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'NCIS' 200th episode: EP talks Sasha Alexander's 'return.' Plus, more behind-the-scenes burning questions answered
by Sandra Gonzalez
Feb 8 2012 07:33 PM ET

The 2o0th episode of NCIS easily dominated the competition in ratings last night with an episode that honored nine years of triumphs and tragedies with Gibbs and his team. But it was no small task for executive producer Gary Glasberg.

It was really an homage to fans. I hope it works in that respect. Its very hard to encapsulate nine seasons of television into 42 minutes and I hope that I was able to pull off even a little bit of that, he says. I just wanted to touch on not only the heart and pathos and history of what NCIS has accomplished but also give people a little more insight into who Gibbs is as well.

Doing so, however, required a few tricks, a lot of thought, and many tough decisions for example, which moments from Gibbs History to highlight. Glasberg spoke with EW today to give a little behind the scenes insight:

+ How were the what-if scenarios chosen?
GLASBERG: Well, its hard to look back over nine seasons and pick particular moments and things that we wanted to touch on. But there was lots of discussion about the writers and the other producers of the show and we tried to hit moments that we thought were relevant to him and his life not only looking back but as he moves forward as well.

+ Were there Easter Eggs?
Watch the episode again, and if youre at a computer, really frame through the 30-second montage that he first experiences when the gun shot happens. Greg Gontz, our editor, put in at least 100 cuts in those 30 seconds. And its really an extraordinary display of imagery he pulled. There were weeks and weeks of time that went into those 30 seconds alone. Its kind of a little photo album. So people should take a look at it if they can.

+ Did Sasha Alexander REALLY return as Kate?
Sasha was out of the country at the time and couldnt come up and play with us. So she very graciously let us use her image, and we recut things into the episode. The sequence in the hospital room, there were hours and hours of opticals that went into that. And we basically took her from a sequence in SWAK, when they got the plague, and repositioned the colors and re-jiggered and recut. This is what we came up with. Im very proud of it. Its a challenge to do something like that and I think it worked pretty well.

+ same goes for Lauren Hollys Jenny Shepard?
She wasnt able to come and hang out with us either. Its the nature of filming an episode around the holidays its very tricky to get people. And we were very happy with how that came out.

+ Will we ever see Gibbs mom again?
Thats a character weve never had a chance to meet. She left him very early in his life and this was a unique opportunity to do something. So it gave us some insight.I dont know. Anything is possible on NCIS thats what Ive learned. People said, OMG well never see Muse Watson again, and I was so glad that he was the glue that held this episode together. So Ill say you never know. If we can come up with a way to do it that informs our story and our characters, why not?

+ When Mike Franks (Muse Watson) died, was the plan always to bring him back?
Yes. I had a sense of something I wanted to do with him at the time and he (Watson) kind of laughed at me about it. But at the end of the day, he was really pleased with the way that unfolded.


Quiet Series Celebrates a Milestone Few Others Reach

Published: February 6, 2012

O.K., maybe other people are more deserving of sympathy. Still, it can be a struggle to get a quietly successful show noticed by the wider television world, which may explain why CBS has turned episode No. 200 of NCIS into a cause for celebration.

Its producers and publicists have been planning for this Tuesdays milestone episode of this criminal drama since last spring. The studio that makes the show wheeled out a cake and held a ribbon-cutting on the set last month when the episode was being taped. And the network has been promoting the big round number in commercials and on Facebook in recognition that so few one-hour dramas ever make it this far.

The fact that we hit this number at the same time that were No. 1 with viewers is extraordinary, and there isnt a single person here who takes it for granted, said Gary Glasberg, the executive producer and show runner who oversees each episode.

The episode on Tuesday is a kind of reward for longtime fans, bringing back some past characters for cameos and setting up some what-if scenarios for Leroy Jethro Gibbs, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service special agent Mark Harmon has played since the shows inception, in the fall of 2003. Its all about the ripple effects of decisions and choices he has made throughout the years, Mr. Glasberg said.

Nina Tassler, the president for entertainment for CBS, praised the producers for being very mindful of the fans that have been there since the beginning by revealing more about the characters bit by bit.

NCIS nowadays is like a supernova, she said, netting 22.7 million viewers for new episodes this season, up slightly from last season, which was its highest-rated to date. It has been the most-watched scripted television show in the United States since the 2009-10 season, when it surpassed CSI, another CBS franchise.

And yet it is also awfully unassuming. The series is shot in the canyons of Santa Clarita, Calif., north of Los Angeles, mostly out of sight and mind of Hollywood. It retains an unusually high number of its staff members each season. It meets its deadlines. This is not a set where the size of your trailer is important, said Mr. Harmon, who wasnt about to name the sets where it is important.

