NCIS is a CBS crime drama that revolves around a fictional team of special agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. There is, in fact, a real NCIS in the United States. It is the primary law enforcement agency of the United States Department of the Navy.
While there is a real NCIS, that doesn’t necessarily mean the show is completely accurate. It does, of course, still revolve around entertainment value. MaryAnn Cummings, the NCIS communications director and retired Army colonel told USO that the show is the Hollywood version of the real-life agency.
In real life, the agents of NCIS are similar to non-military detectives, but they focus mostly on the Navy and Marine Corps. These real-life agents focus on economic crimes, counterterrorism, counterintelligence and crime prevention. They respond as quickly as possible when these crimes have ties to the Navy or Marine Corps, but they are not usually the first to arrive on the scene.
The Real NCIS Advises on the Show
On the show, there are a few things that don’t happen in real life. For one, the show often features struggles over jurisdiction, but that doesn’t happen in real life. Instead, the agents work closely with military and non-military agencies. The show has added credibility to the real NCIS, though, according to Cummings.
“If you look at the first actual episode, it shows Gibbs at the airport trying to get on a plane and he’s carrying a weapon,” she said. “He’s trying to explain who NCIS is and they’re like ‘Who are you guys?'” She added that that scene actually happened to a former NCIS director.
Cummings’ interest in the show revolves a lot around the fact that the show offers so much publicity and has an impact on the reputation of the NCIS. She said they don’t often request changes to the show, but when she does, the producers often listen and resolve the issue.
NCIS Is Like a Family
According to Cummings, one similarity between the show and real life is that the show depicts the NCIS as a family.
“Much like the military unit becomes a family… NCIS is a family,” she said.
One major difference is the fact that there isn’t a person who could be the real-life equivalent of medical examiner Donald “Ducky” Mallard or forensic scientist Abby (Pauley Perrette). While there were those people previously, those positions are now all placed within the Army’s labs. They also don’t have a person that conducts autopsies, and they don’t have a medical examiner.
One other thing is that on the show, Gibbs (Mark Harmon) sometimes slaps fellow agents on the back of the head affectionately. In real life, this would be seen as something aggressive and would likely result in discipline for the agent who did it.
All in all, the show strives for authenticity, but it’s still all about the entertainment value. As long as the message of the show does not do damage to the real-life NCIS, they try not to step in and ask for changes.