Why ‘NCIS: Los Angeles’ Spinoff ‘NCIS: Red’ Flopped

by John Jamison

Not all spinoffs are created the same. In the case of NCIS: Red, it was hardly ever a spinoff in the first place. The long-standing franchise has launched new series with success as recently as this year with NCIS: Hawai’i. So what went wrong with 2013’s attempt at expanding the world of NCIS: Los Angeles?

For starters, NCIS: Red never even made it to air. Instead, CBS dipped their toe in the water, so to speak. Rather than investing a full-fledged production for an entirely new series right off the bat, CBS introduced the potential new series through a two-part NCIS: Los Angeles special in 2013.

It’s a good thing they did because this “backdoor pilot” approach revealed a seeming lack of interest in the new characters. And yes, you are correct in thinking that NCIS attempted to use a spinoff to create another spinoff. That may have been part of the problem, but we’ll get to that in a little bit.

The idea behind NCIS: Red was to establish a mobile team of agents that worked under Chris O’Donnell’s G. Callen. And it’s not as if the new characters lacked star power. Kim Raver of Grey’s Anatomy fame was brought in to play Special Agent Paris Summerskill, and Sex and the City’s John Corbett played Roy Haines.

The two were plenty well-liked and recognizable, yet the two-part special was a ratings bomb. For whatever reason, the pair weren’t received well by the NCIS: Los Angeles crowd.

“Sometimes [spinoffs] work, and sometimes they don’t. Protecting [the franchise] was really important,” former CBS President Nina Tassler told Digital Spy in 2013.

Instead of finding new stars to incorporate into Red before launching it as its own series, the network yanked the plans for the spinoff.

Move Over ‘Red,’ ‘NCIS: New Orleans’ Is Here to Stay

Where NCIS: Red ultimately failed, NCIS: New Orleans burst onto the scene in 2014 and enjoyed a seven-season run that just came to an end this past year. What’s the deal with that? Was it the Scott Bakula-led cast that made the difference?

More likely, it had something to do with the franchise’s use of its flagship series to launch New Orleans via a backdoor pilot. Season 11 of NCIS saw the series do the same exact thing NCIS: Los Angeles had attempted a year prior.

The two-part special titled “Crescent City” introduced the entire cast of New Orleans. The two episodes were met with solid reviews. Solid enough that CBS went ahead and launched the series a few months later. Whatever it was about Mark Harmon’s Gibbs and his original team, fans couldn’t get enough. While there’s no guarantee a series like Red would have been successful had it launched on the flagship, it probably would have had a better chance.