NCIS is back for it’s landmark 18th season tonight at 8:00PM ET/PT, only on CBS and streaming on CBS All Access. This season will feature the series’ 400th episode airing tonight.

CBS’ Matt Weiss spoke to series star Sean Murray about NCIS‘ 400th episode, when he knew the show would be a success and providing fans some much needed distraction.

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MW: Hey Sean, nice to see you today on the same day we have season 18 of NCIS set to launch. Tonight’s episode will also be episode 400 for the franchise. What does it say about this show that it’s resonated with fans for this long?

SM: It’s funny, you know at NCIS we have our world. We do our thing. We film our thing. We’re lucky to have so many people support us and watch us. It’s kind of amazing. You never know what is going to click and what doesn’t. You do your best as you go on whatever the project is, whatever you’re working on. As far as NCIS, early on in the show you spent a lot of time sort of learning the strengths of the show and what it is exactly. One of the things early on I think we kind of concentrated on, sort of focusing on were the characters and their character relationships and the dynamics and all that stuff. The case is almost becoming a little more secondary, not as important as the way the characters interact with each other. I think that’s something that has resonated with people.

All the characters are very different from each other. I think everyone can relate to someone, to some character there. You’ve got 400 plus episodes of everyone, so you have so much to choose from. It’s fun. I have a totally different perspective on it. I love it. I know why I keep coming back. As far as people, we’re so thankful that we’re able to do this after 18 years, that we continue to be able to do this. Without your support we wouldn’t be able to do.

MW: Was there a moment when you knew you were on to something here? That clicked and you said this is a special show?

SM: Yeah. You know it’s funny. We were in episode; I don’t know I think it was the 17th episode of the first season. That particular show was about us on a stake out. We were staking out a character, we had an apartment across from this woman’s apartment who we were doing surveillance on and taking shifts on it. The Tony DiNozzo and McGee characters were doing one of the shifts and the evolution of that, those two characters in that relationship started.

We were finding all this kind of, not just Michael and I in that thing, but we were starting to find these fun things in these moments. We’re realizing that I think that’s where some of our strengths were. I remember there definitely being a couple times during that episode, I believe it’s called “Dead Man Talking,” I believe that’s the name of the episode, and there were just little moments where it just felt like, oh this is it. Like you didn’t know until you did it. I think this is it, the click. I think this is it. You do your best and it’s always evolving.

Even 18 years in, you’re still changing, you’re always making it different. I do remember things starting to click in that first season and realizing like, oh this is it. I think we should play towards this a little bit.

MW: The show has to change over time, you don’t want to get stale and NCIS is doing an incredible job of doing that. What are some of the biggest differences that you notice from back in season one to where we are today?

SM: So much has changed from season one to today. The show has change so much, we’ve got people, characters come in and out, in front of the camera, behind the camera. Style of the shooting of the show even has changed over the years. I can tell you it’s definitely kept it interesting for us.

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You don’t get lazy and complacent. When you’ve got to constantly happening thing. We don’t let, we’re real good about not letting each other get lazy. No one is going to phone it in over here. We’re not going to allow that especially not 18 years in. That’s a blessing to have that. We’re really aware of that. We’re always going to deliver the best product that we possibly can.

MW: Now here we are in season 18 and McGee has quite a shocking start to this season so far but where we going to go next with McGee, what’s going on?

SM: This is going to be a really interesting season. I know a lot of stuff that’s happening this year and it’s just going to be interesting period. But as far as with McGee there’s some good stuff going on. We’re going to see some really, really cool things. I can tell you we’re definitely going to see and explore sort of the evolution between Gibbs and McGee.

Those characters and how that’s changed over the years. We’re going to have a lot of that.  Of course, if you saw the teaser of this year, of this season, you know from that teaser that first scene you know we’re into some pretty cool stuff right off the bat. I think that if I recall, that after the teaser sort of fades to black says 11 months earlier we spend the first several episodes catching up to that point in that teaser. That becoming current time and going from there. It’s good stuff. We had to plan. These definitely had to be planned, these arts and everything, carefully. I love that. I love doing this stuff.

MW: It’s been a very unique year for sure. How good does it feel just to be back and what does it mean to be able to bring people new episodes?

SM: We feel very fortunate that we’re in a position where we’re able to go to work and make this show especially with everything going on right now. The COVID of it all and just everything. Being able to do our show is alone is huge for us. To  deliver that and it takes a lot of work not just the normal work of it all, we have so many safety protocols in place now because of COVID. We’ve got to do it in order to work there. We got used to that stuff pretty quick and that became kind of secondary in terms of, once we are used to working inside of the new protocols of things, we were able to jump back into this frame of mind of just making it the best we can.

Once we got the initial sort of rules down as far as what we needed to establish in order for it to be a comfortable, safe working environment. We’ve done a really, I got to say, our guys have done an incredible job of doing that too. I feel unbelievably safe at work. Those guys are great doing that. This season is definitely change as far as that but for some of us, one of the things we have talked about coming back this year’s especially with all these new protocols was we can’t let the quality of the show slip. We can’t do anything to not do the show the way it needs to be. We’ve been lucky. We’ve been able to find this great place where we were able to with all the protocols and the safety. We were able to address all that, get that done, at the same time not let it affect ultimately the work that we’re doing in terms of the quality and all of that.

We’re not going to say, well let’s just put four actors, six feet apart from each other and have them say lines. Stuff like that we don’t do that, we’re not doing that. We’re making this show that we’re supposed to make, but inside of the safety protocols we need to do so it’s good. Everyone’s on board and it’s worked really well so far. The fact that we’ve been able to continue to come to work every day and make these episodes is great for us and great for the fans hopefully. I think these days we need new stuff to watch.

MW: Absolutely. The fans have been definitely waiting a long time and we’re all super excited to watch the episode tonight. Sean, thank you so much for your time and all the best!

SM: Right on, thanks man!

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Catch an all-new episode of NCIS tonight at 8:00PM ET/PT, only on CBS and streaming on CBS All Access. Check your local listings for more information.