The show had a humble beginning, with about 12 million viewers on average, middling by CBS standards at the time. We were not good enough to be paid attention to and not bad enough to be canceled, Mr. Harmon said.

As a spinoff of JAG those letters stand for Judge Advocate General, a legal branch of the Navy which ran between 1995 and 2005 and totaled 227 episodes, it was allowed to grow slowly, and it did, flouting most of the trends of network television. (Oddly, JAG itself did the same it was canceled by NBC after one season, but revived by CBS and made into a hit show.)

NCIS was especially popular early on in other countries. The international audience was ahead of us, said David Stapf, the president of CBS Television Studios. In the United States 2008 is perceived to be its breakout year; thats when the cable channel USA started showing repeats of the series, which rated exceptionally well. The producers believe that the cable reruns furthered the shows popularity on CBS, too, since it has continued to grow since then.

Back in 2003, when it had its premiere, Mr. Stapf said, studio executives wondered if the writers would have enough material to go the distance, since the real NCIS only investigates crimes that affect the United States Navy and Marine Corps a smaller scope than, say, a metropolitan police departments. But we quickly got over that, he said.

The executives also worried at first about the humor interwoven into the dramas plotlines. As Mr. Stapf put it, Can people be joking when theyre standing over a dead body? But the humor, he added, also made the characters very real and very relatable.

This is their job, he continued. They stand over dead bodies every single day.

While the dead bodies lent the show a procedural formula, the laughs helped to highlight the characters: both the boss, played by Mr. Harmon, and the agents who work for him. The characters and their relationships have become pivotal parts of the show.

Now there is also a spinoff, NCIS: Los Angeles, which is drawing about 18.4 million viewers on average this season, and there are regular marathons on USA.

Its not unusual for people to say to me, Hey, all day yesterday, I was watching the marathon, Mr. Harmon said. It makes me laugh. Im like, Get outside, do something! But he added, Its so important to realize the effects that the show has on people.

For Mr. Glasberg there is a lesson embedded in NCIS about slow, steady character building. You can give people a little bit, and it satiates them and leaves them wanting more, he said.

This winter one of the lighting technicians came up to him and said: Gunsmoke, right? Were going for Gunsmoke? That series lasted on television for 20 seasons and 635 episodes, albeit at a time in television history when viewers had far fewer choices than today.

Mr. Glasberg said he answered, Ill do my best.

NCIS Boss on the 200th Episode: Gibbs Took a Big Step Forward

Feb 8, 2012 04:52 PM ET
by Adam Bryant

Although Leroy Jethro Gibbs got to see how his life could have played out differently on the landmark 200th episode of NCIS, he decided he wouldn't have it any other way.

After being fired at while enjoying his morning cup of coffee at a diner, Gibbs (Mark Harmon) was led by the ghosts of Mike Franks (Muse Watson), Riley McCallister (Michael O'Neill) and Gibbs' wife Shannon (Darby Stanchfield) to some of the defining moments of Gibbs' life and the series. What if Gibbs had stopped a sniper from killing agent Kate Todd (Sasha Alexander)? What if Gibbs hadn't killed the man who murdered his family? And what if Gibbs hadn't been an NCIS agent at all?

In the end, truth was better than fiction for Gibbs. We chatted with executive producer Gary Glasberg about creating this one-of-a-kind hour, the technical wizardry used to recreate certain scenes, and the first appearance of Gibbs' mother (Clare Carey). Plus: How will this experience change Gibbs' outlook on the future?

Congratulations on reaching this milestone! What sort of feedback have you gotten today?
Gary Glasberg: So far what I've seen and heard has been very positive. This episode was really an homage to the fans, and the goal was to make people think a little bit, not only about decisions in their own lives, but in Gibbs' life as well and where [his decisions] have taken him over nine seasons. It's a challenge to pack nine seasons into 42 minutes. I hope I accomplished it.

How did you go about deciding which specific moments you wanted to revisit in this episode?
Glasberg: There were lots of moments that our other characters were the deciding factors in. But because of the standpoint we took in this show it was really about Gibbs. That was something that helped us separate one moment from another. These are the moments that we thought if Gibbs had handled himself differently, how would it have worked out?

These are also the moments that Gibbs perhaps still feels guilty about?
Glasberg: A big part of Gibbs and any sort of hero character is what they're carrying around inside and the weight that's on those shoulders. A big part of what drives Leroy Jethro Gibbs is these decisions that he's made. Whether he was right or wrong, in his mind, he acted the way he needed to in the moment. I think we all look back on things that we may have wanted to do differently, and this is what he's been carrying around.

One of the biggest moments had to be the reveal of Gibbs' mother.
Glasberg: This was a very unique opportunity to meet this woman who was hugely influential in his life that he lost at a very young age. It was an opportunity to reconnect with her and see what kind of woman she was and what kind of effect she would have had. I don't know when this kind of opportunity may come up again, but we wanted to seize it and take advantage of it.

