New Orleans in 'NCIS' spotlight
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — "NCIS," the No. 1 scripted drama on television with an average weekly audience of 17 million viewers this season — 23 million counting DVR and video-on-demand viewing — has wrapped up five days and nights of filming in New Orleans. The program was in town to work on two episodes that will serve as a prospective New Orleans-set spinoff.
The episodes, titled "Crescent City Part 1" and "Crescent City Part 2," will air March 25 and April 1.
Scenes from the show's New Orleans filming will be edited into interiors shot earlier on the "NCIS" studio sets in Valencia, Calif., including a set that simulates the front dining room of Mother's Restaurant. The two episodes will introduce potential spinoff cast members Scott Bakula ("Looking," ''Men of a Certain Age") Lucas Black ("The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift," ''42") and others.
New Orleans locations used for exterior filming included the Barataria Preserve, the French Quarter, Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, Café du Monde, Armstrong Park and Washington Artillery Park.
Now in its 11th season, "NCIS" aired its 250th episode March 4, and already has one spinoff on the air, "NCIS: Los Angeles." A second attempted spinoff, "NCIS: Red" wasn't picked up by CBS. After its upcoming two-episode tryout, "NCIS: New Orleans" will be considered for CBS' fall schedule.
First, though, the spinoff cast and concept have to work as episodes of a powerhouse CBS ratings performer with a global following.
"I don't think I realized the extent of the challenge of writing 'NCIS' episodes that will launch new characters in a new city, and do it in a way that makes audiences feel like they're watching an 'NCIS,' but (also feel like) there's something a little different and little bit unique to it," said Gary Glasberg, the show-running writer and executive producer of "NCIS," who also is overseeing the potential spinoff.
"When you get here, you feel the energy of this city," said Glasberg during a break between scenes Sunday at Café du Monde. "There's such a special vibe and a tone to what it is. What I realized is that I can try and write it from 3,000 miles away in California and do the best I can, but until you're here with these characters in this environment, that's when it really comes to life."
The story Glasberg has composed to introduce the new show reunites NCIS Special Agent in Charge Leroy Jethro Gibbs (played by Mark Harmon, who also is an "NCIS" executive producer), with NCIS Special Agent Dwayne Pride (played by Bakula). Once members of the same Naval Investigative Service team, they partner again to investigate the New Orleans murder of another member of the team who'd gone on to become a U.S. Congressman.
Pride heads the small New Orleans Naval Criminal Investigative Service office, which investigates crimes and conducts national security investigations from Florida to Texas. Other announced "NCIS: New Orleans" cast members are Black, Zoe McLellan, CCH Pounder and Paige Turco.
"Hopefully, people will want to come back and see just this team," Glasberg said.
Also the setting.
"It's extraordinarily rich," Glasberg said. "You see a location and you say, 'Let's shoot there.' One of the really interesting things I'm picking up on is, a lot of times on our show, especially when it's a case-related scene, we will put it in our squad-room set. Here, all I want to do is see people walking. I want them out on the street. I want the city to be as much a part of those conversations as anything. To be able to do that walk-and-talk through the city is exciting for me. And it's different. And that kind of difference is what I'm trying for.
"I'm standing at a monitor . and I'm watching the style of an 'NCIS' episode with this remarkable city as a backdrop, and it feels familiar, it feels like 'NCIS,' but it's just different enough that I feel like I'm watching something special."
The city and its people and visitors were definitely part of the conversation later Sunday (March 9) as Bakula and Harmon shot a scene in Washington Artillery Park with Jackson Square and Saint Louis Cathedral as backdrop. Passers-by at street level observed the action, as riders aboard tour conveyances rolling down Decatur Street swiveled their heads in disbelief.
"It's Gibbs!" was a frequent exclamation. Also, "Hi, Mark!" Harmon acknowledged the greetings with a low-key wave.
"On a day like today, people are excited and people are interested," Glasberg said. "And especially in New Orleans, where people are drawn from all over the country to vacation here, and come to conventions and everything else, there's this extraordinary melting pot of people. And what you realize when you stop and talk to them, the common thread is, they all like to watch ("NCIS" on) Tuesday nights at (7) o'clock. So that's a nice thing."
As if on cue, a visitor standing nearby politely entered the conversation.
"I don't mean to interrupt," she said. "But what an awesome show. Love it, love it, love it."
Glasberg thanked her, and then turned back to the interview.
"You realize you've got lightning in a bottle," he said. "And I'm not trying to re-create lightning in a bottle, but I would like to get as close as I can, and set the tone and set the feeling and create characters that people are comfortable with and want to spend time with.
"Have the funny, have the light, and also mix it with the drama. That, at the end of the day, is all I can do. And then throw in some flavor and some spice of this city, and we're doing that with music and we're doing that with color, and very deliberate choices with the way we see things and hear things.
"You listen to just the ambient sound of what's going on right here. We're recording all that, and we'll be putting that into the show. I hope that little things like that make it work."