‘NCIS’: Rocky Carroll Reflects on Reaching 450 Episodes, Ponders Major Returns

Rocky Carroll in 'NCIS'
Robert Voets/CBS

NCIS is hitting quite the milestone, one few shows ever reach, with its 450th episode this season.

“It’s just kind of surreal,” series star Rocky Carroll told TV Insider recently while discussing the latest episode he directed (the 21st!). “The fact that we’ve done 450 is a real testament all the way around, not only to the network and the people connected to the show but also to a very loyal fan base.”

Carroll reflects on reaching the milestone, looks back on joining the show in Season 5, and ponders seeing familiar faces again anytime soon.

The 450th episode’s coming up. What can you say about the episode itself?

Rocky Carroll: I don’t want to give up [anything] about the episode, but the one thing I remember the most is when we did a little celebration the day of shooting the 450th episode, one of our executive producers who had been there for a number of years, said, “When we did our 200th episode, which was a huge milestone, Michael Weatherly, who was still playing Agent DiNozzo at the time, stood up and said, jokingly, ‘we’re halfway to 400!'” And everybody laughed. We had a huge laugh. Everybody thought, “Oh, what a crazy thing to say.” So here we are celebrating our 450th episode, and I think at the end of it, somebody said, “We’re more than halfway to 800.” So it was just surreal at the time to think that we had done 200 episodes; the fact that we’ve done 450 is a real testament, all the way around, not only to the network and the people connected to the show but also to a very loyal fan base.

Rocky Carroll in 'NCIS'

Sonja Flemming/CBS

Since you mentioned Michael, is there any possibility of seeing him or anyone else come back in upcoming episodes?

I really hope so. I really hope so. Fortunately for me, I don’t have to figure that out. But anytime a character doesn’t die in an episode, I figure there’s always a chance. There’s Tony, there’s Ziva [Cote de Pablo], there’s so many other people who come through and have had such an impact on this show that I think audiences would love, even if they weren’t back as regulars, just to have them back visiting or for one episode.

Speaking of Ziva, everyone thought she was dead, and she came back.

Exactly. Anything’s possible, and soap operas, they actually kill people and bring them back to life. But on our show, they may be gone for a while, and their whereabouts unknown, which is sort of what happened with Ziva.

I’m amazed. This is 20 seasons, and like I jokingly say, most Hollywood careers don’t last 20 seasons, let alone television series. So we’re in such rare air, and the pros far outweigh the cons. The landscape of television has changed dramatically since this show started, so the fact that it’s still here and the style of television that it is, which, when you look at streaming services and all the other things that go on and that people still respond and relate to this show, is incredible.

Before this role, the one you played for the most episodes was on Chicago Hope, which you were on with Mark Harmon. What has it been like to live with Vance for this long?

It’s been great. When I started on NCIS, I’d had an almost 20+ year relationship with CBS from comedies, dramas, pilots, and series that didn’t last very long. Always had a great relationship with CBS. Always had a great relationship with Mark Harmon. So to me, it was sort of a real feather in my cap that the network said, “We know you, and we love you, and we trust you with this role on our signature show.” I was happy to be a part of it. By the time I got there, I was grateful for it. I don’t have to carry the ball every episode. I didn’t have to be front and center. I knew I was part of something really good. That’s the way I feel. And I’ve also been given the opportunity, at this stage in my life, to basically learn a new language by becoming a director.

What had you known about Vance and how long he might be around back then when you first joined?

I would be lying to you if I knew anything beyond the four episodes that I did in Season 5 because there’s so many elements. It could have been brilliantly written, brilliantly performed, brilliantly shot, but if the audience didn’t respond to the character, it would’ve ended after four episodes. I don’t know what season it was when I said to myself, I think Vance is here to stay, but it was quite a while before I ever got that sense, because the show had been established, it was in its fifth season, and I was a new addition. I was the third person to play the role of director [after Alan Dale and Lauren Holly]. So nothing said to me, oh, you’re gonna be here to stay. Everything pointed toward this is a temporary job.

Rocky Carroll and Mark Harmon in 'Chicago Hope'

©20th Century Fox Film Corp./Courtesy Everett Collection

And you worked with Mark again at that point after Chicago Hope.

I tell people all the time I only knew one person connected to NCIS, but it was the right person to know, and that was Mark Harmon. When the network, when the executive producer — it was Shane Brennan at the time — first came and sat down with me, I knew that no matter what they thought or felt about me, that if Harmon hadn’t said, “you know what, I know this guy. We worked together, we work well together, I give you the thumbs up,” it would’ve never happened. So, I go to my grave saying that I was Harmon-approved. That went a long way for me securing that role.

There were quite a few mentions of Gibbs in the crossover, like the teases that maybe he could come back, and Vance is the one who walked in and said he wouldn’t be and there wasn’t going to be a party.

I think as long as this show stays on the air, there will always be a little bit of a tease that we might see Gibbs again. First time I saw an episode of this show, I said, oh, it’s Gary Cooper from High Noon. Gibbs is the moral compass. He’s the moral compass that we all wish we had.

What stands out to you about milestone episodes over the years? There have been quite a few now.

It’s just kind of surreal. I think about all the shows over the last 20 years — shows that were lauded, shows that won every award, every accolade that you could name — that are no longer on the air, and that here we are 20 years later… so milestone episodes, hit series, must-see TV, the shows that everybody watched and everybody loved and everybody gave awards to were gone after seven seasons. We’re 20 seasons in. There’s no comparison to that.

And it’s not because we’ve got blackmail pictures of anybody that they keep us on the air. There’s something good about what we do. So when we get to these milestones, because we work in such high volume — our season starts in the middle of July, and we work until the spring of next year — there’s not a lot of time where you just come up for air and look around and say, “wow, look what we’ve done and pat yourselves on the back.” When you get to these milestones, it’s good to take a moment and say, “wow, look at what we’ve done.” And I feel like everybody kind of did that for the first time when we got to 450.

NCIS, Mondays, 9/8c, CBS