Tonight, CBS premieres the newest addition to its hit franchise, NCIS: Hawai’i
. The series follows Special Agent Jane Tennant (Vanessa Lachey) of NCSI Pearl Harbor and her team of naval investigators as they attempt to solve crimes on the Hawai’ian islands.
Executive producer, Jane Nash, recently talked to Jamie Ruby of SciFi Vision in an exclusive interview about the new series, how it is unique, how the islands play a part in the series, and much more.
Also be sure to check out more from the cast and crew from the previous NCIS: Hawai'i TCA panel interview TCA panel interview
. SCIFI VISION: Can you start by talking about other than the fact that there's a female leader, how do you see this show as standing apart from the other NCIS series?
Well, I do think that you've already mentioned the one that we think is really the thing that we launched off from, but I do think that we have a very strong commitment to this show balancing the procedural aspects, the Navy crimes with the character parts of the show. If you've seen [episodes] one, two, and three, you know that in fact there are scenes that we went home with Jane in the pilot, that we went home with Kai (Alex Tarrant) in the pilot. We didn't then stop doing that. We continue [to and] will continue to try to tell those stories.Can you talk about why it was important to pick a female leader and how you feel that changes the dynamic of the group?
There have been multiple, super successful versions of this franchise, and it felt to us, as we talked about it, that to do another version that had a male lead was to walk a path that had already been walked very successfully by other people and that having a female lead allowed us to tell not the same stories, but similar stories in different ways, because women, you know, we move through the world differently than men do. It's neither better nor worse, but it's different. So, that not only gave us an opportunity to show something new, but also to tell these stories in a way that hopefully would feel a little bit new and have these character dynamics be maybe a little bit new. You have to find some way to make things feel fresh when you've had as many episodes of these successful shows as there have been, and that seemed like a way for us to try to do that.Right. And this is still kind of in that vein, but, obviously, I know there are women in the Navy and in charge, but I noticed when Captain Milius (Enver Gjokaj) was talking to Tennant, she made a point of saying to him Lucy (Yasmine Al-Bustami)'s name when he called her Special Agent.
So, I was curious if that was more just kind of a generalized comment that he wasn't showing respect, or it was more a comment about women being in that position? And as having the lead female, do you hope that this maybe kind of empowers women and shows that it isn't all a male-dominated field?
Well, there are, in fact, lots of women at NCIS, and, frankly, very successful women in positions of power. So, we're actually just reflecting a reality that exists in the world. That moment, I think, is intended less to be about her specifically being a woman, but to reflect a quality that she has as a woman, which is she knows people well enough to know that he is the kind of person who uses people's names and that if he didn't use her Lucy's name in that situation, it was because he didn't know it, and that there is a way to give him that information for his benefit that improves his relationship with Lucy. In fact, [it] shows that Tennant is a person who notices those kinds of things and is willing to help people guide people, you know, however you want to look at what she does in that moment, to have the information they need for everyone to be successful.
After watching the first episode, I kind of assumed that Milius was a one-off character. So, I was surprised to have to seen him again. I'm just curious, is he going to continue to be in the series, and it seems like maybe there's some, at least on his end, flirtation there with Tennant. Can you kind of tease anything with that?
You know, he is not a series regular recurring character, but he will appear over a number of episodes at the beginning part of the season. There is a very talented actor, and we did want to have a character like that at the show at the beginning, even if he wasn't going to stay, just to sort of show different sides of Tennant from both the perspective of how she deals with a man who is from a position of authority, because that is part of what we're doing, but also, you're right, he is being quite charming, and there seems to be a little bit of a spark. So, I think we wanted to see how that played out as well. And you will see more of him after Episode Three.
Obviously, Hawai’i seems like it's going be an important part of the show more than just location. Can you kind of talk about that, and how it will play a part in the series?
Obviously, we picked Hawai’i both because it is a place where there is a real NCIS office and a place that's incredibly beautiful, but also because it's a place that people have an idea of what it is. It is both [those things], but it is also other things. So, we felt like there would be an opportunity, even for people who know Hawai’i and love Hawai’i, that there was going to be room for us to show new things about the island to the people who watched the show, in the same way that hopefully people who watched NCIS: New Orleans
learn things about New Orleans and the nature of that place, that broadened their experience and knowledge about the city. So, that was part of it. Part of it is it’s really just super, super beautiful.So, I noticed in the one episode, obviously, it’s not finished yet, but I thought it was funny. The guy blows up, and he's still standing there after he blows up on the boat.
