NCIS interview: EPs on Ziva’s return, Sloane, Bishop & Torres, and 400th episode!

Mark Harmon, Cote de PabloCome Tuesday, September 24, the NCIS season 17 premiere will deliver something that many of you have been long waiting to see — Ziva David! Cote de Pablo is back for a run of episodes, and for a story that should offer up a lot of excitement for all of us that have missed her.

So while some of the finer details around Ziva’s appearance on the show are under wraps, we wanted to know what went into making this story arc happen? What excites the writers about telling this story? Speaking in a new CarterMatt interview, showrunners Steven D. Binder and Frank Cardea go through the process of bringing Ziva back, plus also a number of other interesting topics including Jack Sloane’s emotional confession about having feelings for someone late in season 16 (was it about Gibbs?), the future of Bishop and Torres, and also plans for the upcoming 400th episode.

For the latest NCIS video discussion be sure to watch our trailer analysis below! Once you do that, subscribe to CarterMatt on YouTube and view our NCIS playlist. We will have brand new videos up every Tuesday after the episode airs so be sure to subscribe and join in on the discussions!

CarterMatt – How long has the idea of bringing Ziva back been in the works?

Steve D. Binder – Since [the episode] ‘She’ was in its gestation phase.

Frank Cardea – The latter quarter of last year … We started talking about that story where Bishop picked up an old Ziva case.

Binder – Does Ziva make an appearance there? We just started talking about it. We lit the fuse. It was a long fuse, and eventually it led to what you saw.

So at what point did you guys start to go ‘okay, if we’re going to get Cote back, we need to have these conversations with her.’ When you pitched the story to her, what was her reaction?

Binder – We actually reached out to her first to see if she was interested, and then started talking story second. It meant the process took a lot longer — instead of just pitching an actor a story, we had to develop it.

Cardea – She wasn’t interested in coming back for one episode and just making an appearance. We were excited about that.

Binder – She wanted it to be a meaningful story. She didn’t necessarily say ‘I’ll come back.’ She said ‘I’m willing to come back for the right story.’ Then, it became incumbent on us to figure out something that was worth bringing back such a strong character on the show. I think you’re going to be happy with the premiere.

So did the two of you have that conversation before even working on ‘She’?

Cardea – It all happened while we were shooting ‘She.’ There was a thought about maybe having her voice at the end of ‘She,’ when Bishop was reading Ziva’s letter. It led into conversations about whether or not she could come out and do a full arc. So she flew out here and we had a very secretive meeting with her and it all went well! Then we developed the arc.

One of the mysteries I’ve always wondered with Ziva is whether or not Gibbs knew if she was alive or not. We know that he is this sort of character who is going to check all angles and leave no stone unturned. Will “what Gibbs knew’ be addressed early on?

Cardea – We address that, certainly, within the first two episodes.

Binder – We’re going to address those things. That is the question, how you presented it. It’s not something incidental; it is a core feature.

Another thing that was addressed within the trailer that got everyone’s blood pumping was the presence of Tali, and the idea of this goal that is out there for Ziva. Is that reunion a desired end goal for this story? I know that inevitably, there will also be questions about Tony in there as well — I don’t know how far ahead you are in writing.

Binder – We do have it all planned out — not everything is written just yet. One thing I’ll say, and this is coming more as a parent than a showrunner, is that there’s no force out there that is going to keep a parent from their child. Inherently, people don’t abandon their kids and Ziva is not going to do that, either. That is always something that is in her heart and it is always going to be endgame, just knowing that she is a mother with a child.

I’m so fascinating about your process, because you both have to plan ahead to do 24 episodes in a given year. Are there big themes that you’re looking to explore? Is there a central idea that you’re looking to dive in to and if so, what is it this time?

Cardea – I don’t know if Steve agrees, but I tend to think about seasons as the first eight, the middle eight, and the last eight.

Binder – I think Frank’s right, and I think it’s also the function of having eight writers, since you can get the ball rolling while also think about the next time the ball rolls.

Cardea – We had an arc that we were planning on before the Ziva thing happened, and it’s still going to happen. It will just be pushed back a little.

Binder – Perhaps more than ever, this season we have things planned for these chunks. Part of that is a function of the fact that we pushed the first thing we had because the Cote arc came through. What’s great about being ahead of the game is that you have time to do it right, and you also have time to see if there’s synergies that happen, things in the beginning that connect to the second arc. That’s something we don’t often do when we do them in blocks of eight episodes at a time.

So that other thing that you guys are referring to, is that a reference to the drug-trade storyline that was brought up in ‘Daughters’?

