May 5, 2009 in Features

‘NCIS’ uses songs as aid to craft plot

Nekesa Mumbi Moody Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Actors, from left, Sean Murray, Cote de Pablo, Michael Weatherly and Mark Harmon of the CBS series “NCIS,” are shown.
(Full-size photo)

It’s become standard practice for TV shows to use edgy, contemporary songs at key plot points, whether it’s an OMG moment on “Gossip Girl” or the latest Izzie drama on “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Typically, those songs are selected after the plots are written. But this season, the producers on CBS’ hit show “NCIS” took the practice to another step: getting songs by acts ranging from Perry Ferrell to Jakob Dylan as the shows were being crafted, and then taking inspiration from those tunes to help craft the show.

“(The goal was) to get a lot of material in, as early as possible … and then find some really fun moments to give those to the fans,” says producer Josh Rexon.

Larry Jenkins produced and compiled the music, available as a soundtrack CD featuring previously released songs by Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp and others. He says the method prevents the songs from becoming “an afterthought.”

“We probably got the producers 50 songs to listen to,” Jenkins says. “They might listen and go, ‘Hey, this Blue October song, this is perfect for this storyline. … Hey writers, read these lyrics, use this to write your scene.’ ”

Most shows have music supervisors who scour for tunes to illustrate a scene. A Taylor Swift song from the new album “Fearless” made its debut on “Grey’s Anatomy” last fall, while emerging artists and other acts get play on shows ranging from “The Hills” to “Lost.”

But those songs tend to be picked after the scenes are filmed. On “NCIS” (airing Tuesdays at 8 p.m.), the planning for the show’s music came while the plot lines were still being fleshed out. For example, Ferrell’s “Nasty Little Perv” opens one episode, leading into a hotel room liaison.

“The writer of that episode thought that song would be really appropriate and driving, and it has a lot of energy,” Rexon says.

“We also give those songs not only to the writer, but to the director, and you can see how the director directed (the scene). He really spent a long time panning up the legs, the face. When the writer and director have the song early, they are able to take the scene and do something cool like that.”

He points to another scene featuring the Goth-looking forensic scientist Abby, who puts on a Jakob Dylan song as she and another character bond.

“The benefit of having a song ahead of time is that we had a really emotional song that could be built into the emotional scene,” Rexon says.

“When writers are writing, they are able to take these songs and incorporate them into the script and help accentuate moments that they were already writing about, but it can be incorporated into the show in a more smooth way.”

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