Showrunner Doubles Down in the Big Easy

CBS Television Studios president David Stapf didn’t hesitate to sing the praises of Gary Glasberg, who took over as showrunner for the CBS ratings juggernaut NCIS in 2011.

“He’s somebody I deeply admire and respect,” Stapf says. “It takes a lot to come into an existing show and put your own stamp on it but also not alienate people, and he’s done that quite well.”

So well, in fact, that Glasberg will be doubling his efforts, continuing on NCIS while also showrunning spinoff NCIS: New Orleans, which premieres Sept. 23.

Glasberg came to NCIS in 2009 as coexecutive producer when thenshowrunner Shane Brennan shifted to NCIS: Los Angeles. Under Glasberg, it hasn’t missed a beat. In its most recent 11th season, NCIS averaged 22.4 million live-plus-seven-day viewers.

Glasberg has no problem harmonizing with series star Mark Harmon. “From day one, his door was open. He was there every day doing the work.” Harmon says. “That change only benefi ted the show.”

Growing up in the mountains of upstate New York, Glasberg’s career didn’t take shape until he worked as an assistant for film director Alan J. Pakula and The Simpsons executive producer James L. Brooks. “Those two jobs gave me a foundation and an understanding of what our industry is,” Glasberg says.

Glasberg has kept the lessons he learned while under Pakula—who directed See You in the Morning and Presumed Innocent while Glasberg worked for him—in mind. “[Pakula] was an extraordinary talent,” Glasberg says. “That was a unique experience for me. There probably isn’t a professional day that goes by when I don’t think about the couple of years that I had with him.”

Glasberg graduated from NYU and spent the early part of his career in animation and children’s shows, writing on series including Rugrats, Duckman, Real Monsters and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. In time, it grew a bit stale.

“I just reached a point where I wanted to expand my world a little bit, and one-hour drama was always something that I was drawn to,” he says.

Glasberg landed his first drama job with Dick Wolf’s short-lived series Swift Justice on the now defunct UPN. Glasberg waded through broadcast dramas Crossing Jordan, Bones and The Mentalist before docking at NCIS.

When Glasberg and Harmon met during a hiatus period to talk about story lines for coming sweeps episodes, they started throwing around the idea of a different NCIS series.

“I told Mark I heard there was a tiny little NCIS office—a real office—in New Orleans, and I thought it would be a terrific two-episode sweeps story line for us,” says Glasberg. “To Mark’s credit, he said. ‘That’s not a sweeps episode, that’s a series.’ And the next thing I knew, we were off and running.”

Though both shows follow the model of NCIS agents working to solve a case, NCIS: New Orleans has some unique qualities tied into its Big Easy setting.

“New Orleans is very much a character. The culture, music, food, fun and contrast and everything that New Orleans provides separates these two shows from one another,” says Glasberg.

Harmon, who serves as executive producer on NCIS: New Orleans, relishes working with Glasberg the producer.

“It feels good to collaborate on this idea, this thought we had a long time ago, and then the process of coming up with a pitch,” says Harmon. “He’s been a terrific partner.”

Despite running two series, Glasberg has made it a point to focus on his family. “The balancing act is finding the time to get to the sporting events, to attend school functions, to spend some free time with them, go to the movies, relax, have fun,” he says. “It’s all about finding and making those moments, and that’s most important to me.”

Glasberg will be challenged with creating those moments professionally as well, and he can’t wait. “I’m wearing a lot of hats. It’s a very exciting time for me,” he says. “It’s the best time that I’ve ever had in my career.”