The NCIS franchise is one of the longest-running and most successful on primetime network television, with NCIS currently in its sixteenth season, NCIS: Los Angeles going strong in Season 10, and NCIS: New Orleans continuing Season 5. As franchise fans know, however, the NCIS shows are not all the same, and not just because they're set in very different places. The teams of agents and the way they investigate crimes simply don't operate the same way.
Director Diana Valentine has helmed episodes of both NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles, and she explained how LA approaches cases differently than the original NCIS:
I think NCIS, the mothership as we call it, the original, I think it's based a lot more in reality of what NCIS actually does. There's a lot of character relationships in it, whereas LA has all the character relationships, but all the cases are probably much more extreme than NCIS the agency actually deals with. And that's the big differences. LA has a lot more action in it, and NCIS is rooted a lot more in reality of the agency. Or that's what they strive.
Most viewers probably don't have a working knowledge of how the real-life Naval Criminal Investigative Service actually operates, but many could probably guess that NCIS is based in more of the reality of the agency than NCIS: LA.
Apparently, the shows are deliberate in how they set themselves apart. NCIS was already on the airwaves for years before LA launched via backdoor pilot, so it was really up to LA to either go in a new direction or mimic how NCIS works, just set on the West Coast.
NCIS doesn't hold back from putting its agents into dangerous situations, and it hasn't been without its share of shootouts and explosions, but shootouts and explosions are all but weekly events on NCIS: Los Angeles.
The big wedding episode not too long ago was centered on Kensi and Deeks finally saying "I do," and NCIS: LA still found time for plenty of gunfire, a car crashing through a wall, and Kensi needing to rip off half the skirt on her wedding dress after she needed fight off some baddies.
All the action barely even set back the ceremony. Kensi and Deeks said their vows, tied the knot, and danced the night away at their reception, torn wedding dress and all. Only on NCIS: Los Angeles!
The relationship between Kensi and Deeks is actually a solid example of how NCIS: Los Angeles puts more emphasis on character relationships than NCIS. Although the mothership has featured some popular relationships (including one that could be revisited in the not-terribly-distant future), it is generally more procedural.
Obviously each show's focus has worked; NCIS and NCIS: LA have both enjoyed long runs on CBS so far. Fans are concerned about LA winding down for some big reasons, but at this point, both shows could easily continue indefinitely.
NCIS: Los Angeles also has a knack for delivering devastating twists that really pack an emotional punch thanks to its focus on characters, and not just with regard to Densi scenes so emotional that even Daniela Ruah was shedding tears. The loss of Sam's wife was heartbreaking, and Callen's family struggles haven't always been easy to watch. And that's not even taking into account all the torture and injuries over the years!
Diana Valentine went on in her chat with CinemaBlend to share the impact of procedural series exploring emotional arcs, like on NCIS: Los Angeles:
I love it. I love when there's emotion in episodes, even in procedurals. Those are the things that I love to see as an audience member. When I was watching all the Law & Orders, my favorites were always the SVUs, because there was always something at stake and there was always an emotional connection, and I think those are the things that an audience relates to. Those emotional connections that the characters have with each other, and other things going on in the actual crime or case or whatever it is. I think what most people, most audiences tune in for day in and day out, year in and year out, is the emotional connection between the characters.
Law & Order: SVU certainly seems to be the most popular installment in the Law & Order franchise, if its recent history-making renewal is anything to go by! Procedurals that balance characters and relationships with the cases of the week can have a wide appeal, although NCIS isn't having any problems, and star Mark Harmon's idea of when NCIS should end should make fans happy.
Diana Valentine is a veteran of procedurals, having worked on a number of Criminal Minds episodes (which still have some surprising limits on what they can air) on top of NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles. Her latest episode of LA was an emotional one, called "Better Angels."
That installment saw Kensi (Daniela Ruah) staying by the side of David Sarraf (Eyas Younis), a Syrian seeking justice. He was pinned behind a vehicle, and Kensi's interactions with David were among the most emotionally-charged in NCIS: LA history. Diana Valentine shared how she knew it would be a good episode:
It had me crying the whole time I was shooting it. Both her and David's performances. That always makes me feel good, is when I'm crying behind the monitor as I'm watching it, I know that it's going to be a really good episode.
The director wasn't the only person crying during "Better Angels," which was an episode that really proved how NCIS: LA handles itself differently than NCIS. The variables between the two shows give viewers the options of either choosing the NCIS-based series that most appeals to them or watching both and getting something different out of the two viewing experiences.
You can catch new episodes of NCIS: Los Angeles on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET, and new episodes of NCIS on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET, both on CBS. If you're ever in the mood for some action set in the Big Easy, then NCIS: New Orleans on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET could be right up your alley.