He now speaks of "NCIS" with an odd mixture of pride, regret and anger. "I do wish it hadn't ended the way it did," Bellisario said. His name remains on "NCIS" as co-creator and executive producer, but he has zero day-to-day involvement with the show.
Harmon sees that as a change for the better. "If we're working 14-hour days now instead of the 17- or 18-hour days that we were doing, it doesn't mean we're working any less hard," the actor said. "We're just more organized. . . . This has become a very well-oiled machine."
He added: "I don't wish to go head to head with Bellisario in the press. . . . He knows why he left."
Feuds between producers and talent are nothing new, of course, but how they are resolved can ultimately spell the difference between success and failure. In the case of "NCIS," CBS not only sided with its star, it also chose a course that promised the most stability for a show that had turned into an important asset. Brennan and Johnson had both spent years working alongside Bellisario. With the new pair taking over, the series could keep its star and not miss a beat. Unfortunately, Bellisario became collateral damage. But CBS understood that its audience -- the oldest in TV -- was not eager to see more drastic creative upheavals. And given how "NCIS" has thrived since that time, it's clear that, in terms of pure survival, network executives' instincts were correct, even if justice was not necessarily meted out.
Now the producers see very few limits on the show's longevity and are pushing for a run that would give it a permanent place in network history.
As Brennan put it, even in these days of fragmented audiences and lowered expectations, "there's no reason why a show can't run for 10 or 15 years."
The Channel Island column runs every Monday in Calendar.
Contact Scott Collins at scott.collins @latimes.com