The Untold Truth of The NCIS Universe

While it may not be as complicated or expansive as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the long-running CBS crime drama NCIS has spawned so many spin-offs and special crossover episodes that the ratings juggernaut sits in the center of its own TV universe. Like the MCU, the NCIS Universe (or NCISU, if you fancy) features a complicated web of cross-series guest stars and character relationships that can be hard for even diehard fans to parse out.

What makes linking the dots between all the different parts of the NCISU even trickier is the fact that the connecting threads don’t stop at the NCIS franchise. Every fan is aware of the spin-offs from the original series, but the number of crossover episodes with entirely different shows means there are direct links to shows you might not have even heard of. There’s no way we could properly document every link in the chain of the NCISU, but we’ll break down the main threads in this complex television universe.


Like fellow crime procedurals Law & Order and CSI, NCIS’ popularity made it a prime candidate for spin-off shows with a similar formula but different casts. The first of these was NCIS: LA, which premiered in 2009 via a two-episode backdoor pilot during NCIS’ sixth season that saw several NCIS team members traveling to Los Angeles to assist the NCIS Office of Special Projects with the investigation of the murder of a marine. NCIS: LA proved that the franchise had legs. It was a ratings hit and attracted all-star talent like rapper LL Cool J and Oscar-winning actress Linda Hunt to its cast. The series was so successful that NCIS: LA almost got its own spin-off, but despite a backdoor pilot airing during the show’s fourth season, NCIS: Red never got off the ground.

Another NCIS spin-off did, however. In 2014, NCIS: NOLA premiered, starring TV vets Scott Bakula and CCH Pounder. The series was produced by original NCIS star Mark Harmon and its New Orleans setting was specifically chosen to incorporate the city’s rich music and food culture into the character-driven formula that had become the hallmark of the other shows in the franchise.

Throughout the run of all three shows, characters from each have occasionally made guest appearances in their sister series, further cementing their status as an interconnected universe. The exception to this is that characters from NCIS: LA and NCIS: New Orleans have yet to cross into each other’s shows.

NCIS is a spin-off itself

It says a lot that NCIS became such a force on network television that it was able to anchor two of its own spin-offs — and it’s even more impressive considering the show is itself a spin-off. NCIS began in 2003 with a backdoor pilot on the Navy-based legal drama JAG, and was conceived as a companion piece to its parent show. While JAG was heavy on the legal investigations, military procedures, and courtroom drama, NCIS was a police procedural that focused on criminal investigations.

Some of the characters we now know and love from NCIS – including Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon), Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette), and Anthony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) — were first seen on a two-episode JAG event that introduced the concept of the NCIS team. There were even a few characters introduced in the pilot who were cut from the series before it spun off.

NCIS connection to JAG also puts it in the same universe as the short-lived Supreme Court drama First Monday, which aired for one season in 2003. The show was co-created by Donald P. Bellisario, who created both JAG and NCIS. A recurring character, US Senator Edward Sheffield (Dean Stockwell), went on to become a fixture on JAG even after First Monday was canceled (although he never appeared on NCIS).

NCIS’ connection to Hawaii Five-0

Other than the direct spin-offs, the NCISU also includes several other non-NCIS shows. NCIS: LA is the hub for these connections, the strongest being between that show and the reboot of Hawaii Five-0. The first crossover happened on Hawaii Five-0 season 2, during the episode “Ka Hakaka Maikaʻi,” on which Lieutenant Commander Joe White (Terry O’Quinn) calls upon his former colleague and friend, Los Angeles NCIS agent Kensi Blye (Daniela Ruah), for help with a case.

Characters from both shows later appeared on a multi-night crossover event called “Pa Make Loa,” or “Touch of Death.” The episode began with the Hawaii Five-0 agents hunting down a criminal they believe was attempting to sell smallpox on the black market. When the man in question pings on the NCIS: LA database, they request the agents working the case to come to Hawaii to help. When the criminal slips through their grasp and heads for LA, the group gives chase, bringing the Hawaii-based detectives back to LA with them.

Although some of the actors involved in the crossover were apprehensive at how the writers of the opposite show would be able to handle their characters, the event was a ratings success. Fans of the shows were also pleasantly surprised at how well the characters from the different series meshed together — even if some thought the story, which was split over one episode of each series, was a bit sloppy.

The larger NCIS universe

The only other direct connection between the NCIS franchise and outside shows is with the now-canceled CBS show Scorpion. On the episode “True Colors,” the Scorpion team calls on Hetty Lange (Linda Hunt), the operations manager for the NCIS: LA team, to help them with an art heist case.

Even though that’s the last direct connection, it isn’t the extent of the NCISU. Hawaii Five-0 has had two other crossovers with CBS shows. The cast of the fellow Hawaii-set series Magnum P.I. (the reboot, of course) collided with Hawaii Five-0 for a two-episode crossover event that saw the two casts team up to recover a stolen list of undercover CIA agents. Members of the Hawaii Five-0 team also appeared on a season 1 episode of the CBS reboot of MacGyver, which saw the Phoenix Foundation team members traveling to Hawaii during an earthquake relief effort, only to be caught up in a criminal conspiracy.

With those distant connections accounted for, we now have a clearer picture of the scope of the NCISU — which includes JAG, First Monday, NCIS, NCIS: NOLA, NCIS: LA, Hawaii Five-0, Scorpion, Magnum P.I., and MacGyver. Given that half of these shows are still on the air, it’s likely that, similar to our own universe, the NCISU will continue to expand.

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