NCIS is an American procedural drama that focuses on a fictional group of special agents led by Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) from the Naval Criminal Investigation Service. A spin-off of the popular legal drama JAG (about a group of Navy lawyers), the show made its debut on September 23, 2003, and is currently airing its 17th season. In 2009 and 2014, two more NCIS spin-offs set in Los Angeles and New Orleans made their debuts, and to date, the three shows have aired a combined 765 episodes. Not too shabby! Below are 42 criminal facts about the long-running franchise.
1. Real or Fake?
Fans of forensic scientist Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette) on NCIS have often wondered how much of her body ink is real. According to the actress, other than the spiderweb tattoo on her neck and the cross on her back, which are drawn on for the role, the rest of them are the real thing.
2. Creeping Up There
NCIS wasn’t a big blockbuster hit straight out of the gate, barely cracking the top 30 network shows for the first couple of seasons. However, by the third season, ratings made a steady climb into the top 20, and by season six it became a top-five hit. Since then, it’s been one of the top-rated shows on TV.
3. Making Cameos
On episodes in season three and season five episode, respectively, real-life NCIS special agent David Brandt and former NCIS director Thomas Betro made cameos on the show. The agents were easy to spot because their characters used their real names.
4. A Bittersweet Reunion
At the end of NCIS: Los Angles’ tenth season, fans were treated to a JAG/NCIS crossover that reunited cast members from the original show, tied up some loose ends from JAG’s finale, and revealed the fate of Harm (David James Elliott) and Mac (Catherine Bell). While it may not have been the happily-ever-after that fans were hoping for, it did lead to speculation that there would be a JAG reboot.
No word on that yet, but never say never!
5. Real-Life Wife
Chelsea Field, the actress who appears as Scott Bakula’s (Agent Pride) love interest on NCIS: New Orleans, is actually married to Bakula, so playing his romantic interest on TV isn’t exactly a stretch. In another real-life connection, Daniela Ruah (Kinsey on L.A.) is married to her on-screen partner Eric Christian Olsen’s older brother, David Paul Olsen, who is a stunt double on the show.
6. Just in Case They Didn’t Know
When the show first aired, producers gave it the name Navy NCIS because they assumed that viewers might not realize what the acronym stood for, so they included "Navy" to make it more obvious what the show was about. They later dropped the redundant name and now most viewers just know it as NCIS.
7. There’s Really an NCIS
While the agents and storylines on the TV show are totally fictional, there really is an NCIS. Like its fictional counterpart, it's a civilian federal law enforcement agency that investigates felony crime, preventing terrorism, and protecting the Navy and Marine Corps. Serious stuff!
8. Real-Life Experience
Don Bellisario, the original creator of NCIS, used his real-life experience to produce the show. He served in the US Marine Corps from 1955-1959 and rose to the rank of sergeant. He also drew on that experience when he wrote for Magnum P.I., as Tom Selleck’s character was a U.S. Naval Academy grad.
9. Always Updating
The NCIS team’s office has a most-wanted wall that contains photographs and names of some of the criminals that they are currently looking for. Whenever NCIS or another federal agency captures or kills a fugitive, they cross out the photo with red tape. If you’re really paying attention, you might notice that the wall is always updating, and in 2011, after Osama Bin-Laden’s capture, his photo was crossed out with red tape. Nice touch!
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10. What Does the G Stand For?
For the first seven seasons of NCIS: Los Angeles, Chris O’Donnell’s character was known simply as G. Callen, and what the G. stands for was even a mystery to Callen. A February 2016 episode finally revealed the answer, when he learns that the G. stands for Grisha. That’s a long time not to know your name!
11. Not Just for the Show
On NCIS: New Orleans, actor Daryl "Chill" Mitchell, who plays Patton Plame, uses a wheelchair. The actor also uses a wheelchair in real life, having been paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle accident in November 2001. An actor before he lost the use of his legs, Mitchell considered quitting the profession after the accident, but his family and famous friends like Denzel Washington and Chris Tucker told him not to give up.
12. Just Couldn’t Handle It
Many viewers were surprised when actress Sasha Alexander, who portrayed Catlin "Kate" Todd, left the show after two seasons, but don't worry, it wasn’t because of any problems with the producers or the actors. It was Alexander’s first real experience being on a big show, and she soon realized that she wasn’t up to the 16-hour days that being on the show required.
