NCIS: New Orleans was never supposed to be a series.
But that changed when NCIS creator Gary Glasberg — with a little nudge from star Mark Harmon — got swept away by the city's food, culture, music and overall charm. And meeting D'Wayne Swear, the real-life NCIS agent on whom Scott Bakula's NCIS: New Orleans character is based, didn't hurt either.
"Every year I sit down with Mark Harmon, and we talk about sweeps episodes for NCIS. And I told him that I had heard that there was a retired agent in New Orleans who ran the office here for 20 years, and I thought we could do a fun story," Glasberg, who's now serving as showrunner on both series, told TVGuide.com during a recent set visit. "He looked at me and said, 'Gary, that's not a sweeps episode. That's a series.' And the next thing I knew, I was down here researching and met D'Wayne Swear. And the rest is history."
Bakula was brought on board to play Special Agent in Charge Dwayne Cassius Pride, the fictionalized version of Swear, and soon moved his family down to New Orleans for the new gig. "In terms of series, you're looking for a character that can go and last for a long period of time," he tells TVGuide.com. "If you're lucky enough to be in a long-running series, you want to have a character that's interesting, that has flaws, that has problems ... so that the stories have a place to go and can keep you interested and keep the audience interested.
Swear — who admits he had never seen NCIS when he got the call from Glasberg, but has since caught up — now serves as a consultant on the series. His duties include accompanying the crew on location scouts, clarifying technical aspects, and regaling Bakula and the other characters with stories from his days at NCIS. "D'Wayne Swear is a fascinating guy," Bakula says. "He has a great amount of passion for the city, what it stands for, what it means, the history of it, the culture of it, the food, the music, the people. He loves the people and he loves his job. So I thought if we could make this happen, it could work."
Rounding out the NCIS: New Orleans team are Pride's protégé, NCIS Senior Special Agent Christopher LaSalle (Lucas Black); Special Agent Meredith Brody (Zoe McLellan); medical examiner Loretta Wade (CCH Pounder); and lab assistant Sebastian Lund (Rob Kerkovich). Investigations in Season 1 will carry the team from the swamps to the cemeteries, with plenty of jazz music and Bourbon Street reveling in between.
"We absolutely want it to have its own feel, and you want to take advantage of everything that this city has to offer, and try and encapsulate it into these sets and these characters," Glasberg says. "Music, food, culture, art — at the end of the day, having that architecture, having that backdrop constantly available to us, is proving incredibly helpful. Not only from a location standpoint, but the kind of characters that we're writing, to have so much to draw off of — to have such a rich, vibrant community to make a part of the show at the end of the day is what's separating it."
At the same time, there will be plenty of overlap between NCIS and its fledgling southern cousin. After all, NCIS: New Orleans was introduced as a backdoor pilot in a two-part episode of NCIS' 11th season. Fans of the original show can expect to see several familiar faces dropping by The Big Easy.
"We're really trying to make an effort for this show, for this cast, for this team, to stand on its own and be unique and different — and yet still feel like NCIS, to still feel like it belongs in the family," Glasberg promises. "And part of doing that is to periodically have people come and visit, or chime in on cases. Sometimes we're doing it by video screen. Sometimes they're actually coming here. ... We've got all kinds of tricks up our sleeve, but it's fun. And it's fun for the actors. It's something different, and they're enjoying it."
According to Joe Spano, who plays FBI Agent Tobias Fornell and was on set to film a guest spot when TVGuide.com visited, "You can't have too much of a good thing. [New Orleans] is different, and yet it has some of the same qualities of NCIS ... 1. I don't know what to call that now." ("I'm from the mothership!" is how he announced his arrival to the cast and crew.)
Mirroring their respective settings, NCIS: New Orleans' field office has a more laid-back mom-and-pop feel than the D.C.-based headquarters. "Every shot is just so much richer because we have the real [city] that we're in," Bakula says. "We're in a town that's known all over the planet. Everybody knows New Orleans. ... and we're getting to be a part of that, but we're not going anywhere. We're not doing a crime and then we're off to Georgia next week and then Minneapolis the week after that. We're here. We're staying. [Dwayne Pride] wouldn't go anywhere else if they asked him to. This is his home."
Check out what the cast has to say about the new series below, and take a behind-the-scenes look at the set of NCIS: New Orleans here.
NCIS: New Orleans premieres Tuesday at 9/8c on CBS.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)