
TVLINE | Talk about casting Kim Raver and John Corbett as the leads. What did you need from those roles?
I needed a very strong woman, someone who had the credibility of being in charge of a fairly elite team of people. I went to Washington, D.C. and met about eight or 10 of them, women NCIS agents who were in positions of authority as team leaders. Kim is incredibly strong, and in both of these episodes she comes across as someone you totally and utterly believe is in charge. She’s perfect. In Roy I had a character with a past history. Roy and Paris were once partners, and the reason that he stopped being an agent is revealed in the two episodes. So, I was looking for someone who had some vulnerability but who was incredibly likeable and could bring, at the same time, all of the requirements of being credible and of being someone who was a smart addition to the team. When John’s name was mentioned, I got very excited about the potential because he has played those “laid back” kind of characters. But having said that, if you’re a big fan of John Corbett, you’ve never seen him play a role like this before. He’s very powerful on screen, there’s a wonderful presence. He’s funny… and he’s carrying a gun.
TVLINE | If this gets ordered to series, does a small part of you for any reason almost not want it to air on Tuesdays?
It doesn’t worry me. To be honest, and I’ve not said this to anyone, I’m very comfortable with it airing at 10 o’clock. And I’d be very comfortable with it airing any night. Having the two shows air back-to-back, I think, would be fantastic. It would be a great way for these stories to flow into the other. But at the same time, it’s the audience who will probably decide ultimately whether this even gets to air as a series.