13. Not Seeing Eye-to-Eye
Producer Don Bellisario chose Mark Harmon for the role of Gibbs on NCIS, but Bellisario ended up leaving the show in 2007 because he and Harmon were sparring over his “chaotic management style.” When it came down to a "him or me" scenario, Harmon won the day and producers forced Bellisario to leave. He still gets an executive producing credit, but outside of that, he has nothing to do with the show.
14. It’s My Right!
If you assumed that Bellisario went quietly from NCIS, you’d be totally wrong. Bellisario ended up taking CBS to court over the spin-off NCIS: Los Angeles. According to his contract, he had first dibs on creating a spin-off, even after they forced him out. After Bellisario left, the network hired Shane Brennan to create the spin-off instead, leading to a lengthy court battle and an undisclosed settlement.
15. Contributing to the Soundtrack
Something not many people may know about former star Michael Weatherly (Anthony "Tony" DiNozzo) is that he’s also a musician. The actor wrote and performed two songs for the NCIS soundtrack: “Bitter and Blue” and “Under the Sun.”
16. Guest-Starring Mom
On a 2012 episode of NCIS: Los Angeles, the real-life mothers of the show’s four leads appeared as four women playing poker in a casino. All of the actors and their moms said the experience was a lot of fun, and they are definitely game to repeat it should the opportunity arise.
17. Authentic Setting
Unlike the original NCIS, which takes place in Washington but is really filmed in Los Angeles, NCIS: New Orleans is actually filmed in Louisiana. In fact, New Orleans Film Tours offers fans visiting New Orleans a walking tour of the show’s famous locations.
18. From Best Friends to Enemies
Dean Stockwell and Scott Bakula played best friends on Quantum Leap, but in NCIS: New Orleans, Stockwell guest-starred as retired New Orleans P.D. officer Tom Hamilton, an adversary of Bakula’s character Agent Pride.
19. They Look So Much Alike!
If you thought that the actor who played the younger version of Gibbs in a handful of episodes looked a lot like Mark Harmon, there’s a good reason for that—the actor is his son! That would definitely explain it.
20. Gold or Silver?
Agents on the show carry either gold or silver badges. However, the badges don’t signify rank as one might expect. They simply identify full-time (gold) or part-time (silver) agent. How's that for attention to detail!
21. Gibbs’ Rules
An iconic aspect of Gibbs' character is his list of rules. Essentially, the rules define his perspective on how to live life both personally and professionally. To this day, nobody knows exactly how many rules there are. Gibbs has suggested that there around 50 rules, but only 40 have been shared with his team. He also tends to repeat numbers, so honestly, who the heck knows?
22. Just Playing Herself
Portraying a forensic scientist on TV isn’t really a stretch for Pauley Perrette (Abby), because she actually has a degree in criminology. She originally moved to New York to get her Masters, but then got into acting and landed her gig on NCIS. According to the producers, most of Abbey’s quirks and interests are a genuine reflection of Perrette herself.
23. Family Affair
Sean Murray, who plays Agent Timothy McGee, has a bit of a family connection to Don Bellisario. As it turns out, he’s Bellisario's stepson from his fourth marriage. His brother Chad W. Murray is also a producer on the spin-off series NCIS: L.A. We're not done yet! Stepbrother Michael Bellisario was on JAG (which his dad also produced), and stepsister Troian Bellisario also had a small part in one NCIS episode. Now that’s keeping it in the family.
24. A Real Experience
LL Cool J, one of the stars of NCIS: Los Angeles, prefers to do his own stunts when possible. It's partly to demonstrate his personal commitment to his character and partly to give his fans “the real experience.”
25. Crossing Over
The great thing about a multi-show franchise is the endless possibilities to have characters cross over into the other shows. Pauley Perrette and Michael Weatherly have not only appeared on all three NCIS franchises, but also on NCIS’s parent show, JAG.
26. It’s the People’s Choice
Despite being one of the most popular shows on TV, NCIS and its cast have never been nominated for an Emmy—not even Mark Harmon, who has previously been nominated for other work. While it may never be a critical darling, after 17 seasons and various cast changes, the show is as popular as ever, and that’s what really matters, isn’t it?
27. Loves His Fans
Mark Harmon really loves the shirts his fans send him and paparazzi often snap photos of him wearing them. Sometimes, he even wears them on the show! Apparently, his fans have good taste.
28. Getting it Right
Chilean American actress Cote de Pablo portrayed Israeli agent Ziva David on the show. In order to make sure she got the challenging Hebrew pronunciations correct, the show had her work with a dialect coach.
