By Lynn Elber, AP Television Writer

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Cote de Pablo isn’t coming back to “NCIS,” but close.

The actress, who is starring in CBS’ “The Dovekeepers,” looked surprised to hear that the two-part movie is scheduled to debut in the time slot after the crime drama in which she played government agent Ziva David.

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“Really?” de Pablo exclaimed after executive producer Roma Downey told the Television Critics Association about the March 31 scheduling.

De Pablo left “NCIS” in 2013 amid contract negotiations with the network, which prompted a social media outcry from her fans.

Downey, the former star of CBS’ “Touched by an Angel,” said airing “The Dovekeepers” first half after “NCIS” was intended to take advantage of de Pablo’s outspoken base.

The hope is that de Pablo’s followers will be “very noisy” in drawing attention to the movie, Downey said. The project, based on Alice Hoffman’s 2011 novel of the same name, dramatizes the siege of the ancient desert fortress of Masada — now part of Israel — by Roman Empire troops. The second part airs April 1.

In response to a question about what she’s been up to, de Pablo replied, “I have been working,” citing “The Dovekeepers” and the upcoming big-screen film “The 33,” which includes Antonio Banderas and Juliette Binoche in its cast.

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“I have been living, spending time with my family, which was very important to me,” added the Chilean-born actress. “How can I tell stories if I’m not infused by life.”

Downey, who has turned to creating programs with her husband, producer Mark Burnett (“Survivor,” ”The Voice”), said she initiated “The Dovekeepers” after visiting Masada and reading Hoffman’s novel. The couple had a TV hit with 2013’s miniseries “The Bible.”

She was touched by the story of a persecuted people whose “courage was greater than fear,” Downey said. The TV movie, which weaves fiction around the historical event, is primarily a love story, she said.

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