Do you think we will ever see her again?
Glasberg: If something else arises, I'm not going to say no. We'll see what the writers come up with and if we feel like it's a direction we want to go in again. Clare is a fantastic actress and she totally delivered for us. It's nice to know that we can add her to the arsenal.

You obviously used lots of familiar faces in this episode. How did you decide which characters would get a scene versus a knowing glance?
Glasberg: That was part of the fun. For months now, we've been trying to determine how we could pull this off who would speak and who wouldn't speak and who we could get to come and play with us. It's tricky filming an episode around the holidays because you never know if people are going to be in town or if we can get them. So you have instances where you have the actor walk through the diner ... or you have some situations where we optically re-created it. It was a big challenge, but it was fun and we were happy to be able to do both.

How much trickery was going on in some of those optically re-created scenes?
Glasberg: My hat is off to my post-production team because they have spent weeks and weeks and weeks doing those sequences. It's very tricky, whether it was Jenny Shepard (Lauren Holly) sitting in that booth for the brief moment that she was, or Sasha Alexander, who was out of the country at the time. We took that image from the episode with the plague, and totally recut it. We went back into dailies and made that work.

And Kate married and had a baby with Tony (Michael Weatherly)! I guess "Gibbs' rules" don't apply in fantasyland.
Glasberg: I'd like to think that in our instance, you can bend the rules a little bit. In truth, the way we laid it out in this story, Tony and Kate get together and Gibbs, feeling the pressure of what happened to his wife and child, ended up leaving the agency entirely. So the rules don't necessarily apply because he removed himself from the scenario. Believe me, hours and hours were spent talking through all this, and whether it all completely fits or not, we were pretty careful about trying to make sure everything clicked.

And yet you still managed to have a crime story.
Glasberg: That was the fun part. I didn't want to deliver an episode that didn't have a crime to it and was just made up of the "what if" moments. Compared to many of our more complex [mysteries], there's a very simple story there about a father's desperation and what he's willing to do to provide for his son. There are absolutely overlaps of decision-making and loss that parallel [Gibbs' story]. The goal was at the end to have one story dovetail into the other.

McGee (Sean Murray) also faced a big decision: whether or not to leave his team for a promotion in Japan.
Glasberg: I wanted to give McGee the opportunity to make some tough decisions as well. This was an opportunity to do something professionally that he probably would have really enjoyed, but he wasn't ready to leave his family.

Even in some of the darker "what if" moments, Gibbs had the support of his team. Was that one of the take-aways you wanted?
Glasberg: Yeah. I like to think that bond is stronger than ever. None of these things would have come together had he not decided to join NCIS and ultimately become an NCIS agent. At the end of the day, he has to appreciate at least what got him here. And even though he's experienced tremendous loss and pain along the way, [the team] is his family now.

Why did you want to have several characters tell Gibbs that life "doesn't work that way" during these sequences?
Glasberg: I think it's really about that, unfortunately, the world doesn't always allow us to steer things in the direction we want. Things unfold and happen that are sometimes difficult. And we have to accept them and move on.

So, will we see Gibbs moving on with a changed perspective?
Glasberg: I don't know if Gibbs will ever really be able to let go of all of the demons. But I think as he recognizes the truths of what he's been through and the complexities of what he's experienced that he will be able to move forward a little bit. It's two steps back and one big step forward. Hopefully, now that he's gone through this, it will have an impact as he looks to the future.

Two Hundred Episodes In, "NCIS" Stars Investigate Its Enduring Popularity
By Scott Huver
Monday, Feb 6, 2012 | Updated 12:25 PM EST

VALENCIA, CA - JANUARY 03: (L-R) Actors Brian Dietzen, David McCallum, Pauley Perrette, Mark Harmon, Sean Murray (backrow)Cote de Pablo and Michael Weatherly pose at CBS' "NCIS" celebration of thier 200th episode on January 3, 2012 in Valencia, California. (Photo by Mark Davis/Getty Images)

Its not the most-buzzed-about show on TV, its stars arent staples of awards nominations or gossip magazines, and there arent an army of bloggers tracking every plot point. But nine years, one spinoff series and 200 hours into its run, NCIS is the number one show on television.

To mark the series landmark 200th episode airing Feb. 7 PopcornBiz learned just what the "NCIS" leading lights think make it such an enduringly popular TV staple.

Mark Harmon (Leroy Gibbs):

It doesn't feel like 200 episodes, doesn't feel like nine years. There are other things on this show more important than the size of your trailer, and it's always been about the work. I've felt that we've always, from the beginning here, had control over nothing except what we did each day in the work, and I believe that remains the same. These writers continue to challenge us, and there's new things in these characters all the time. And you might play something for six years, and all of a sudden the seventh find out that something you've been playing was a little bit changed, but that's because these writers keep digging and the challenge is still there. We just did the 200th episode, and that was as challenging as any episode we've done. For everybody not just the actors, for the entire crew.

