NCIS is a ratings gold mine for CBS. Even when the show lost Mark Harmon and switched nights this past season, the crime procedural chugged right along, topping all other network shows for most viewers.
NCIS averaged 11.01 million viewers for each of its 21 episodes, placing it fifth nationally. Yellowstone, which is on Paramount Network, drew 11.3 million for each of its 10 episodes. NFL Football on Sunday and Thursday nights topped the ratings.
So given the popularity of the show, Outsider got to thinking about past ratings. Which of the 436 episodes spread over 19 seasons pulled in the biggest audience? The most popular NCIS hour of them all might surprise you. It wasn’t a premiere or a finale. Rather, it was an episode in reaction to two stunning deaths.
Back on Jan. 15, 2013, an NCIS episode called “Shiva” attracted an audience of 22.861 million. Yes, that’s more than double what the show generates these days. But for some context, the TV landscape was much different. Consider that 19 days after this NCIS episode, House of Cards premiered on Netflix. Up until February 2013, you couldn’t sit on your couch and binge an entire new season of your favorite TV show. But we digress.
Now, here’s what the episode was about. Let’s go to the plot tease: “Gibbs and company continue to investigate the killings at Vance’s home, seeking whoever hired the shooter. The gang identify the hit man and later figure out who’s responsible. Ziva buries her father, and Vance and the team bury Jackie.”
In the episode before (“Shabbat and Shalom”), Ziva’s father, Eli, paid an unexpected visit to Washington, D.C. Eli David was the director of Mossad, Israeli Intelligence. Ziva (Cote de Pablo) didn’t have a great relationship with her father. The daughter figured out that her father was responsible for a murder her team is investigating. But Eli still invited Ziva to have dinner with him at the home of NCIS director Leon Vance. But before anyone could break bread, someone started shooting up the house. Eli died and Vance’s wife, Jackie, was mortally wounded. The killer took a cyanide pill and died at the scene.
Who was responsible for the deaths? Good question. The first suspect was an Iranian who Eli met earlier in his visit to D.C. Ilan Bodnar, Eli’s No. 2 at Mossad, shows up, demanding answers. Ziva eventually ties the crime to Bodnar. And Gibbs is concerned that Ziva might be the next target, which is why she stayed with Tony. Ziva does avenge her father’s death. She kills Bodnar in “Revenge,” which ran three months later. She finds him on a South African ship, and while the two fight, she pushes him off a platform.
Then two episodes later, de Pablo left NCIS. There was no grand sendoff. However, when Michael Weatherly, who played Tony, left the show in 2016, writers explained that he was heading to Israel to raise Ziva’s daughter. She had died, with Tony not knowing that he even had a child with her. (Spoiler alert, Ziva isn’t dead). Ziva would’ve gotten pregnant during the 2013 season, so maybe “Shiva” did something more to further the NCIS plot than anyone ever thought.