It’s hilarious. We had to watch that a lot.It got me thinking about when they were testing the the different kinds of TNT and whatever, and I was just curious, how do you go about that? I mean, I know it’s something you do a lot as a show, and I’m sure there are experts on set, but how do you go about like, actually setting off those kind of charges and things? I'm just kind of curious.
Whenever you're dealing with something that's dangerous, whether it's a stunt or being in the water or an explosion of some kind, there are, obviously, any number of experts who come and help you with that. You'd never want to do anything dangerous without having people around who are going to keep all the people involved safe. The production team, they're super talented; they've been doing this a long time. They've hired great people to come in and make sure that we're doing everything as safely as we can, certainly like the the charges that blow up when they're talking to Boom Boom in Episode Two. That was a lot of people making sure that they were being super careful. We were on a military base, and so they have their own rules and regulations. So, the people who make these kinds of shows, especially when you get to the level of a CBS procedural, are people who have done this for many, many episodes of television, and safety is the primary goal, always. So, they know what they need to do to be safe. They do those things, and then they probably do a few extra things just to make sure they're being extra safe. I couldn't do it, but they know how.
I was just curious about the tech on the series…Since you started - I know you worked on on New Orleans, but is there any like tech maybe that as you've started this show that's a bit newer to NCIS that maybe we haven't seen before, or anything that they use in this show that you can think of that kind of stands out?
I can't really think of anything. You know, in some of the episodes, we're making up some. We’re always try to figure out [things]. You know, writers tend to be very inquisitive people, and they'll read articles about this that or the other thing, and read some snippet of something that seems like it might be interesting, and then we try to spin it into something that feels like it's legitimate, and then the experts tell us if it's too ridiculous to actually be in a television show, and we take it out. But no, I'm not aware that we're doing anything that is particularly new in that regard.
Okay. Speaking of tech, I was just curious. I liked how Ernie (Jason Antoon) kind of got in there in the one episode. I thought he would be just at the computer. Are we going to see more of that, or is he really just usually the tech guy.
Jason's a terrific actor; we really like what he's doing with with Ernie’s role. I think you will see…I think it is Episode Four that he goes out again and goes into the field to work with somebody. So, I hope that we will find, as long as they feel like they are real, that we'll find ways to sort of get him out from his desk to participate with the team, but not in a way probably where he'll be kicking down doors and bursting into places, but in ways that hopefully will illuminate the character and make the show even more interesting.
Okay, good, because I liked it.I'm trying to think of how to describe it, but I'm just curious. I used to watch the regular show all the time, and I've watched some of the other ones, and I wondered, how did you come up with a new way to do the little thing before commercial breaks to make it similar yet different? I'm just kind of curious how that comes about, because, obviously, they all have their own little [signature things]. I mean, the one goes to black and white; they are just all different.
You know, we actually had more conversations about that then you would probably think rational, because it is obviously a signature of the show, of the franchise. We did not want it to feel like it was exactly like the others, but we wanted it to be familiar to the people who liked these shows. So, the director of the pilot, Larry Teng, actually came up with that. I think he was interested in doing something that felt like it was of this show and of this time. So, that was something he came up with, and we really liked it. We had to modify it a little bit for technical reasons that are too boring to go into on this call, but it felt like we needed to do it to honor the franchise, because it's been on all the shows, but we wanted to do it sort of in our own way. Hopefully, people will feel like this is close enough to help them be comfortable with with the way that we've changed it.Yeah, it works.
Great.I was just curious, because I noticed that, and I paid attention to that.
So, what do you find the most challenging working on the show? Also, are there different challenges on this show - well other than things to do with being in Hawai’i - than the New Orleans version, or does everything kind of feel the same?
You know, I joined [New Orleans
] in season six, when they had already made a lot of television. So, I came in from working on many other procedural type television shows, and I would pitch things, and they would be like, “Done that.” I’d pitch something else, and they'd be like, “Done that.” So, because I hadn't seen all of the episodes, I didn't have a working knowledge of what they'd already done. So, this is much easier in that regard, because so far, all we've done is what you've seen. So, I can actually keep that in my mind.
Other than that, I mean, it's a new group of characters, obviously, and so every step along the way, every time they do something new, you have to ask yourself, “How do they do this?” You know, what is it when we're trying to put together these clues to solve the case? How does this character think about the puzzle? How do they interpret this piece of information? So, that is new, and it requires conversation that you wouldn't have to have about a show where the characters were all pre-existing, but it's also exciting conversation, because if you can think of it, you can do it, maybe in a way that is a slight spin on things that you've seen before.
