18x01 - Sturgeon Season - Gibbs and Fornell (Joe Spano) attempt to track down the leader of a drug ring who supplied drugs to Fornell’s daughter. Also, the team deals with the case of a missing cadaver from the NCIS autopsy room, on the 18th season premiere of NCIS
Tuesday, Nov. 17, (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT)

Posted by Admin on February 1st, 2011

Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs is the most popular personality on television – even bigger than Oprah Winfrey.

Mark Harmon, the actor who plays Gibbs on CBS’ long-running hit “NCIS,” took the top spot from Winfrey in a recent Harris poll. But Harmon shrugged it off.

“The show had a good week, I guess.”

Make that two good weeks: Each of the past two episodes of “NCIS” was watched by more than 21 million viewers. By comparison, the final episode of “Lost” pulled in 13.5 million viewers.

The show, which often places characters in Norfolk and other locations in Hampton Roads, is in its eighth season.

“We’ve been together for a long time, and I think we’re doing it better than we’ve ever done it before,” Harmon said. “We have a group of people on this show – and when I say ‘people,’ I mean in front of the camera and behind the camera – who have a huge volume of experience in both good and not-so-good, and the appreciation level on this show for what this is and how we got there is just so rare. It’s such a group effort to make this show, and then to have 22 million people watching every week – it’s so completely gratifying.”

“NCIS” began in 2003 as a spin off of “JAG,” introducing the characters of Gibbs, Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly), Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette) and Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard (David McCallum) in a two-part “JAG” episode. All are still part of the “NCIS” cast.

“When we first sat and read this pilot script, we all came to the same reasons why we liked it: They were characters that we wanted to play, and there was humor,” Harmon said. “Yeah, there was a case, but the case wasn’t what drove the show. It was the characters.”

The cast’s bond has tightened during the show’s run, but the experience of transforming “NCIS” into a ratings juggernaut wasn’t easy.

“You couldn’t enjoy it in the beginning,” said Harmon. “In the beginning, we spent so much time together, we were doing this 20 hours a day, and there were some who couldn’t do it. They moved on. Those of us that remain are all on the same page. We’ve done near 180 episodes, and you don’t find people on this show who don’t want to be directed. You don’t find people on this show who are saying, ‘Hey, what time do we get to go home?’ ”

“NCIS” writers Frank Cardea, George Schenck and Steven D. Binder have each scripted more than 20 episodes for the series.

“I’ll tell you, it’s a pleasure if there’s a question or something on a script to be able to have a writer right there so you can say, ‘Hey, what did you mean by this?’ ” said Harmon.

That chemistry between actors and writers has allowed for the occasional ad-lib. One of the most famous moments to emerge spontaneously: Gibbs’ notorious head slap, a move that has recurred throughout the series.

“I think Michael Weatherly’s probably got a flat spot on the back of his head somewhere by now,” said Harmon. “That was just a scene in year one, and as I recall, Michael was riffing at some point, and it just seemed appropriate at the time to direct him back in a more” – he paused – “reasonable direction. And to his credit, he stayed with it.”

The series’ success comes from that trust between the actors and their confidence in the “NCIS” writers, Harmon said.

“That’s how we work. I don’t always know where it’s going. I try to know what I’m playing, but there are plenty of times where they’re changing things, and you’re playing something that you trust is going to go somewhere. ”

Harmon is renegotiating his contract with CBS.

“I’m going to work, and I plan to honor my contract,” he said. “I think there’s every reason to be hopeful and just move along like we’re doing now and just not let it be a distraction.”

During the Television Critics Association press tour in January, CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler told the website, “We are very confident Mark will continue on with the show. He’s very happy, and we’re thrilled to have him.”

In this remainder of this season, a flashback episode will encompass much of the show’s run to date. Harmon gave few clues as to what else to expect, save an assurance that some familiar faces will be returning and some are probably leaving.

“I’m hesitant to answer the question only because I don’t know what I can or can’t say,” he said. “But, listen, it’s all headed somewhere.”

Harmon said he’s never been to Norfolk, despite the show’s references to Hampton Roads. The plan originally called for filming in some of the locations depicted on the series, but most of its episodes have been filmed in Southern California, with the camera crew working to crop the palm trees from the frame.

“I’ll be glad to come,” Harmon said. “But I’ve never been there on my own, and I don’t know that I’ve ever been invited.”


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