Spinning off the world's most popular drama? All it takes are some really harrowing stories from one real law enforcement agent — one who singlehandedly ran a field office in New Orleans for years.
NCIS: New Orleans, which premieres this week on CBS, is based on the true tales told by D'Wayne Swear, a longtime agent who still works with local sheriffs' departments. The cases he talked about and the relationships he discussed were so fascinating that what began as an idea for a sweeps episode became the third series in a blockbuster franchise.
"Being from New Orleans and being a former sheriff's deputy and being a young cadet at the Naval base when I was a kid, knowing all these people — it's a team effort," Swear told Yahoo TV of the work he's done in decades of service.
That interconnected web will be the centerpiece of the new NCIS: New Orleans. The response to the backdoor NOLA pilot was what any network executive would dream of — an average of 17 million for both episodes.
Still, launching any new series is hard work. And launching a third sibling in a franchise could potentially damage the entire money-making enterprise. It has to be done carefully. With that in mind, executive producer Gary Glasberg and crew have made NOLA as different as possible from the other two series. Of course, there are still crimes to be solved and bad guys to be caught, but they plan to make it stand out by following the stories and advice set forth by Swear.
Scott Bakula plays the character based on Swear, Agent Dwayne Pride. Alongside him are agents Christopher LaSalle (Lucas Black) and Merri Brody (Zoe McLellan). Rounding out the team is medical examiner Dr. Loretta Wade (CCH Pounder). Actor Rob Kerkovich joined the motley crew this summer as her assistant, Sebastian Lund.
NOLA premieres with very high expectations — and every hope of meeting them. We talked to Glasberg, Black, and Kerkovich about making the series, plus got insight from the man who inspired it all. Here are six things to know about the newest NCIS.
1. New Orleans is a main character.
A show with "New Orleans" in its title has a lot to live up to — and the NCIS team does not plan on letting anyone down.
"We've been going to the bayou a lot. Going to the swamps," Black said. "Also, shooting in the city — been on Bourbon Street."
So, no, this isn't Toronto pretending to be New Orleans. This is the real deal, y'all.
"Of an eight-day shoot, we spend as many as five or six days out very often," Glasberg noted. "That's really taking advantage of this location and of this city, of wanting to see it on screen and not just talk about it."
"When you set out to do something like this, the goal is to make something that's a little different, that still very much speaks to the franchise, but at the same time has its own voice and its own style. And as you'll see, this show has that," Glasberg said. "There's a richness of character. The city of New Orleans is very much a character of the show. Music plays a big part."
2. Music really does play a big part.
Glasberg wasn't kidding. And he wasn't talking about just adding a few jazz songs to the soundtrack.
"We hired people who had worked on Treme, and they've been a conduit to the local music scene here. In multiple episodes, you're looking at real musicians on screen," he explained. "These people are the real thing, and it brings the stories to life. You've got characters walking into a bar and enjoying a band or a performer that viewers can really see."
3. NCIS: New Orleans will be more intimate than its older siblings.
As we mentioned, Bakula's character, Dwayne Pride, is based on real agent D'Wayne Swear, who was born and bred in the New Orleans area. And in his many years of service, Swear formed tight-knit relationships in the law enforcement community. That will be reflected in the kinds of cases the show tackles, like in the premiere, when the team investigates the murder of a Petty Officer who was mentored by Agent Pride.
"It's very hard to see someone you know lose somebody or somebody's in trouble, and you're just trying to help as best as you can in the process," Swear said.
Glasberg liked the idea of setting this series in a smaller field office. "There is an opportunity to do smaller cases, more personal cases, cases that have to do with local and regional Naval and Marine bases in this part of the country. And that's fun — it allows us to get more into who these people are and what makes them tick."
4. Good food, good booze, and good times will roll.
This isn't your mom's NCIS. We all love stoic Gibbs, but NOLA? Oh, it's got all the feels.
"Scott Bakula's character, Dwayne Pride, in a lot of ways, wears his emotions on his sleeve," Glasberg noted.
The easygoing, fun-loving style of this team is reflected in every facet of the show. "The first episode ends with all of us hanging out at the bar," said Kerkovich.
Oh, and these agents aren't all business all the time. As Black slyly told us, "There's definitely some flirtation between [LaSalle] and Agent Brody, and him and some of the guest stars."
5. They're a team, on-screen and off.
Chemistry is an art, not a science — at least when it comes to the kind that happens among TV show casts. That quality is often difficult for new series stars to capture, but it's not a problem for these NCIS-ers.
"Zoe and I talked about it, we don't know how it happened, but we had our first scene — an interrogation scene — and it seemed to go well, and Mark Harmon came up and said, 'Man, the chemistry was great,'" Black said. "So having that compliment really helped us go forward, and we just kept doing what we were doing. We're just going to build on that, and it can only get better from here."
Kerkovich pointed out that it's easier to build camaraderie among fewer people. He noted that the most recent season DVD set of the original NCIS featured "like 13 people on it! And they're all great and awesome, but for us to have a smaller nucleus to build off, it allows for more interpersonal relationships. It feels good."
6. Things will get spooky!
There's a lot of inexplicable, mysterious stuff going on in New Orleans and the bayou, and that culture will be front and center in the show. Kerkovich even revealed he's been studying voodoo.
Oh, and if you know anything about New Orleans, they take one holiday very, very seriously — and NOLA is shooting a big Halloween episode.
"New Orleans is basically always Halloween," Kerkovich said. "You drive around and you're like, that house is probably haunted. That house is probably also haunted. That shack is haunted. This parking spot is haunted."
NCIS: They see dead people.
NCIS: New Orleans premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. on CBS.