Why NCIS Still Connects With Fans After So Long, According To Brian Dietzen

ncis jimmy gibbs and mcgee

For many years now, CBS' crime drama NCIS has maintained its position on or near the top of TV's most-watched series, and though it consistently does better with older audiences, even its key demographic ratings remain more impressive than the majority of other scripted fare. So what is it about NCIS that keeps fans invested? CinemaBlend's Adam Holmes asked show star Brian Dietzen just that during a recent interview for the now-released Season 15 DVD set, and the actor has a great explanation for why viewers remain hooked. In his words:

I think it's the family. I think it's this fun, dysfunctional family that we've built over the course of 15 years, and there's a solid family unit there with Gibbs in that paternal position. And then you got his 'kids' all trying to do right by him and make him smile and make him happy and also catch the bad guys. It's great, so when you talk about these cast changes and how they've changed things, it is changing out sometimes different members of our family. We've been very blessed so far that some of the people that we've welcomed into the show -- like back when Cote de Pablo took over for Sasha Alexander way back in the day -- we've lucked out with a lot of our cast changes. We've welcomed in some amazing, amazing people, and I'm so glad we have Rocky Carroll, and we have Wilmer Valderrama and now Maria Bello and Diona as well.

The family dynamic that's felt by a TV show's cast isn't a new concept, even for a show that doesn't actually center on a traditional family unit. But then, very few fictional series make it all the way to 16 seasons on the air, so few can boast such longterm relationships between co-stars that could absolutely allow for legitimately familial connections to develop. A lot of people don't even get to spend 16 years in the same close vicinity as their brothers and sisters (and parents, in some cases), so some of the core NCIS cast members could very well be closer to each other than members of their own real-world families. That tight-knit kinship is obviously witnessed in NCIS' onscreen relationships, which Brian Dietzen labels as the show's biggest popularity-stretching element.

He extended the family metaphor to incorporate the various casting changes that NCIS has gone through over the years, from Caitlin coming and going to Ziva's touching farewell (and eventual offscreen death) to DiNozzo leaving to take care of a daughter he hadn't known about. And no one will forget Pauley Perrette's final NCIS episodes. In most cases, but not all, characters left in non-tragic ways that allowed for light-hearted reminders and references in later years, which is comparable to sporadic communications between long-distance family members. As well, bringing in fun new cast members is similar to how new relationships can help families continue growing and changing over time.

Interestingly, Brian Dietzen also points out how it's not just about the family unit itself, but how that vibe informs how the team tackles their cases each week. Here's how he put it.

We've been really, really fortunate in that, because I think people do tune in to see this cast of characters and this family and how we connect not only to one another, but how we connect to the cases each week. So it's kind of cool, there are other criminal procedurals where it's ripped from the headlines, and our show is really about the characters. I think that's what's led to some success for us.

That's an interesting take that not all TV viewers might have thought about. The Law & Order franchise has long been known for adapting real-life criminal cases for its plots, and the recent explosion of true crime TV has doubled down on putting more emphasis on sensational crimes themselves, sometimes at the expense of character development. NCIS, meanwhile, crafts some of its cases in ways that draw out certain elements of the characters' lives and personalities, which helps to further connect them with fans. And considering there's no end in sight to NCIS' run on CBS, I'd say their efforts have been successful.

Everyone who's been watching NCIS for years probably knows that the Season 15 DVD set, which was released on August 21, is full of special features focusing on everything viewers love. We have a handful of commentaries from the cast and crew on select episodes, the featurette "A Conversation with Mark Harmon and Joe Spano," and extras that cover "Friends and Enemies," Maria Bello's introduction, the season's biggest special effects sequences and stunts, and more behind-the-scenes looks at the storylines and the characters. Perhaps most intriguing to some will be the great David McCallum answering the Proust Questionnaire.

With millions of people waiting to see how a full NCIS season will look without longtime star Pauley Perrette as Abby Sciuto, Season 16 will debut on CBS on Tuesday, September 25, at 8:00 p.m. ET. To see what other viewer-beloved dramas will be airing around the same time, our fall TV premiere schedule will be of great service.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.