‘NCIS’: How Mark Harmon’s Series is a Spin-Off From ‘JAG’

by Emily Morgan
(Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)

For over 19 years, the “NCIS” franchise has continued to grow and has led to several spin-offs. However, even “NCIS” itself was a spin-off. Fans might not have seen Mark Harmon as Gibbs if it hadn’t been for the original series, “JAG,” short for Judge Advocate General.

That’s right, even the most loyal fans of the hit show may not know that “NCIS” wasn’t an original concept, as it started as an offshoot of an existing show.

Although its first season aired on NBC, “JAG” ran for another nine seasons on CBS. The show aired throughout the 90s and into the early 2000s. The hit show fans watch today was introduced through pilot episodes for season eight initially meant for “JAG.”

In these episodes, the show introduced viewers to what would become the cast of “NCIS.” The plot followed the cast as they worked to solve the murder of a lieutenant. And tried to stop a terrorist attack.

Donald P. Bellisario, a producer and screenwriter created both “JAG” and “NCIS.” While they may seem like similar shows, the humorous moments in “NCIS” make it different.

The Original Name Of ‘NCIS’

A re-watch of these episodes will remind fans of the show’s original name, “Navy NCIS.” Bellisario also revealed that was a strategy to get the “JAG” audience to watch the new show.

Prior to when “NCIS” made its television debut, Bellisario said, “It’s only going to be called ‘Navy NCIS’ for a very short period of time. … CBS thought — and I think it’s a legitimate concern — that they want to get ‘JAG’ viewers to try it out and see what it is, because most people don’t know what NCIS is. Most people have no clue when they hear it.”

In 1996, NBC canceled the series after finishing 79th in the ratings, leaving one episode unaired. In December 1996, CBS picked up the series as a mid-season replacement. And aired 15 new episodes as its second season. For several seasons, “JAG” rose in the ratings and ran for nine additional seasons. However, CBS canceled the show on April 4, 2005, after ten seasons. The final episode of the series, “Fair Winds and Following Seas,” aired on April 29, 2005,

Even though “NCIS” started out as a spin-off, the show has now somewhat shrouded the “JAG” series. Over its decades-long run, “NCIS” has become one of the most popular and most-watched shows on television.