A staple of CBS's prime-time line-up for nearly 20 years, NCIS is a major franchise for the network, and it continues to be one of the station's biggest shows. With close to 400 episodes, NCIS has produced a whole lot of television, and the show has certainly seen a lot of changes happen off-camera as well. Indeed, the CBS drama has definitely seen a lot of drama of its own, while there are also a lot of juicy, surprising behind-the-scenes details that maybe even long-time fans of the series might not know. Without further ado, then, let's take a look at 10 behind-the-scenes facts about CBS's NCIS.
NCIS Originated As A JAG Spin-Off
Since NCIS is an immensely popular CBS series which has inspired its own spin-offs, it can be easy to forget that this prominent TV franchise was, in fact, a spin-off series itself. Indeed, the origins of NCIS date back to JAG, the popular military CBS series which ran for 10 seasons. Shortly before that series ended its run in 2005, Donald P. Bellisario created this Navy-based spin-off series, which premiered back in September of 2003. While the series didn't make the biggest splash upon premiere, it soon crept up the charts and it has since become one of the most famous, well-watched CBS shows.
Donald P. Bellisario Was In The Marine Corps, Which Influenced The Creation Of NCIS
Inspiration can arrive from a number of different sources. When it comes to this show, though, Donald P. Bellisario, the creator of JAG and NCIS, drew inspiration from his own life experiences. As it was noted in a New York Times profile, Bellisario served in the Marine Corps from 1955 through 1959, where he eventually attained the ranking of Sergeant. While he wasn't specifically in the NCIS, which stands for Naval Criminal Investigative Service, he did have high-ranking experience in the Corps, which played a hand in the making of both CBS drama when Bellisario transitioned into his TV career.
Pauley Perrette Studied Criminal Science In Grad School Before Acting
When it came to Pauley Perrette's interest in criminal science, she wasn't acting! The actress, who memorably played Abby Sciuto on NCIS, actually did study criminal science in grad student, and she was looking to pursue it professionally. Acting, as it turns out, was originally a side job for Perrette. It was basically a means of paying the bills. But she explored it a little more seriously as time went on, and in an ironic turn-of-fate, Perrette landed a role where she plays a forensic scientist. Was it coincidence or fate? Who can say? Here's how the actress/former criminal science student explained her life trajectory while appearing as a guest on an early episode of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.
Pauley Perrette And Mark Harmon Apparently Didn't Get Along
A lot of times, the on-screen dynamic you see in your favorite movies and/or TV shows doesn't mirror how the actors actually feel about each other's company. Two actors can play mortal enemies in a movie, but they'll actually be good friends in real-life. Sadly, the reverse can also be true as well. That's apparently the case for Pauley Perrette and Mark Harmon. While they have a fun on-screen relationship in NCIS, their working relationship off-camera is reportedly not-so-lovable. On Twitter, Perrette got candid about her feelings towards Harmon as she was walking away from the popular TV series. In a fiery tweet, the TV actress claimed she's never gonna return to the show and that she was "terrified" of Harmon and how he "attacked" her. Additionally, Perrette claimed Harmon gives her "nightmares" and felt safer working on her new series.
Mark Harmon Reportedly Forced Don Bellisario Off His Own Show
Additionally, Mark Harmon didn't have the best working relationship with producer Don Bellisario. The original NCIS showrunner and the show's lead reportedly had a difficult working relationship together, with Harmon and Bellisario allegedly often bickering on set. The difficulties between them were so continuously and persistently difficult that Harmon reportedly gave the network an ultimatum: either Bellisario would exit the show or he would quit. Well, because Harmon was he face of the show (and the glue keeping it together), the choice became rather obvious. Bellisario was kicked off his own program. While George Schenck and Frank Cardea eventually became NCIS' showrunners, Harmon made it very clear that he ran the show — literally.
