As US crime procedural NCIS celebrates its 200th episode, showrunner Gary Glasberg tells Michael Pickard how he is keeping the show true to its origins in its ninth season.
When its 200th episode aired on US network CBS yesterday, crime procedural NCIS took its place in television history.
The show, which takes its title from Naval Criminal Investigation Service, follows a team of agents as they conduct criminal investigations involving the US Navy and Marine Corps.
And of the hundreds of primetime dramas on air every year only 62 have ever made it past that particular milestone. The prestigious list includes ER, Law & Order, Dallas, the original version of Hawaii Five-O and NYPD Blue, to name but a few.
Now in its ninth season, NCIS began as a spin-off from another CBS show, JAG, a military courtroom drama that ran for 10 seasons from 1995 to 2005. Despite its longevity, the show is the US’s top-rated scripted series, with new episodes regularly drawing more than 20 million viewers.
NCIS showrunner Gary Glasberg says: “Two hundred episodes is a huge milestone. It’s very rare these days in network television to produce that many episodes. It’s an exciting time for us. I work with a lot of people who have been making television for a long time and there are moments when we look at each other and smile, and recognise that we have something rare here and we all appreciate that.”
Glasberg joined the crew ahead of season seven in fall 2009 when then-showrunner Shane Brennan, who was prepping the launch of NCIS spin-off NCIS: Los Angeles, invited him onboard. “He needed to focus on the spin-off and my focus was to continue to work on the original series,” explains Glasberg, a veteran of other crime dramas including Bones and The Mentalist.
“It’s worked out beautifully and the opportunity came up for me to take over the reins. They were big shoes to fill, going back to [co-creator] Don Bresario. But it feels like the show is growing, character-wise and story-wise. We’re doing the best work the show has ever done and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
And it is Bresario whom Glasberg credits with the current success NCIS is enjoying, with the show unusually at the peak of its popularity nine years after its debut. “Don had the foresight to not only come up with wonderfully rich characters but early on he gave only a little insight into their backgrounds and who they were. By doing that, he gave us all sorts of opportunities in the latter years to really get to know them and start to dig into who they are,” says Glasberg.
“Here we are in the ninth season and I still feel like we’re only scratching the surface of figuring out who these people are, and because of a structure like that it’s a rich opportunity.”
Since accepting the “special opportunity” to take over the day-to-day running of NCIS, Glasberg has kept to this structure, using character-led storylines to keep viewers coming back each week following the conclusion of the ‘case-of-the-week’ procedural set-up.
“If it ain’t broke, I’m not going to fix it,” he says. “It’s worked quite well for a long time. There’s a tremendous opportunity to dig deeper into who these characters are and we as a group of writers and producers are constantly looking at them. But at the same time, we’re still providing humour, heart, pathos and suspense every week and we tell the story only NCIS can do.
“The show provides a little something for everyone. I genuinely think the show is comfort food and as long as we continue to provide that, and there’s a niche that needs to be filled, we’re happy to do it.
“If you look back at the history of television, there are phases that it goes through. People enjoy medical shows, law shows and detective shows. What we have here is an opportunity to speak to the investigative detective genre, solve a crime in 42 minutes and have some fun with characters that are appealing and entertaining to watch. Right now, that’s what people want to watch.”
On top of episode premieres on CBS, viewers can tune into reruns on cable channels including USA Network. Glasberg believes these syndication deals not only give fans a chance to enjoy old episodes again, but bring in a new audience who may then follow the show back to the network, helping to further boost the ratings of an already popular show. “We’re constantly bringing in a new audience who discover us through reruns on cable and are drawn back to our Tuesday show, which is what’s boosting out ratings up to 23 million people a week,” he says.
So will NCIS be around for another 200 episodes? “Gunsmoke ran for 20 seasons and 635 episodes,” says Glasberg of the long-running Western shown on CBS from 1955 to 1975. “I’m just happy to do it as long as CBS wants me to participate. Right now we’re focused on finishing season nine and we’ll see where we go from there.”