29. Nice to Meet you Illya
The first time that Harmon met David McCallum (Ducky) on the set, he called him Illya, in reference to the actor’s time on the 1960s series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. According to Harmon, McCallum’s response was, “Good God, that was 40 years ago!”
Beginning sometime during the second season, the series started showing two-second black-and-white clips called “foofs” at the beginning of each segment (post commercial break). These "foofs" depict the last two seconds of the segment and act as a small preview of what's to come..."Foof."
31. Hitting a Milestone
NCIS: New Orleans is the first of Scott Bakula’s shows to reach the hundred-episode milestone. His other hit shows Quantum Leap and Star Trek: Enterprise just missed the mark, running for 97 and 98 episodes respectively. Missed it by that much!
32. We Hardly Knew Ye
The first season of NCIS: Los Angeles featured a character named Dom (Adam Jamal Craig), but the producers wrote him out of the show after just a few episodes. They then offered a regular slot to actor Brian Avers (Special Agent Mike Renko), who turned it down, leading to Eric Christian Olsen’s character Marty Deeks becoming a series regular in season two.
33. Total Dedication
Actor Miguel Ferrer, who played Assistant Director Owen Granger on NCIS: Los Angeles until his death in 2017, was so dedicated to his role that he didn’t want to take any time off after his cancer diagnosis. In fact, once the disease started to make Ferrer's voice sound strained, they wrote the trait into his character as well. Now that’s devotion.
34. They’re mine.
In his rare downtime, Gibbs can be seen in his basement workshop working on his boat. The tools he uses in these scenes are actually Harmon’s real tools from his own workshop. Harmon also restored his vintage 1972 Airstream trailer, so he must be pretty handy.
35. Hands-On Producer
Harmon is listed as an executive producer on NCIS: New Orleans, and not just in name. Harmon worked with co-producer Gary Glasberg to develop the series and had a hand in casting, location, and music decisions.
36. Now That’s an Entrance!
Actress Linda Hunt, who portrays the formidable Hetty Lange on NCIS: Los Angeles, was largely absent from the show in the 2018-2019 season after a terrifying car accident in July 2018. When she did return, it was definitely with a bang: She crashed her car through a wall during Kensi and Deek’s wedding.
37. What’s In that Drink?
Abbey’s favorite drink on the show is a Caf-Pow, which is basically like a Red Bull. Since the drink doesn’t exist in real life, they filled the cup with Hawaiian Punch in the early seasons, and then replaced it with unsweetened cranberry juice when the actress decided to cut back on sugar.
38. He Really Plays
Scott Bakula’s NCIS: New Orleans character Dwayne Pride is an accomplished piano player on the show, leading fans to wonder whether or not Bakula actually plays. It turns out that Bakula played the piano before he signed onto the show and the network worked it into his character.
39. Seeing the Potential
Originally, NCIS: New Orleans was only supposed to be a two-part NCIS episode for a sweeps week, but when producer Gary Glasberg shared his idea with Mark Harmon, Harmon realized that it could be a lot more than that, and the two-parter was developed into a series.
40. It Had the Right Vibe
Unlike the other two NCIS shows, which have original theme music, NCIS: New Orleans uses the classic blues song “Boom Boom” by John Lee Hooker. As producer Glasberg explained when asked why he chose to use that song, it just “had the vibe” he was looking for.
41. Spinning Off
NCIS (which is also a spin-off) has spawned two successful spin-offs. NCIS: Los Angeles premiered with a two-part backdoor pilot on NCIS in 2009, and NCIS: New Orleans made its debut with another two-part backdoor pilot in 2014. Also, producers proposed a third spin-off called NCIS: Red in 2013, but after being introduced on NCIS: Los Angeles in 2013, they decided they weren’t really into it. NCIS: Red ended up canceled it before it started.
Sorry fans, you'll have to stick with just three shows for now.
42. A Different Face
It’s hard to imagine anyone else as Jethro Gibbs, but when Bellisario first saw Mark Harmon, he thought he was too much of a “pretty boy” and didn’t think he’d be tough enough to play the role. After offering the role to Don Johnson (who turned it down), Bellisario took another look at Harmon. Finally, he was swayed after seeing Harmon's performance as Agent Simon Donovan on West Wing.
Alas, we'll never know what Gibbs would have looked like in a pastel blazer with the sleeves pushed up.