CBS Was Sued Over Bert The Farting Hippo Toys
One of the most lovable characters on NCIS doesn't utter a single line of dialogue. That's right, it's Bert the Farting Hippo, the plush puppet owned by Abby and beloved by viewers everywhere. It makes sense that CBS would try to capitalize on the stuffed animal's popularity. After all, there's a history of interns and extras attempting to steal the hippo from the set — to the point where they reportedly lock it up every night after filming. The network tried selling a version of Bert the Farting Hippo, but THR claims they were sued by Folkmanis Inc. for violating copyright. The first version of the stuffed animal appeared in 2002, before NCIS' premiere, but the flatulent version of the doll was a major hit due to its popular appearances on the program, which the network tried capitalizing through "unauthorized" means.
There Was Almost Another Spin-Off, NCIS: Red, with John Corbett
Due to NCIS' enormous popularity, it only makes sense that CBS would capitalize on the show's continued success with a series of spin-off shows. To be specific, CBS greenlit NCIS: Los Angeles, which is still going strong with 11 seasons, and NCIS: New Orleans, which is currently in its sixth season. Between the conception of these two spin-offs, however, was another series, NCIS: Red, which was set to star John Corbett and Kim Raver. However, the show didn't get picked up past the pilot. CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler defended the decision back in 2013 by saying that "sometimes [spinoffs] work" and "sometimes they don't." Alas, this pilot didn't work, according to Tassler, and "protecting" the NCIS franchise was important here.
Mark Harmon Is One Of The Highest-Paid Actors On Television
With NCIS still going strong with seventeen seasons and counting, Mark Harmon found a very lucrative job with his leading role in this ratings-topping drama series. Suffice to say, as the lead actor in one of the station's most popular programs, Harmon certainly makes a whole lot of money for his work on the well-demanded series. Specifically, as it was reported in 2018, Harmon is one of the highest-paid actors on television, making an estimated $19 million per season. That's a healthy wad of cash. In fact, the only actors at the time who were making more than Harmon were The Big Bang Theory cast members. Now that the sitcom has ended, there's a very good chance Harmon might soon become the highest-paid actor working on television.
Donald P. Bellisario Was Pictured On The NCIS Most Wanted Wall
For the eagle-eyed viewers who pay attention to the Most Wanted Wall prominently seen throughout NCIS, you'll find some enjoyable easter eggs. For instance, when Osama Bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALS in 2011, the former head of al-Qaeda's headshot was crossed off in red tape. Additionally, if you look out closely, you'll notice that one of the pictures on the wall looks a little ... familiar. As it has been noted, the showrunner's mug is amusingly one of the framed photos on the wall. Of course, it should be noted that this is just a cheeky gag and not done in malice by the cast and crew (even despite Mark Harmon's feelings towards him), though it appears that the photo has been taken off the wall in recent years after the producer was fired.
Sasha Alexander Wasn't Thrilled With NCIS' Work Schedule
As NCIS nears closer to twenty seasons of television, it's understandable that not every cast member has appeared on the show for its entire run. Alas, Sasha Alexander was one of the first main stars to exit the show fairly early into the game. To be more specific, the actress left the popular program after only two seasons. Her character was killed in the line of duty by a terrorist. The reason why she got such an abrupt departure was basically because Alexander reportedly wasn't happy with the show's intense work schedule, which found the actress working most of the hours in a given day. According to what Alexander told TV Guide:
Sasha Alexander moved on to other projects, notably Rizzoli and Isles and Shameless, though she didn't leave NCIS for good. Alexander came back for guest spots in Seasons 8, 9, and 12, respectively.
What is your favorite NCIS behind-the-scenes fact? Let us know in the comments.
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Will is an entertainment writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. His writing can also be found in The Playlist, Cut Print Film, We Got This Covered, The Young Folks, Slate and other outlets. He also co-hosts the weekly film/TV podcast Cinemaholics with Jon Negroni and he likes to think he's a professional Garfield enthusiast.