Rocky Carroll Reflects on Reaching 450 Episodes on ‘NCIS’, He Think About Major Returns

With its 450th episode this season, NCIS has reached a milestone that few shows have ever reached.

“It’s just kind of surreal,” series star Rocky Carroll recently told TV Insider about the latest episode he directed (the 21st!). “The fact that we’ve done 450 shows is a true testament all around, not only to the network and the people associated with the show, but also to a very loyal fan base.”

Carroll reflects on reaching the milestone, recalls his first appearance on the show in Season 5, and wonders if he’ll see familiar faces again anytime soon.

The 450th episode is approaching. What do you have to say about the episode itself?

Rocky Carroll: I don’t want to give anything away about the episode, but when we had a little celebration the day of shooting the 450th episode, one of our executive producers who had been there for a number of years said.

“When we did our 200th episode, which was a huge milestone, Michael Weatherly, who was still playing Agent DiNozzo at the time, stood up and joked, ‘we’re halfway to 400!’” And then everyone laughed. We all burst out laughing. “Oh, what a crazy thing to say,” everyone thought.

So here we are, celebrating our 450th episode, and I believe someone said at the end, “We’re more than halfway to 800.” So it was surreal at the time to think we’d done 200 episodes; the fact that we’ve done 450 is a true testament all around, not only to the network and the people associated with the show, but also to a very loyal fan base.

Since you mentioned Michael, is there any chance he or anyone else will appear in future episodes?

I sincerely hope so. I sincerely hope so. Fortunately, I won’t have to figure it out. But I figure there’s always a chance when a character doesn’t d1e in an episode. There’s Tony, there’s Ziva [Cote de Pablo], there’s so many other people who have come through and had such an impact on this show that I think audiences would love to have them back even if they weren’t regulars, just for a visit or for one episode.

When it comes to Ziva, everyone thought she was d3ad until she reappeared.

Exactly. Everything is possible, and soap operas actually k1ll and resurrect people. However, on our show, they may be gone for a while and their whereabouts unknown, as was the case with Ziva.

I’m astounded. This is 20 seasons, and as I joke, most Hollywood careers, let alone television series, do not last 20 seasons. So we’re in such rare company, and the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. The television landscape has changed dramatically since this show’s inception, so the fact that it’s still here and the type of television that it is, which, when you consider streaming services and all the other things that go on, and that people still respond and relate to this show, is incredible.

Prior to this role, you appeared in the most episodes of Chicago Hope, which you shared with Mark Harmon. How has it been living with Vance for so long?

It’s been fantastic. When I started on NCIS, I’d been with CBS for nearly 20 years, working on comedies, dramas, pilots, and short-lived series. I’ve always had a great working relationship with CBS. Mark Harmon and I have always had a great relationship. So the network saying, “We know you, we love you, and we trust you with this role on our signature show,” was a real feather in my cap. I was delighted to be a part of it. I was grateful for it by the time I arrived. I’m not required to carry the ball in every episode. I didn’t have to be in the spotlight. I knew I was a part of something special. That’s how I feel. And, at this point in my life, I’ve been given the opportunity to basically learn a new language by becoming a director.

When you first joined, what did you know about Vance and how long he might be around?

Because there are so many elements, I would be lying if I said I knew anything beyond the four episodes I did in Season 5. It could have been brilliantly written, brilliantly performed, and brilliantly shot, but it would have ended after four episodes if the audience did not respond to the character. I’m not sure what season it was when I said to myself, “I think Vance is here to stay,” but it took a while because the show had already established itself, it was in its fifth season, and I was a new addition. After Alan Dale and Lauren Holly, I was the third person to take on the role of director. So nothing said to me, oh, you’re going to be here to stay. Everything pointed to this being a temporary position.

And you collaborated with Mark again after Chicago Hope.

I always tell people that I only knew one person associated with NCIS, but it was the right person to know, and that person was Mark Harmon. When the network, the executive producer at the time, Shane Brennan, came and sat down with me, I knew that no matter what they thought or felt about me, if Harmon hadn’t said, “you know what, I know this guy. We worked together, we worked well together, I give you my approval,” it would never have happened. So I’ll go to my grave knowing that Harmon approved of me. That helped me a lot in getting the job.

There were several references to Gibbs in the crossover, such as hints that he might return, and Vance was the one who walked in and said he wouldn’t be there and that there wouldn’t be a party.

I believe that as long as this show is on the air, there will always be a hint that we might see Gibbs again. When I first saw an episode of this show, I thought, oh, it’s Gary Cooper from High Noon. Gibbs serves as the moral compass. He’s the moral compass we’d all like to have.

What memorable events have you witnessed over the years? There have been a number of them.

It’s all very surreal. I think about all the shows that have been lauded, that have won every award, every accolade imaginable, that are no longer on the air, and that we are now 20 years later… So milestone episodes, hit series, must-see TV, the shows that everyone watched, loved, and gave awards to, were all gone after seven seasons. We’ve completed 20 seasons. Nothing compares to that.

And it isn’t because we have blackmail photos of anyone that they keep us on the air. We’re doing something worthwhile. So, when we reach these milestones, because we work in such high volume — our season begins in the middle of July and lasts until the spring of the following year — there isn’t a lot of time to come up for air and look around and say, “wow, look what we’ve done and pat yourselves on the back.” When you reach these milestones, take a moment to reflect and say, “Wow, look at what we’ve accomplished.” And I think everyone did it for the first time when we got to 450.

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