Behind NCIS: Sydney: “The goal wasn’t to recreate the show in Australia”

NCIS Sydney

EP Morgan O’Neill on bringing one of the world’s biggest franchises to Australia

Premiering exclusively on Paramount+ in Australia on November 10 – and internationally in the US on November 14 – NCIS: SYDNEY is bringing one of the world’s biggest franchises Down Under.

The first-ever international series from the global NCIS franchise will see a team of U.S. NCIS Agents and the Australian Federal Police grafted into a multi-national taskforce, to keep naval crimes in check, in the most contested patch of ocean on the planet.

Ahead of the show’s launch, Mediaweek caught up with EP of NCIS: SYDNEY, Morgan O’Neill.

ncis sydney Morgan O’Neill

Morgan O’Neill

What do you think it is that has kept audiences coming back to the NCIS franchise for so long?

“As far as TV behemoths go, it doesn’t get much bigger than NCIS. So, when I was first approached to pitch on how the NCIS franchise might expand their universe to Sydney, I asked myself the same question. To answer it, I cleared the couch and watched hundreds of episodes of the show from all four American franchises. It quickly became clear that there’s a connective DNA that all four shows enjoy that springs from their tone – a twisty crime procedural with kink. There’s a sense of fun at the core of the show that’s undeniable, and the resulting tone is so uniquely NCIS. So that’s what we went after.

“That said, what I found so fascinating watching the shows was that while they share this connective tissue, each iteration of the franchise is different to the other. It seems pretty clear that the makers of the shows were really clear about expanding the universe, not replicating it. And that was a great revelation for us when it came time to establish NCIS: SYDNEY. The goal wasn’t to recreate the show in Australia, it was to find what the authentic version of the show in Australia would look and feel like, then lean into that. I pitched a very ambitious vision of the show to the folks at Paramount+ AU and CBS Studios, and they told me to swing for the fences. So that’s what we did.

“Over and above all that, it seems to me that NCIS is in a lot of ways part family drama, part workplace comedy. The core team of agents function like family, and in the case of NCIS: SYDNEY, the franchise’s first blended family with Australian AFP officers working alongside American NCIS Special Agents. People keep coming back to the shows because they love that sense of family in all its facets – love, bickering, betrayal, reunification… but most of all that when the chips are down, you know they’re going to have each other’s back. For me, that was the bedrock in creating our characters for NCIS: SYDNEY.”

What were some of your inspirations when creating NCIS: SYDNEY?

“Looking out at Sydney Harbour, it’s not hard to draw a ton of inspiration. In fact, when you consider Sydney is the world’s largest harbour, set on the coast of the world’s largest island, smack back in the middle of the world’s most contested patch of ocean, it’s hard to believe NCIS: Sydney hasn’t been made already.

“It’s also rare to work on a ‘new’ show that has 950 episodes to draw from… lots of inspiration there.

How do you balance keeping the show connected to its roots, whilst also giving it an Australian feel?

“While researching the organisation that is NCIS, I discovered that they’re the smallest of the 17 US military/intelligence acronyms. While the FBI, CIA and NSA hog the headlines and the resources, NCIS just gets on with the job, doing more with less, scrapping their way forward in defiance of their larger, more famous colleagues. To me, that’s a description that could easily be used to describe Australia: the scrappy underdog that often bats out of its league. From that perspective, it feels like the Australia version of the show exists in a space that is naturally connected to its roots.

“In terms of making sure it has an Australian feel, we collected a room full of some of Australia’s most skilled screenwriters and made sure we kept each other honest – does this scene pass the sniff test? Are we bunging it on too much here? Does this feel authentic? Because at the end of the day, if things are drawn authentically from somewhere, then they’re going to feel unique in a way that both local and international audiences are going to compelled by.

“The odd island taipan doesn’t hurt either…”

What can audiences expect from NCIS: SYDNEY?

“Audiences can expect a show that feels super familiar in some ways, and very different in others. It should give them the same feels as their favourite of the NCIS franchise by combining high-octane action, twisty intrigue and comedy, all brought to life by a cast of unique, slightly quirky characters who are less like work colleagues and more like family… and whom you desperately want to spend an hour with.

“Except it’s set in Australia. Did I mention the taipan…?

“Jokes aside, for me as a long time NCIS fan, I’ve always thought you come for the crime, stay for the characters, and I hope that’s what audiences will take away from NCIS: SYDNEY. If we pull that off, the rest is gravy.”

See Also: Paramount lifts the lid on NCIS Sydney cast

To Top