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Picture: NAVY INVESTIGATORS: Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) and Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette) on NCIS.

Getting forensic with Mark Harmon

MICHAEL IDATO

Last updated 05:00 05/10/2014 You’re the star of a hit series, NCIS, so what is the motivation to become an executive producer on another, the spinoff NCIS: New Orleans?

This business, from the beginning, has always been such a joy. From the first time I was ever on a set to now. I had really good mentors, early on, or at least people that I met, and had the opportunity to work with, who became mentors. It’s funny to me because when I first came to NCIS, on this show, I came as an actor/director, that was the original plan. And I have not directed any [episodes]. To me, it’s about filling your quiver with more arrows than you had yesterday. And the idea of learning from that. That’s why I still enjoy so much what I do.

In the recent history of NCIS at least one other spinoff was considered, NCIS: Red, which did not proceed. Why do you think the particular assembly of either actors or elements in NCIS: New Orleans fits?

What attracted me and this cast to what we’re doing was characters. Because there were characters that each of us wanted to play. And these characters had humour. That was there from the beginning. That’s also the footprint that we’re trying to extend to New Orleans. This show was always presented as New Orleans, the city, being as much a part of it, as much of a character, as any character in the piece. And I’m happy we’re shooting it there and the cast is embracing that. Now they have to make it theirs. We’re in the process of doing that now.

It seems to have become one of the tropes of procedural spinoffs that the city sits front and centre, NCIS already has a Los Angeles spinoff, CSI went to Miami and New York. Why do you think that is the case?

I think what makes it unusual is what makes it potentially work. When we first talked about it, this was a very small New Orleans office, basically three people, who had been there for a long time, doing incredible work. Then you have New Orleans the city, right in the middle, which has its own environment, for hundreds of years. Its own sound, its own feel, certainly its own smell, taste, all that. So our job, in talking about all of this, was saying this is potentially a hugely rich opportunity to footprint a show, and at the same time, do something a little bit different.

You haven’t directed any episodes of NCIS but you did direct on Boston Public and Chicago Hope. Do you have any ambition to direct episodes of NCIS: New Orleans?

I don’t know where I would find the time to do that. It’s hard enough just trying to figure out the acting schedule that I have on NCIS. And when we shot the pilot [of New Orleans], for example, we continued shooting in Los Angeles. So it’s really a scheduling problem, more than anything. When you direct you have one episode of prep, you have a shooting episode and you have post. That’s basically three episodes you’re having to be re-scheduled in or written lightly. I’ve thought from the beginning I’m not willing to jeopardise three episodes of this show just because I want to direct. So I’ve never done it.      

If we trace the lineage of NCIS we go all the way back to the navy drama JAG. Do you think there is still a distant echo of that show on NCIS: New Orleans?

When we did the JAG we didn’t spin off, NCIS came to investigate a murder. So it was the four of us who are still there - David McCallum, Pauley Perette, Michael Weatherly and myself - brought into this environment, investigating a murder. New Orleans was a planned spinoff, which is a harder load. For a writer, that’s about servicing the existing characters, writing characters and creating characters within that environment, that are strong enough to bring the kind of actors you need to try and do a series. And at the same time, keep everyone else balanced. It’s a really tough load. And that’s a huge credit to [executive producer] Gary Glasberg. Do we like what we’re seeing? Yeah. Will the public yes or no that? Absolutely. Is it good? Growth is good. Is it going to work? I don’t know. But we’re certainly trying to give it every opportunity.

NCIS: New Orleans airs at 8.30pm Fridays on Prime

- Sunday Star Times