CBS’ NCIS opens Season 18 — and inches closer to Episode 400 — this Tuesday at 8/7c, with a narrative twist that will transport us and Gibbs one year into the past.
In the season premiere, which pretty quickly flashes back to this time last year (and stays there), Gibbs (played by Mark Harmon) and Fornell (returning guest star Joe Spano) attempt to track down the leader of a ring who supplied drugs to Fornell’s daughter, nearly killing her in the Season 16 finale. Meanwhile, the team back home deals with the case of a missing cadaver.
TVLine invited executive producers Frank Cardea and Steven Binder to tease the timey-wimey episodes ahead, and more.
TVLINE | Frank, when you and I last spoke, you were hoping that Episode 400 would still air as No. 400, even with the pandemic-related delays. Did your dream come true?
FRANK CARDEA | Yes, it did. We actually shot them out of order, but it will air as 400 (on Nov. 24, titled “Everything Starts Somewhere”).
TVLINE | Is it still going to feature a Young Ducky and Young Gibbs?
CARDEA | It most certainly will. And it’s written by the great Steve Binder.
TVLINE | Steve, what juncture in the Gibbs/Ducky relationship will we visit?
STEVE BINDER | Well, the story revolves around their first meeting and they’re at a crossroads in their lives, each of them. I won’t go into the exact nature of the crossroads, but it’s a very pivotal moment in both of their lives and they’re able to help each other get on the path that leads them to where we find them in the present day.
TVLINE | Did you recycle the previous young versions of them?
BINDER | Oh, we recycled both of them! Yes, Adam Campbell (Great News) plays Young Ducky, and he’s just fantastic, and Sean Harmon plays Young Gibbs.
CARDEA | Sean looks more and more like his dad every day.
BINDER | And really sounds like him, too. That’s the thing that threw me. Sometimes he’d call and I was like, “OK, who am I talking to?”
TVLINE | Is the NCIS team living in any semblance of a COVID world?
BINDER | We had an episode last year called “Musical Chairs” where Gibbs disappears from the squad room to go on a mission, and then he shows up at the end of the episode with a black eye. We are going to pick up the season with that mission that Gibbs was on, back in time, so we’re actually in a pre-COVID world for a little while.
CARDEA | The first five episodes are set in that November/December 2019 period.
TVLINE | So in these first episodes, for example, we haven’t met Christopher Lloyd’s character yet.
BINDER | No, but we’ll use that [Pearl Harbor] episode as sort of a very strong memory point in the audience for when we pivot to the present. The really bad version of that is “Gibbs comes back from Hawaii in sunglasses and a Hawaiian shirt!,” but of course Gibbs would never wear something like that. But we’ll use that to sort of jump us back to the present, and we will be in a COVID world at that point. That won’t be until January, February. Probably February.
TVLINE | I would like to request generous use of chyrons so we can keep track. “This episode is set in the month and year….” and such.
BINDER | We try to write these in a way where even if you were not following the timeline per se, you still have an episode where there’s a case and a body. It’s all the things that people love about NCIS without having to be caught up with exactly where and when you are. Hopefully we’ve succeeded at that.
TVLINE | What do you want to say about the storyline that will take Maria Bello off the show?
BINDER | You know, one of the things we always ask when we’re trying to figure out how to exit a character is, “What does that character deserve?” Sloane is a very strong character, she’s a passionate character, and we’re going to really have her go out on a note worthy of that. I’ll say that.
TVLINE | You’ve got several options just based on the character’s established history, so…
BINDER | Yes, and we’re going to dive into some of that history, for sure.
TVLINE | Do you feel like Jack is someone that you need to replace right away, in the capacity that she serves the team? Or is that something you’re going to deal with a bit further down the line, when you have a screaming need for such a character?
BINDER | I think the latter. There’s a core team, and I think it was a function of Maria that we were able to find so much to give her to do. If it’s not Maria [in the role], then I don’t know if we need to necessarily fill it right away.
TVLINE | Are there any personal storylines for any characters early in the season?
CARDEA | There are. We haven’t visited with McGee and his wife in a while, so they have a personal story early on — around the fourth episode, while we’re in that flashback time period.
TVLINE | When you teased a “reveal/development” in what was supposed to be last season’s finale, some fans speculated it would circle back to the Ziva storyline. Are there any plans to revisit Ziva and/or her ex-CIA confidante, Odette (played by Elayn J. Taylor)?
BINDER | The Odette storyline certainly could be an independent story from Ziva. They’re not necessarily tied up one and the other, and we certainly have laid some pipe for continuing Odette’s storyline.
TVLINE | I have a reader asking if we’ll see Mr. Robert Wagner this season (as DiNozzo Sr.).
CARDEA | RJ is always anxious to be on the show and we’re always anxious to have him — but with actors of that age, we’re just waiting to see where the COVID goes. RJ turned 90 in February—
BINDER | And he would have to travel.
CARDEA | — though he’s the youngest 90-year-old I’ve ever met. When you talk to him on the phone, he sounds like he’s 30. He’s not quite ready to come back yet, but you could certainly see him in the latter part of the year.
TVLINE | Is there any sort of a recurring adversary this season?
BINDER | Not as of yet. It will be made clear in the premiere that there has been a recurring issue that Gibbs has been working on and is going to attempt to resolve, and of course it will be embodied in an adversary, but we’re going to deal with that and put that to bed mostly in the pre-COVID timeline.
TVLINE | And lastly, anything on the romantic front for any of the characters?
CARDEA | Yes, in a couple of areas.
BINDER | Sloane is of course leaving, so there’s been an ongoing wonderment of what’s going on between her and Gibbs — and I think we’re going to find that out. If it’s not now, then never, so I think it’s going to be now.
CARDEA | We also always toy with the Bishop/Torres relationship, and there’s an episode that they’re featured prominently in.