'NCIS' Producers Preview Gibbs 'Evolving' During Christopher Lloyd's Guest Spot

NCIS Season 17 Episode 20 Christopher Lloyd Guest Star Preview
Q&A
Michael Yarish/CBS

NCIS has a bit of a different case on its hands for Tuesday's episode, the last one produced for the season.

"It's a case without a body, just NCIS people helping somebody," executive producer Frank Cardea tells TV Insider.

Christopher Lloyd guest stars as 95-year-old Joe Smith, who claims he served on the U.S.S. Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor and wants to be buried there upon his death. It's up to the team to verify his identity — but he doesn't make it easy for them.

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Here, Cardea and co-executive producer Gina Monreal, who wrote "The Arizona," preview the episode.

How much did you already have planned for the story and the character of Joe before casting Christopher Lloyd?

Gina Monreal: As I was writing, I had Christopher Lloyd in mind. He was the voice in my head, and I wrote it for him, and it was just such a huge thrill to actually have him play the role. Usually in your writing career, that does not happen.

Mark Harmon Christopher Lloyd NCIS Season 17 Episode 20 Gibbs Joe

(Michael Yarish/CBS)

What will we see between Gibbs and Joe? There are some pretty powerful scenes.

Monreal: Gibbs' own father was a WWII vet, so he has some experience in understanding people of that generation. It will touch Gibbs in a deeper way, and the two of them butt heads, but underneath it is a true sense of understanding between these two characters.

This episode is a tribute to the WWII veterans, and Gina, you wanted to do an episode about the USS Arizona. What made you want to do this story now?

Monreal: A Pearl Harbor episode, especially for a military show, was very important for us to do. It's something we wanted to do for some time, but now we've reached a point where we're getting toward the end of the time when we could tell a story like this.

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When I started writing the episode, there were three remaining survivors of the Arizona. In February, one of them, Donald Stratton, passed away, so now there are only two. We knew that telling a story like this with an Arizona survivor, we were reaching the end of the time when we could, and that's what's so important about it. We're letting our viewers know that the stories of these veterans will not be forgotten and that they are so significant and so appreciated.

It isn't meant to be the season finale, but it was the last episode produced. What makes it work as a finale?

Frank Cardea: It's such an emotional story. It resonates with so many people — obviously most of our audience wasn't even alive in 1941 — but it's just such a deeply moving story. We had talked about making this the 400th at one point, and thank God we decided to go do it earlier. It certainly could have been a final episode, and unfortunately, it turned out that way.

Mark Harmon NCIS Season 17 Episode 20 Gibbs

(Sonja Flemming/CBS)

Monreal: We see Gibbs' character evolving here and actually opening up at the end of the episode. His character is being pushed forward, and it was such a brilliant performance by Mark Harmon, especially in those quiet moments. That served it well, to feel like there was something bigger happening.

NCIS, Tuesdays, 8/7c, CBS