NCIS is a CBS crime drama revolving around a fictional team of special agents. NCIS in the title, and in real life, stands for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. The NCIS is the primary law enforcement agency of the United States Department of the Navy.
Though the NCIS is a real agency, the CBS show isn’t completely accurate, as the show needs to change things up in order to up the 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 NCIS agents are a lot like non-military detectives, they just focus on the Navy and Marine Corps instead of civilian crimes. They also focus on things like economic crimes, counterterrorism, counterintelligence and crime prevention.
Unlike in the show, the NCIS agents are not usually the first to arrive on the scene of the crime.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service Advises on the Show
Because the show version of NCIS is so well-known, the actual NCIS has to advise on some major aspects of the show. One major influence from the show has been the widespread awareness of the fact that NCIS exists in the first place, 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 said that the show has a large impact on the reputation of the NCIS, and though she doesn’t often request changes to the show, she does sometimes ask for small tweaks. The producers often listen and resolve the issue.
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.
The Real NCIS Has Around 2,000 Members
According to the Navy, the NCIS defeats threats from a variety of areas including foreign intelligence and the terrorist and criminal spectrums. They conduct their operations and investigations “ashore, afloat and in cyberspace, in order to protect and preserve the superiority of the Navy and Marine Corps warfighters.”
The NCIS has about 2,000 personnel including over 1,000 Special Agents. Today, they operate in more than 190 locations in more than 41 countries.
The NCIS agents often conduct investigations overseas when U.S. interests are affected. Also, the NCIS agents visit non-Navy ports before U.S. Navy ships, working with foreign and domestic counterparts to mitigate security threats.
They have to operate in areas where local, state or foreign law enforcement agencies have primary jurisdiction, so those partnerships are essential to be able to do their jobs.
Overall, NCIS strives for authenticity, but the end product is all about entertainment value. As long as the overall message of the show does not do damage in any way to the real-life NCIS, they try not to step in and ask for changes.
NCIS airs on Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
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