NCIS: Sydney has premiered. Can you believe it almost never made it to the U.S.?
It seemed like the franchise was destined to conclude. NCIS: New Orleans was already over, NCIS: Los Angeles ended earlier this year, and the original series lost considerable steam when Mark Harmon left.
Armed with a compelling cast of characters and plots, NCIS: Sydney could change the game for future franchise entries — if broadcast networks are up to the challenge.
Like everything in life, there is good news and bad news with regard to what Sydney does for NCIS and franchises in general.
Let’s start with the good.
NCIS: Sydney Series Premiere Ratings
These early numbers make it the most-watched series debut of the 2023-24 TV season to date.
For a show that wasn’t even supposed to air in the US, that’s got to put a little zip in CBS’s step.
An Unprecedented TV Season
Granted, this is a TV season like no other. NBC was the only network airing scripted originals during the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes.
NBC knew a dual strike was imminent and got some of its shows into production early to have a normal-ish fall schedule, consisting of the likes of Found, The Irrational, Magnum P.I., The Voice, and Quantum Leap.
It was a rough road as the writers and actors were on strike to ensure fair deals, and networks couldn’t have predicted the results.
Without stockpiled scripted content, most networks won’t see fresh episodes until mid-February 2024, nine months after the end of the 2022-23 season.
NCIS: Sydney Almost Never Aired on CBS
There’s a good chance we wouldn’t have gotten NCIS: Sydney on a broadcast network here in the U.S. had the networks not been struggling for content.
Despite scoring a series order long ago, it was for the Australian market.
It’s hard to believe there were no plans to air it on CBS initially, as it features some of the best content in the NCIS Universe in years.
Taking a well-known format and shifting it to a different country, complete with a new cast of operatives, is typically a tough sell for fans of the existing series.
NCIS: Sydney Excels Where Most Spinoffs Fail
But NCIS: Sydney isn’t most series. Heavy on the easter eggs (hints at past franchises), the writing feels like it takes place in the wider NCISverse, which is crucial to the success of any spinoff.
Delivering solid TV ratings is a must for the success of any show, but the fact is that NCIS: Sydney pulled in ratings comparable to NCIS: Hawai’i at a fraction of the cost to CBS.
The series was already made for the Australian market before CBS stepped in.
As we’ve learned in recent years, imports are becoming more prominent. They’re more cost-effective at a time of waning viewership for broadcast networks.
Streaming services are flourishing with imported content, but the broadcast networks seem almost scared by the concept as if they’re throwing their hands up in defeat.
The CW has had minimal interest in its acquisitions, alienating its target audience by eradicating the show’s synonymous with its previous regime.
But ABC going full-blown unscripted this fall almost seemed like a middle finger to the creatives, as if they could get along just fine without them.
With shows like The Golden Bachelor hitting big and others like Bachelor in Paradise flatlining, it would have been the perfect opportunity to acquire some imported shows to test the waters with their marketing muscle.
Thankfully, NCIS: Sydney got the chance, with CBS giving it all the bells and whistles to show its faith in the series.
NCIS: Sydney’s high quality and out-of-the-gate numbers prove that expanding some of TV’s most well-known franchises shouldn’t come with the preconceived notion that the project would pale in comparison to its predecessor.
Instead, broadcast networks should embrace these entries. They’re a great way to keep the lights on as economics across the board continue to become more constricted.
Viewers crave international content. That’s a fact. Airing more of it on broadcast could be incredibly beneficial with the right marketing and promotion and an understanding of what the audience wants.
The first four episodes of NCIS: Sydney are highly enjoyable. It doesn’t try to emulate the original, which would only draw unnecessary comparisons.
All shows, even those within a franchise, need the opportunity to stand on their own merit.
NCIS: Sydney does that with a new, faster-paced storyline in a beautiful location, making it a natural next step for the franchise.
The Broadcast Networks Should Embrace International Franchise Expansions
NBC should take some notes with Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent; like NCIS, the Law & Order franchise is all-encompassing, with countless series and strong ratings.
Every new franchise entry deserves the best shot to gain an audience if the quality is there.
NCIS: Sydney is off to a thrilling start, and we can’t wait to see what’s on the horizon.
What is NCIS: Sydney About?
Here’s the gist with some help from CBS:
With rising international tensions in the Indo-Pacific, the story goes, a brilliant and eclectic team of U.S. NCIS agents and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) are grafted into a multinational taskforce.
That taskforce was created to keep naval crimes in check in the most contested patch of the ocean on the planet.
That sounds pretty good, right? And who knew offhand that was the planet’s most contested patch of ocean? We sure didn’t.
If the cases for the rest of the series are as strong as NCIS: Sydney Season 1 Episode 1, then we’re in for a wild ride.
NCIS: Sydney Cast: Who’s In?
The series stars Olivia Swann (DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The River Wild) as NCIS Special Agent Michelle Mackey and Todd Lasance (Without Remorse, The Vampire Diaries) as her 2IC AFP counterpart, Sergeant Jim “JD” Dempsey.
They make a great duo that successfully leads the series. Like most NCIS partnerships, there is a lot of joking around with a few cutting comments here and there. We just know they’ll wind up being friends.
They are joined by Sean Sagar (The Covenant, Mea Culpa) as NCIS Special Agent DeShawn Jackson, Tuuli Narkle (Mystery Road: Origin) as AFP liaison officer Constable Evie Cooper, and Mavournee Hazel (Shantaram, Halifax: Retribution) as AFP forensic scientist Bluebird “Blue” Gleeson.
So far, most characters haven’t reached their full potential. As with any series premiere, NCIS: Sydney had a lot of exposition as it tried to deliver this fully-functioning team of agents.
Typically, that makes for good TV, but the characters are very good on their own. Even better, we’ve seen the next three episodes and can confirm they begin to mesh well.
We always have favorites here at TV Fanatic, so JD is definitely up there after the premiere as one of the franchise’s most compelling characters.
There’s a lot of potential with Mackey, and I wish the show would have led with her machinations rather than her connections to agents of the past.
The cast is rounded out by William McInnes (The Newsreader, Total Control) as AFP forensic pathologist Dr Roy Penrose, and truthfully, there wasn’t enough of some of the supporting players.
We know where things go. Fans will enjoy the journey, which levels up in the next episode and beyond.
Who doesn’t love a good comeback story? That’s just a part of NCIS: Sydney’s allure, and there is a lot more to come.
What are your thoughts on the numbers for the series premiere? Are you surprised the series almost never made it to CBS?
Catch new episodes of NCIS: Sydney on Tuesdays at 8 p.m.
Paul Dailly is the Associate Editor for TV Fanatic. Follow him on X.