It’s one of the biggest TV franchises in history, and it all started with Mark Harmon’s Leroy Gibbs and his team of operatives. NCIS — the Naval Criminal Investigative Service — takes out the bad people in action-packed chunks of small-screen entertainment. Yet it’s easy to forget that this is a real organization, with dedicated employees looking into crimes involving the United States Navy and Marine Corps. What are the differences between Harmon and company and the genuine article? Quite a lot, as it happens! This isn’t a surprise, but it turns out the real NCIS isn’t as high-octane as its showbiz counterpart. Let’s investigate what the producers get right, and what they get wrong.
Fiction: Instant test results
It wouldn’t be NCIS without those all-important test results. Combing over the scene of the crime and assessing the evidence is done fairly rapidly. That gives the group more time to run around, drive fast cars and engage in some quickfire repartee. David McCallum’s “Ducky” Mallard and other specialists, such as Pauly Perrette’s much-missed Abby Sciuto, are usually on hand to provide the unit with what they need to get the job done. The team runs like clockwork, giving criminals no place to hide from the forensic and laser-like focus of NCIS. How does this fly with the group’s real life experts?
Fact: Be patient
In reality, the process is much slower. The show has to get certain details wrapped up neatly within the space of an hour, but real NCIS employees aren’t bound by a ravenous TV schedule. “I wish we could get DNA evidence back in 20-30 minutes,” commented Matt Ashton, Assistant Special Agent at the Norfolk Field Office. Speaking to TV station News 3, he added, “Or even a day, but sometimes it takes months!” Already we can see how a key factor in TV’s NCIS is debunked by the genuine article. It isn’t all dramatic license, as you’ll see, but this is definitely a case where writers take liberties.
Fiction: A highly unusual office
The NCIS crew need an office from which to work, like anyone. That said, it’s also a place of intrigue and excitement that makes a regular workplace seem like a seminar on carpet-cleaning. This is the area where team members banter with one another and throw ideas back and forth in an attempt to crack the case. An article on the website of non-profit organization USO highlighted Gibbs’ catchphrase of, “Got a dead marine. Grab your gear.” You probably don’t hear stuff like that by your water cooler! Makes us wonder what life in a real NCIS office is like, and whether the excitement levels are actually ramped up to the max.
Fact: “They never show the paperwork!”
Agent Matt Ashton understands that this is a TV show and not a slice of life. Yet there is one major part of his role that you don’t see depicted on the small screen. “They never show the paperwork!” he exclaimed to News 3. Even a paperless office would feature a whole lot of scrolling, but we guess that’s just not sexy enough. Crime-busting organization or not, admin is admin. As for Gibbs’ famous catchphrase, this definitely isn’t “part of the lexicon”, at least according to USO. Thinking about it, in a real-life context, the remark sounds kind of flippant!