If tonight's "NCIS" (CBS, 8 p.m.) has a different feel to it (besides being Part 1 of a two-parter), that's because the characters being introduced tonight are possible characters for the proposed "NCIS" spinoff that is supposed to launch next year.
Guest stars Chris O'Donell and LL Cool J, among others, are probable cast members for the still-untitled spinoff.
It's not really a surprise that CBS would want a second "NCIS," since it's found success with two spinoffs of "CSI." "NCIS" is one of those rare shows that has continually gained an audience over the years, consistently becoming a Top 10 performer and owning its Tuesday night timeslot.
Of course, part of the reason is the terrific chemistry of the cast, often more interesting than the dead-body-of-the-week. When a cast member was rumored to be killed off toward the end of last year (it turned out to be director Shepherd, played by Lauren Holly), people were howling in protest, threatening to boycott the show if the dead character turned out to be Gibbs. Or Abby. Or Ducky. Or Tony. Or Ziva. Or McGee. I think Ducky's assistant Palmer even got some support.
So, while trying to replicate the original's success, a new "NCIS" spinoff has a steep challenge in trying to recreate something that matches the original's chemistry. Will it? It remains to be seen.
Of course, "NCIS" itself was created as a backdoor pilot during a two-part episode of "JAG" several years ago. Back then, the team consisted of Gibbs, Tony, Abby and Ducky, and a shrill female agent played by Robyn Lively that got axed when the series was picked up. As with any series, it took the producers doing some tinkering to find out what worked.
The show continued to evolve over the years, when the second female agent, Kate (Sasha Alexander), was killed off memorably. The producers spent several episodes trying several actresses out as possible leads before settling on Ziva (Cote de Pablo), a Mossad agent assigned to the team as part of an exchange program. Ziva's malapropism-of-the-week is usually one of the show's highlights.
With the networks more desperate than ever to find a hit, it's not unreasonable for them to look to current hits and create spinoff shows. "CSI," "Law & Order" and "Grey's Anatomy" are among the successful shows currently on air that have spawned successful spinoffs. Will "NCIS" join the list? Tune in and find out.
TUESDAY'S BEST BETS: "NCIS" will be followed by new episodes of "The Mentalist" and "Without A Trace."
One of the more successful spinoffs on the air, "Law & Order: SVU" (NBC, 10 p.m.) is new tonight and follows two hours of "The Biggest Loser."
ABC delivers two episodes of "According To Jim" beginning at 8 p.m. (Damn you to hell, ABC!) It's followed by "Dancing With The Stars" and "Cupid."
Fox has the performance part of "American Idol" tonight, followed by a new "Fringe" at 9 p.m. CW airs new episodes of "Reaper" and "90210."
On cable, it's episode 4 of "Rescue Me" (FX, 10 p.m.) while "My Boys" (TBS, 10:30 p.m.) is new.