Executive producer Gary Glassberg:

When Don Bellasario created the show, there was a foundation that he started with, a brilliant foundation of story and character that was there. And over the years we just sort of kept scratching the surface of it. And to be nine years into a show now and still have so much to work with is a real comment on what Don came up with to begin with, I personally am very grateful for it.

David McCallum (Dr. Ducky Mallard):

I'm now a virtual pathologist, and I get accused by my family they call me Dr. Dave now. I have yards and yards of books on the subjects of death. And when we started this show, I didn't know anything about pathology and I didn't know anything about NCIS. I learned the commitments of excellence that all of those special agents have, and then we kind of brought that what we all do as a team. But for me, I love this show because it gives me a chance to do what I was born to do in the best possible way. At the same time, I have had Craig Harvey, the coroner in Los Angeles, Craig Mallak, the chief pathologist of the army, and a whole host of people in the world of pathology that have helped me to understand what they do, how they do it, and I think they respect the fact that we do it as well as we do. But the learning process never stops, and Gary will come up within the next few weeks with something that I've seen in some body part that needs twisting and turning, and I will again learn all about this pathology. And that's been the most exciting part of the whole show for me.

Cote de Pablo (Ziva David):

We never go through a scene without understanding it. And if something is not working, we take our time and we make it work for us until it makes sense to us and we know the story that we're telling which I think is important, for all of us to be on the same pageWe take care of these relationships. And if we have problems, issues, and this is very much like a family, we talk about it and we discuss it. It is like a family. It doesn't mean that it's perfect all the time, much like a family dynamic. We go through it and we work it out.

Rocky Carroll (Leon Vance):

There have been a lot of shows that have come and gone which featured technology. What people really like are good stories. So regardless of the amount of information and knowledge and technology that maybe the fans have, if you're not telling good stories, you don't last for nine seasons. People have liked good stories since the early days of man, and you can surround it with whatever you want, but if you're not telling a good story, it's not going to resonate. And what this show does better than any other show, it infuses the technology and the stories with a great deal of character and with a great deal of humor and all the other human elements that you can't fake and you can't make up for.

Brian Dietzen (Jimmy Palmer):

I thought this show would get me off of jury duty and it didn't. Two years ago I explained what I did for a living and I said that I researched forensics and pathology and that sort of stuff as my job. And the judge said We know what you do for a living and we watch the show, so basically saying that we're all as much of an expert as you are and, yeah, I served on the jury. He was totally guilty.

Michael Weatherly (Tony DiNozzo):

I get, in one episode, to do crazy physical humor, an interrogation scene, and kiss the girl and then have my pants fall down to my ankles and all of these things. I am constantly discovering new stuff on the set. And it's because the writers set up these fantastic scenarios that, try as I can, I can never get ahead of. And Mark knows: I'll come to his trailer and say, I'm digging, man, but I don't know And Mark is a fantastic leader in the way that he allows all of us and leads us to that freedom. Some shows, you know, you hit your mark and bark. You show up, say your lines, wear the clothes, and reflect the light and don't make too much trouble. And this is a show that's always growing and always searching.

Pauley Perrette (Abby Sciuto):

Part of what keeps it so alive and so fresh all the time is that we all love our show. That's such a big deal. And I love it when I tell the fans we're having so much fun, and they're like Everyone can tell. That's huge, because just bringing a sense of not only gratefulness, but joy to your workplace every single day. It's not just us it's also our crew. We have the best crew on the planet who have been together so long. Everybody is excited when we come back from hiatus. We're excited when we start our first day of the season. It's like the first day of school. We're excited to see new scripts. And part of that is not only do we love each other, but we're all huge fans of our own show.

Mark Harmon:

Certainly being No. 1 is a lot more fun than being somewhere else. But I don't think anybody here is confused about what it took to get here or what it will take to stay here. And because of that, I think it's important to go to work on this show and to be gifted enough to work opposite everybody who's here and with everybody who's backstage right now still working and really, in some ways, give thanks to the opportunity that we have before us, because it's so rare and we know that. We know that. I'm not confused at all at what it took to do this and that we're still here and doing it well and in some ways doing it better than we ever have before. I think you have to give credit to the people who have stayed there and done the work.

The "NCIS" 200th episode airs Tuesday, February 7th at 8 PM ET on CBS

@: , /Sasha Alexander, /Lauren Holly, /Kate Todd, /Jenny Sheppard, /Brian Dietzen, season 9/ 9, Sean Murrey/ , Pauley Perrette/ , Michael Weatherly/ , Mark Harmon/ , David McCallum/ , Cote de Pablo/