Binder – It might be (laughs). I’d sure hate to leave that on the table. It’s something too great to leave behind. I’ll say that.

In the penultimate episode, we have that moment where Dr. Confalone is speaking with Sloane and she mentions wanting to open up to someone, but struggling with whether or not the other person feels about her the same way she feels about them. I’d like to think that’s a reference to Gibbs, but no matter who it is, is that a storyline you’re going to pick back up?

Cardea – It’s also something that we don’t want to leave on the table.

Binder – You asked about process before, and a lot of times we’ll have a thing we’re aiming for, but we don’t necessarily get locked into it. You don’t want to say a line just for a line’s sake. You come up with something and then you see how it goes. A lot of times, we’ll come up with something and a lot of people will think it’s very clear where we’re going to go — then, we think that it’s time to roll up our sleeves and try to take it to another level that people aren’t expecting.

So, we have a thought, but there is flexibility there.

To go along with that line of thinking, you guys have presented several moments in relation to Bishop and Torres, including that moment between Torres and Kasie at the end of the finale. Are you treating that storyline in a similar way?

Cardea – It’s a relationship that we’ll continue to explore and evolve. We’ve got some funny moments for them coming up, some awkward moments, and some heartfelt moments, too.

Binder – Clearly, there’s something there between Bishop and Torres, but just like with real people in life when there’s something there, you just see where it goes. The road isn’t always linear. Will they or won’t they? is the binary question when you ask about this stuff — we’re seeing where the road is taking them. We get surprised in dailies sometimes with relationship things — sometimes it’s a look. Something or someone can change the whole trajectory and open up new possibilities for us.

We’re not rushing it, but we’re thinking about it all the time.

Let’s talk about guest stars for a moment. It was great having Fornell back for the finale, but are there any more past characters you’re looking at for the new season, or new faces you’re looking to bring on board?

Cardea – Fornell will reappear this year; Robert Wagner usually makes an appearance.

Binder – We don’t want to force it, but we’ve talked about some other people in the building who we’ve met before. We may bring a few of them back and see who sticks. [Ned] Dorneget was a good example of that. He was killed way too soon. He was brought in first for just a scene, but Matt [Jones] was great and we kept bringing him back.

Cardea – Dr. Grace is a character who works really well with Mark. She’s fun to have around.

Binder – Part of the problem is that we need to re-populate our characters — we’ve killed so many of them! (Laughs.) They’re either coming back as a ghost or flashbacks.

Beyond the premiere, are there any other episodes coming up that you’re excited for people to see?

Binder – The Ziva storyline really dominates everything early on in the year. It’s still dominating our memory.

Cardea – And she’ll be coming back later on.

Binder – There are no specific plans, but Don Lake is an actor we talk about a lot. He’s been great both times he appeared.

Before we wrap up, there are a couple of bigger ideas I want to hit. It’s been a while since we’ve had a crossover. Is that something that is being actively considered?

Binder – I’d say that those things need to be externally driven where someone says ‘hey, let’s do this.’ Like you said, it’s a very difficult logistical thing to pull off and then creatively — what’s the story that merits crossing over between our [three] shows? At one point, it would be great to do a massive crossover with all the shows.

Cardea – It’s something that’s always been thought about — but logistically a nightmare.

I know at some point this year, the 400th episode is coming! I know it’s far down the road, but are you thinking about some basic ideas?

Binder – We are. It’s episode 22 [this season].

Cardea – It was just a conversation at lunch (laughs).

Binder – We have a couple ideas, but they’re pie-in-the-sky ideas. Right now, most of our thoughts are ‘oh my gosh, the 400th episode is coming, what are we going to do?’.

Cardea – It’s so close to our finale, too. It’s a delicate balance.

Binder – We have these communication channels on the floor. That was one of the first ideas we set up — 400th episode idea bin. I’d like for it to be a little more filled (laughs).

You still got time.

Binder – Right, and we really feel like we got to do this right. It’s such an iconic moment for us, and I don’t know how many other shows are going to be hitting 400 in this television landscape.

Cardea – The 400th doesn’t start shooting until the beginning of April.

I’m certainly not trying to throw this idea out in the universe — I hope NCIS is around for some time still — but is there already an idea for how the show could end?

Binder – Yeah. That’s an episode I could write now. I have an idea. That’s all I’m going to say … and I’m hoping to not write it for a long, long time.

Related News Check out more NCIS news, including further scoop on the premiere!

What are you most excited to see on NCIS season 17?

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