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'NCIS' Not Boxed in by Conventions

By BRIDGET BYRNE,

For The Associated Press
Mon Dec 12, 5:16 PM ET

LOS ANGELES - Three cameras roll simultaneously, capturing different
views of a forensic team investigating a crime scene amid huge
shipping containers at Los Angeles Harbor.

One camera
mounted high on a stack of the metal crates surveys a
wide expanse of the bustling port, another pans with the actors in a
medium shot, and a Steadicam follows and circles the men as they move
along the dock.

Three cameras instead of the usual one are relatively rare for
location filming
especially in dramatic television. But this is the
CBS military crime series "NCIS," created by veteran TV producer Don
Bellisario, who's known for bringing a cutting-edge look to his shows.

"NCIS" (8 p.m. EST Tuesdays) was spun out of the Naval Criminal
Investigative Service characters introduced in the now-concluded
military series "JAG," also created by Bellisario.

Although it's never attracted the buzz of the network's top-rated
forensic drama "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and its two
spinoffs, "NCIS" has been steadily picking up viewers and now, in its
third season, is the No. 8 show in prime-time ratings, attracting
about 17 million viewers each week.

"I wish I could say it was the cinematography, but I know that's just
icing on the cake," grins director of photography William Webb, who
met Bellisario's desire to create a "lot more hip, very contemporary"
style for "NCIS."

Webb says the look of the series is influenced by Bellisario's love
of the "cutting patterns" of the 2002 feature "The Bourne Identity,"
and "huge wide shots
shots you don't really see very often on TV."

Such wide angles can make it difficult for crew members and set
visitors to keep out of camera range, and for landscape authenticity.
The show is set in Virginia, but filmed in California.

"That palm tree over there has been bugging me all day," Webb says,
laughing.

"Actors who come on this show concerned about where the camera is are
in trouble, because you don't know and you shouldn't think about it,"
says series star Mark Harmon.

"The style is always evolving based on story," says Dennis Smith,
director of this particular episode. "Any time you think you have the
style of the show down and anyone else starts copying it, Don
Bellisario changes it up and comes up with some wacky thing to make
it different."

Harmon plays Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, whom the actor notes
possesses many traits that "are very close to home" for the show's
creator
"work, work, work, coffee, coffee, coffee ... driving too
fast." But Harmon says his character is also definitely "the one you
want in your foxhole ... not the one you want on your trail. He's
like a hunting dog."

A UCLA quarterback in the '70s, Harmon is the sort of person who
between takes goes to fetch bottled water for others, rather than
expecting to be pampered himself.

"He sets the tone for everyone," Smith says of Harmon. "He's a leader
and he expects everyone else to step up to the plate just like he
does."

"From the very beginning this has been like a team effort," says the
actor, whose previous credits include playing doctors on "St.
Elsewhere" and "Chicago Hope." "We are going to make this work as a
team, or we are going to fail as a team. It was always going to be
all as one."

Leon Carroll Jr., a retired NCIS agent with 23 years' experience, is
the technical consultant on the "NCIS" set, making sure "procedural
things are very authentic." But he thinks the show is gaining
popularity mainly because, "we add a little comedy. Most of the
procedural cop shows are very serious. They are specifically about
the crime and our show is more about the characters."

Behind that comedy is an abundance of work-related conflicts among
the show's characters, which include agents Timothy McGee (Sean
Murray), Tony DiNozzo ( Michael Weatherly) and Ziva David (Cote
de Pablo); medical examiner Donald "Ducky" Mallard is ( David
McCallum); goth-garbed forensic expert Abby Sciuto ( Pauley
Perrette), and NCIS Director Jenny Shepard ( Lauren Holly).

"I think my wife, Katherine, was the one who hit the nail on the
head," says McCallum, who once played Illya Kuryakin in the '60s spy
series "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." "She said, `You know, it's like
watching a really dysfunctional family, but you are all adorable!'"

___

On the Net:

1. http://www.cbs.com/primetime/ncis/#

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