NCIS has been part of the CBS primetime lineup for 18 seasons, with the network airing more than 400 episodes. The procedural is seen in more than 200 countries and territories around the globe and has been at the top of the ratings for years.
The series has a rich history and has led to multiple spinoffs. But what does NCIS stand for?
‘NCIS’ was introduced to fans via a backdoor pilot
A few months before NCIS premiered in September 2003, CBS introduced the agency and its main characters via a backdoor pilot in another drama. In a two-part season 8 episode of JAG — titled “Ice Queen” and “Meltdown” — Commander Harmon Rabb (David James Elliott) was a murder suspect in a case that NCIS was investigating.
That’s when fans first met NCIS director Thomas Morrow (Alan Dale) and Special Agent in Charge Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon). As well as Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard (David McCallum), Anthony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly), and Abby Sciutto (Pauley Perrette).
Sean Murray (Timothy McGee) didn’t join the cast as a series regular until season 2. And Cote de Pablo’s Ziva David didn’t show up until season 3.
A character disappeared because the actress was ‘too soft’
The backdoor pilot episodes also featured an NCIS agent named Vivian Blackadder, played by Robin Lively. However, when the series premiered on its own, they replaced the character with Sasha Alexander’s Caitlin Todd. According to series creator Donald Bellisario, Lively was just “too soft.”
“Robin is a very good actress, very sweet girl,” Bellisario told TV Guide at the time. “We were kind of unfair to her, because she did not even get cast until the day before we started shooting [the backdoor pilot], so she did not have the advantage of coming in and knowing anything about this show. But she was a little soft for this kind of role.”
‘NCIS’ wasn’t the original name of the series
When fans tuned in to watch the pilot episode on September 23, 2003, they were introduced to Navy NCIS. This name was a bit odd because NCIS stands for Naval Criminal Investigative Service. So, the show was essentially called Navy Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Why such a redundant name? It was because CBS wasn’t sure their audience knew what the NCIS acronym stood for.
“Oh yeah. It’s only going to be called Navy NCIS for a very short period of time,” Bellisario told TV Guide at the time. “I don’t know how long it will go, but we would never refer to [the team] in the show as anything but NCIS.
It’s only on the screen that it’s called Navy NCIS. CBS thought — and I think it’s a legitimate concern — that they want to get JAG viewers to try it out and see what it is, because most people don’t know what NCIS is. Most people have no clue when they hear it.”
Donald Bellisario pitched the series as ‘JAG meets CSI’
Bellisario has created some memorable TV shows during his career, including Magnum PI, Quantum Leap, and JAG. It was his idea to spinoff NCIS into a series, due in part to Harmon’s performance in the backdoor pilot.
Bellisario pitched the series to then-CBS president Les Moonves by describing it as “JAG meets CSI” with a gruff NCIS agent and his squad solving crimes. He also pointed out that NCIS is a real life agency, just like JAG’s Judge Advocate General.
“It’s made up of civilians, mostly former cops, some FBI agents and people in the military who investigate military crimes. They’re independent of the Navy,” Bellisario explained. “They answer, I believe, only to the secretary of the Navy — so they can go in and investigate, and they don’t have to deal with command pressure.”
CBS renewed ‘NCIS’ for season 19
After months of uncertainty, CBS did finally renew NCIS for season 19 earlier this spring. However, Harmon is cutting down his workload. Which means Gibbs will only appear in a few episodes.
The series will also be welcoming two new full-time cast members. Katrina Law will join the team as Agent Jessica Knight. While Gary Cole will be joining the cast in a role that’s still a bit of a mystery.
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