NCIS interview: EP, co-EP on Mark Harmon, Christopher Lloyd brilliance in ‘The Arizona’

Christopher LloydCome Tuesday night on CBS, NCIS is going to deliver the last episode of season 17 in “The Arizona” — and rest assured, it’s going to be an emotional powerhouse. Christopher Lloyd guest stars as Joe Smith, a 95-year old man who proclaims that he served aboard the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. He enters the world of NCIS in an unusual way, and then demands that they help him have his remains interred aboard the battleship where he once served. Can Smith be trusted? Are there secrets that are buried underneath his surface?

NCIS preview video: Watch our discussion on what’s coming up in this episode below! Remember to subscribe to CarterMatt on YouTube so you don’t miss out on our weekly NCIS videos! — meanwhile, be sure to view our show playlist for other scoop including episode reactions after each installment.

To get ready for this episode, we spoke with executive producer Frank Cardea as well as co-executive producer Gina Lucita Monreal, who also wrote the episode. Check out what they had to say to CarterMatt below, and come back on Tuesday night for Part 2 of this interview, where we break down the story further and set up the 400th episode. We also talk about what could come in a potential season 18 including a bit of talk on some of the possible romantic subplots and of course we asked about Ziva. (At this time, NCIS has not been officially renewed.)

CarterMatt – How did the idea for this episode first come up?

Gina Lucita Monreal – Being a military show, we’ve wanted to do a Pearl Harbor episode for quite some time. We talked about it several times, but the timing was never right. Now, we’re reaching a time when the story won’t be able to be told anymore. When we started the episode, there were three remaining survivors of the USS Arizona and one of them, Donald Stratton, passed away in February. We realized that it was kind of now or never for telling a story like this. Honoring our Pearl Harbor vets and our World War II vets is so important — putting the idea out there that their stories won’t be forgotten is so important, especially for a show like ours.

Gina, I know there was a lot of research that you did leading up to this episode. What did some of that entail?

Gina – I really did a deep-dive — I read several books, I talked at length with Daniel Martinez, who is the Pearl Harbor historian at the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii. He was a great help to me. I read memoirs and watched as many documentaries and videos of these men telling their own stories in their own words.

The words on the page are really powerful, but then you’re also adding to that someone like Christopher Lloyd, who is just this iconic actor. How did the process of getting him on board come about?

Frank – His name had come up about a month earlier for another episode — a small part. But, Gina will tell you, she wrote this with him in mind.

Gina -His voice was in my head the entire time. He was my #1 wish and it’s so rare that as a writer, that person actually ends up playing the role. It was such a huge thrill and to have that beautiful performance that he delivered.

Frank – Like Gina said, it is so rare that you get the person you’re thinking about — and if you do, they’re sometimes a disappointment! Not here. He outlived our expectations.

This is the final episode of the season, but I know it was not really planned to be the finale. What is the lasting message here? Is it something that can sit with viewers for a long time after it airs?

Frank – The message for me is one about hope and justice. We all talk about Christopher Lloyd, but the incredible performance piece in this episode is Mark Harmon. He is a rock. It was a difficult episode to shoot and he was spectacular — we ended up escalating production because we knew we had to shut down. We actually worked on a Saturday.

It’s an unusual episode — Gina’s script is so wonderful, but there’s no dead body, there’s no big action scene, and it’s all about people. People helping other people.

Gina – The message that will resonate is one about honoring our heroes, and hopefully that extends to our greatest generation and our World War II vets. Their stories are important and we’re not going to forget that. And, that extends to our heroes on the front line today — the doctors and nurses, the janitorial staffs, our grocery workers, everybody. In the end, it becomes an all-inclusive message about humanity and the sacrifices we’re willing to make for each other.

Frank – In light of what’s going on, two days ago we changed the end credits. It was dedicated it to the people at Pearl Harbor, but we expanded it to include the people on the front lines today.

Related News Watch more sneak peeks now for this episode

What do you most want to see when it comes to NCIS season 17 episode 20?

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