LOS ANGELES—In one of Die Hard’s most memorable lines, Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber character quotes Plutarch: “And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.”
That certainly hasn’t been an issue for team behind NCIS, which was just named the most-watched drama in the world, with more than 57.6 million viewers globally. Now, they’re simply moving on to the next phase of their global dominance: trying to conquer the world again, with a new spinoff, NCIS: New Orleans, launching this fall.
It’s the latest offshoot of the CBS procedural—itself spun-off from the legal drama JAG—about a team of special agents (led by Mark Harmon) from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. The New Orleans group, including star Scott Bakula, was introduced during a two-part NCIS episode last season (known as a “backdoor pilot”) and the show will air after NCIS this fall.
CBS is always pushing to expand the NCIS universe: it launched a hit spinoff, NCIS: Los Angeles, in 2009, and developed a second offshoot last year, NCIS: Red, which it ultimately didn’t pick up. The idea for New Orleans originated from a discussion that NCIS executive producer Gary Glasberg had with star Mark Harmon a year ago about potential ideas for their show’s coming season. Glasberg mentioned plans for a two-part episode set in New Orleans. “As we talked about it, it was just so blaringly obvious that there was a lot more here than just two hours,” Harmon, now a New Orleans executive producer, said at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour. As Glasberg told Quartz, “The more we talked about it, the more we said, ‘Let’s give it a shot.’ It felt like there was an opportunity.”
NCIS, which begins its 12th season this fall, has been the number-one drama in the US for the past five seasons, and is also licensed in more than 200 territories around the world. Yet despite that, the show routinely gets very little attention and respect from the media and fellow broadcasters.
And that’s just fine with CBS. “Our competitors may call it old-skewing. We call it a billion dollar franchise,” CBS Entertainment Chairman Nina Tassler said, adding that she is always looking to see if one of her shows can “expand to the global dominance of an NCIS. That is the Holy Grail.”
Harmon wasn’t involved in the previous spinoff projects, which helps explain why New Orleans will be much more closely tethered to the original series than they were. “There will be crossover between the two shows,” said Glasberg, who is planning for Harmon and other NCIS cast members to appear in episodes later this season. Added executive producer Jeffrey Lieber, “We’re our own thing, but we exist very much in the same universe, which is really cool.”
While NCIS: Los Angeles is almost as a big a hit as NCIS (it’s the second-most popular US drama, averaging 16 million viewers last season to NCIS’s 19.77 million), the New Orleans team knows that success isn’t guaranteed for them. “It looks really easy to do. It’s really hard to do, and to do it well,” said Harmon of NCIS.
“There’s pressure that comes” with being a part of the NCIS franchise, agreed Bakula. “We have to earn our place. It’s not a given.” But as Lieber quickly added, “We totally appreciate the lead-in, though!”