Getting to the top of the television ratings heap and becoming number one is a difficult accomplishment. Staying on top is even more difficult. So says Shane Brennan, creator-producer of the top-rated NCIS: Los Angeles, airing on what is called “interrogation Tuesdays” on CBS. It is sandwiched between NCIS and Unforgettable.
What’s the reason for the success? During a visit to the set at Paramount Studios we asked Brennan, a proud Australian who attributes the show’s good fortune to “great storytelling, characters you care about, and although it is a compelling drama, there is humor that gives our stories warmth and makes the journey viewers take very enjoyable.”
Sitting around for a table read of the episode titled “Neighborhood Watch,” it was apparent that the humor and camaraderie among the cast is genuine. The banter between Deeks (Eric Christian Olsen) and Kensi (Daniela Ruah), field agents who had to go undercover as a married couple, had everyone at the table smiling as they went through the script. It all goes into the likeability factor that the audience senses about the cast.
Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J were not on hand that afternoon, because they were wrapping up the cross over episode they were doing with Hawaii Five-O. But we heard that there’s always a lot of humor when those two fun-loving fellows are around. Although O’Donnell and Cool J are the main stars for the hybrid of the military drama and police procedural, Shane knows that their fellow castmates can also take the lead in episodes.
The stellar cast includes Oscar-winner Linda Hunt as Hetty, who is in charge of the undercover Naval Criminal Investigative Service operations in LA. The very believable tech geeks are Barrett Foa and Renee Felice Smith, and Miguel Ferrer has been a recurring guest star for this third season of the show.
“Just like the original NCIS, we are a must-see program,” says Brennan. “We know the loyal fans stay home Tuesday nights to see the show. They know the stories are going to be good.”
There are numerous other things that can be mentioned that help elevate the caliber of the show and make it standout from other series. Looking around the NCIS: LA headquarters set, you can see how innovative technology plays a part in the unique look of the show. Huge high-tech screens are all around that help the investigations by the NCIS team. But the place has a cozy atmosphere with its Southwest mission style décor. The show has actually taken over two Paramount soundstages with various sets that are very realistic, including the boathouse and gun-range.
But Brennan says they shoot on location as much as possible. “We’ve been all around LA, the Valley, the beach, Hollywood and Highland. You can really get a feel for the city from this show.”
The “Neighborhood Watch” episode we got to enjoy on the set that day was written by Christina M. Kim and directed by Robert Florio. Brennan told me that Florio has been an editor with the show and this was a great opportunity for him to direct his first episode of the hit series.
Wisely, CBS has already renewed NCIS: Los Angeles for a fourth season.