The True Origins Of NCIS
Of all scripted, live-action series still airing on American primetime television, only NBC’s Law & Order and its spin-off, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit have lasted longer than CBS’ NCIS.
Originally titled Navy NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the police procedural drama has been on air since September 23, 2003. Nearly two decades later, a total of 435 episodes of the show have been broadcast, spanning the course of 19 seasons.
In that time, NCIS has also birthed three spin-off shows of its own: NCIS: Los Angeles, NCIS: New Orleans, and most recently, NCIS: Hawaiʻi.
After 13 seasons and 302 episodes, NCIS: Los Angeles is still going strong, although a number of fans have not been too impressed by the dynamics between some of the main stars.
NCIS: New Orleans had its own set of issues as well, with some cast members complaining that there was a toxic culture on the set. The show was canceled in 2021, albeit after seven seasons and 155 episodes.
It is rather fitting that NCIS has had success with its spin-offs, considering that the show itself was born out of another CBS series.
‘NCIS’ Is A Spin-Off Of An Old Legal Drama Called ‘JAG’
CBS first introduced NCIS through a back-door pilot in two episodes of its legal drama series JAG.
In the US military, the acronym JAG usually stands for Judge Advocate General’s Corps, defined as ‘the military justice branch or specialty of the U.S. Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy.’
Officers serving in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps are usually referred to as judge advocates, with their principal officer known as the Judge Advocate General.
On IMDb, one plot summary for the series JAG reads, ‘Commander Harmon Rabb, Jr. and Lieutenant Colonel Sarah MacKenzie are JAG lawyers, who together investigate and litigate c****s committed by Navy and Marine personnel.’
‘Occasionally, they engage in adventurous activities in order to solve their cases,’ the short synopsis goes on to state. ‘With Rabb’s fighter pilot background, and MacKenzie’s good looks, they are a hot team both in and out of the courtroom.’
JAG first premiered on CBS in September 1995, and lasted ten seasons and 227 episodes in ten years on the network. The show also bagged three Primetime Emmy Awards in its tenure.
Was ‘NCIS’ Inspired By Real-Life Events?
Although in NCIS is a JAG spin-off in a strict, structural sense, the creator of both shows prefers that they are not tied together.
“This is probably the only time you’ll find the creator of a show saying, ‘Do not put my name on the billboard. Do not put ‘from the creator of’ in your advertising,” co-creator and executive producer Donald P. Bellisario said in a 2015 interview.
“JAG has an older audience,” he continued. “[NCIS] is gonna be a hipper show, for a younger audience, and that’s what you want,” he continued.”[But if] you tie it to JAG, the younger people are gonna go, ‘It’s just another version of JAG,‘ and they’re not gonna watch it.”
The incredible success of both shows can, however, be traced back to the brilliance of Bellisario, as well as his experience serving in the United States Marine Corps himself.
According to a profile of the producer by the New York Times, he served as a Marine staff sergeant in the ’50s, and this provided inspiration for elements of the stories he would eventually create.
What Has Made ‘NCIS’ So Successful?
For the first 19 seasons of NCIS, actor Mark Harmon was the face of the show, as NCIS Supervisory Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs. He eventually left the role in October 2021, although he still remains on board as an executive producer.
In a 2014 interview with Larry King, Harmon argued that the primary reason for the enduring success of NCIS was simple: the hard yards put in on a daily basis by the cast and the crew.
“You know I think we’ve worked really hard,” said Harmon. “[The show] wasn’t always as successful as it is now, and I think a lot of people are responsible for that. I think it’s important on this show how people are treated, and you’ve got to give credit to the cast and the crew.”
Even after his exit from NCIS, show-runner Steven D. Binder suggested that Harmon could always return to his role on the series.
“Our north star has always been staying true to our characters,” Binder said. “So regarding the future of Gibbs – as long-time fans of the show may have noticed over the years – never count Leroy Jethro Gibbs out.”