The end is near for NCIS.
Calm down. Not the end, but the end of a stellar 11th season that started out with a major cast member (Cote de Pablo) departing, eventually added a new regular and, to makes things even more challenging, included a two-part backdoor pilot that could extend the NCIS franchise to New Orleans.
Executive Producer Gary Glasberg and his creative team are focusing on the last four episodes of the season at the moment, including a finale that focuses on the death of Leroy Jethro Gibb's father, played by actor Ralph Waite, who passed away earlier this year.
In the following Q&A, Glasberg gives us a peek into not only NCIS Season 11 Episode 21 - which features a guest turn by Kelli Williams - but also what we'll see in these final episodes, along with what makes the concluding one so very different...
TV Fanatic: In general, how do you feel this time of the year moving into another season finale? Does it get easier since you've been at this place before?
Gary Glasberg: It never gets easier because in the nature of 24 episodes a season it’s exhausting. But I’ll tell you what we’ve done this year, which is a little different: we made the decision not to do a cliffhanger and we did that intentionally because this year has been challenging.
NCIS Season 11 was challenging with Ziva’s departure, the arrival of Bishop and then we did the New Orleans episodes... so there’s been a lot going on. We decided to not go the route to leave everyone hanging because enough has happened this year already so we wanted to focus on our team and the strength of our team. This was a unique situation that came up and we decided to focus on the passing of Ralph Waite.
TVF: Let’s talk about that and how that affected where you’re going with the last episodes of the season.
GG: It was significant enough for us to step back and say that we wanted to say goodbye to him properly. So we put our heads together and decided we wanted to do a story about Leroy Jethro Gibb and Harmon’s character. We do some flashbacks, we get to see him as a child and we get to see him with a young Ralph Waite, who we’re in the middle of casting right now.
I think it will mean a lot to the audience and it’s definitely meant a lot to us from a storytelling standpoint. It’s a nice episode, it’s an emotional episode, it’s an informative episode and it gives people some closure.
TVF: Will we see a different side of Gibbs that we don’t typically see? He’s usually such a rock for everyone else.
GG: Well, It’s definitely new territory for him and, honestly, I’m really anxious to see how Harmon plays it. We’re prepping it right now and we start shooting in a few days and I’m really excited about it.
TVF: I know this week’s episode involves the guys on a cleanse so I’m wondering if you went on a cleanse to inspire the story?
GG: I did not. I need to cleanse but we gathered around the [writers’] room and joked about it and thought it would be a fun thing for Tony and McGee to bond over. It’s really just to do something that was light and entertaining to counterbalance a very serious storyline that involves sexual assault so we were looking for something that was minor that we could handle in a superficial way and still have fun at them and it wouldn’t detract from the bigger story.
TVF: You already have consultants on the show but did you approach this week’s case differently? Is it a true story?
GG: The story that we tell specifically isn’t true but the Navy did come to us and say that this was an arena that they wanted us to try. It’s very delicate, very sensitive subject matter and a very serious subject matter so we really wanted to do it justice.
Scott Williams, who wrote the episode, spent a lot of time researching and the real NCIS has a real significant number of agents who specialize in this so he talked to them so we really tried to approach it as realistic a standpoint as we could.
TVF: I know in the “Shooter” episode (airing April 29), Abby has a story so I was curious since we usually see her in a more comedic light does that episode give Pauley [Perrette] a chance to do a little heavier dramatic work?
GG: Absolutely! We’ve got some really talented, gifted actors on this show and anytime we can put them into situations that stretch them a little bit, we look forward to doing that. These last episodes for the entire cast gives them the opportunity to use some muscles that they don’t get to use all season long. My goal with these last episodes, and this is true of Season 12 as well, is to really focus on the team and get back to the basics, as they call it, of the stories and why people watch NCIS. The emotion, the characters…that’s what these episodes will focus on.
TVF: Tony has a big story in the penultimate episode, which I saw in the press compared to the movie, Three Days of the Condor. Is that a personal story or a case story or a little of both?
GG: No, that’s more of a case-driven story and it was something that I’d been talking about and playing with for a few months now. I wanted to send Tony off on an assignment that lands him in Marcé and Tony has some experience in France and it’s always fun for us, and a challenge for us, to try to recreate it. We’re in the middle of filming that now and I’m pleased with what I’ve been seeing and I think it’s going to be fun. it’s a lot of action and intrigue and Michael is doing great.
TVF: Is DiNozzo by himself or is there another team member with him?
GG: He’s the only one who goes and everyone else is involved but from back home.
TVF: What about the Jimmy and Breena's adoption story. Will that progress anymore this season?
GG: Yes, it does come up again and people will hear some things and learn some things and it will continue.
TVF: In terms of McGee, Delilah is in Dubai but will she pop back up or at least hear about her?
GG: There’s more discussion of Delilah. You won’t see her but I certainly hope you might be seeing her in Season 12.
TVF: What’s Bishop’s piece in these last episodes? She’s been such a great addition to the show and the NCIS team this season.
GG: Like I said, I really wanted to emphasize the group and emphasize the team and emphasize the strength of NCIS in its entirety. I like to think that Bishop is finding her niche and the team is relying on her and her expertise when it comes up and that’s really the extent of it. I look forward to giving her other stories and other moments as we move into season 12 but right now it’s all about the group.
TVF: If the New Orleans spinoff moves forward, how are you going to be able to juggle all this, Gary? I know NCIS keeps you very busy by itself!
GG: [laughs] You know what? I’ve learned the power of delegating and if New Orleans moves forward I will continue to stay very focused on the Mothership and then we’ll find some fantastic people to help me out but we’ll have to see what comes of it.
NCIS airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on CBS.
Jim Halterman is the West Coast Editor of TV Fanatic and the owner of JimHalterman.com. Follow him on Twitter.