For instance, though, this is not a spin, but Kai is from the islands. He grew up on Oahu; his father lives here. So, his experience of what he's learning is informed by the fact that he knows the island intimately. So, he brings something that, in fact, nobody else on the team can bring in.
So, hopefully, that and other things will help us both tell the stories in interesting ways but also help inform who these characters are and why they're on the team and how they're important to the team.
Okay, now, I know at the TCA panel somebody had asked about other CBS shows that take place in Hawaii and could they cross over, but I'm more curious, has there ever been any serious discussion about maybe crossing over the other NCIS shows and like having some of them travel for whatever reason? Do you think that would ever happen?
We would 100% do that if CBS wanted us to do that. If any other of the NCISs
wants to do something like that, we are totally on board. At this point, we're making our own little show. I think how we do Monday will determine if anybody wants to cross over with us, but we are 100% for it. Because introducing new characters into the mix just helps you flesh out the characters you have, and bringing in characters with pre-existing personalities and points of view just makes it easier to tell those stories. You're not inventing somebody [new], you're bringing somebody in with all of their delightful quirks and baggage, and then you let them inform your your team. So, that would be super fun, if that ever worked out.
I'm sure most of them would be happy to come to Hawai’i.
It is a long flight.
That's true. That's true.
So, do you have a favorite scene that you can tease [without spoiling things]?
[At the TCAs] I spoke about the three scenes that came right at the beginning, which was the jet crash, the soccer game, and the jumping off of the cliff, and those remain [my favorites]. When I watched the pilot, in addition to Kai getting punched by Hina (Danielle Nuela Zalopany), those remain my favorite scenes, just because - and I'm sure this is true of anyone in any job - we all have ideas about these things that we're going to do, and we have hopes and dreams for the way they're going to turn out. Sometimes they don't, and that's disappointing, but this is a situation where we had some ideas for things that were interesting to us that we thought would make for an interesting episode of television. And at least, to me, those elements of this pilot remain interesting. I really like what they say about our show and about Jane Tennant and about the kind of storytelling we're doing. So, those delight me, though, I will say Kai getting punched by Hina makes me laugh every single time.Yeah, I like that. I'm was just gonna say, I do like too when they jumped in the water from the cliff. I’m sure was an exciting scene to do.
Yeah, and then, at the end, because we're talking about it, we got to the end, and we were talking about that last scene, and I said, you know, “Somebody's got to say how stupid that was.” So, that's why she goes, “That was dumb,” because again, wow, we should just own that that was maybe not the world's best choice, but boy, it's fun. And they did such a good job too.So, I know you wrote the pilot. Are you doing more script writing this season, or are you kind of leaving that up to the writing team?
No, we try whenever possible. You know, we've had a few episodes that have been group written through the first thirteen, but we really do try whenever possible to let people write on their own, just because it is the way you discover what their unique voice is. But in the interest of fairness, because everybody wants to write, we did try the first thirteen to sort of make it equitable, and everybody would get sort of the same number of chances, just because it's more fun to write than to not write, but we do try to let people do it themselves. But, you know, if I had nothing but time, I’d just write all the time, but there are other things to be done.
Do you plan on doing any directing for the series?
You know, I did direct two episodes of Rizzoli and Isles
, and I'm not gonna lie, it was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I was so tired. [laughs]
It is hard work all day long having to think about every step. We have an amazing production team, an amazing crew, but it's still so many decisions to get made. It was so exhausting. I'm so glad I did it, because it gave me such a tremendous appreciation for that part of the storytelling process, but I don't know right now. I'm not sure. I have plenty to do right now. Chris [Silber], Matt [Bosack], and I have plenty to do. [laughs]
So, I’m not sure that any the three of us directing right now is the world's smartest idea.
I just have one more quick question, and sometimes this one is hard, but can you describe the show in three words?
No, I can't. I mean, again, if I could go back to the writers room and have them brainstorm on it, but, again, if you asked me to describe the show, I’d probably just start…talking about all the things that I loved about it, and what a good job the actors are doing, and what a good job all of writers are doing and what a good job the crew is doing and the production staff, what a great job, CBS and the marketing department and all the all of those people are doing. So, I can't describe it, because it's a whole experience. It's a show, but it's also an experience, and, for me, television is is about the community of it. I love making TV. I love writing TV, but it really is about the relationships, and I just can't put it into three words, because it's been such a profound experience so far.