CHRIS O’DON­NELL AND LL COOL J STAR IN

It’s set on a dif­fer­ent coast and has dif­fer­ent crooks, but Guy Davis found that the new NCIS spin-off defi nitely takes af­ter the orig­i­nal.

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NCIS: LOS AN­GE­LES

You can’t blame the mak­ers of NCIS for bank­ing on a sure thing.

The ad­ven­tures of the Naval Crim­i­nal In­ves­tiga­tive Ser­vice have at­tracted huge audiences world­wide since 2003, and with the on­go­ing pop­u­lar­ity of the Mi­ami and New York ver­sions of CSI, a new show fea­tur­ing the agents of an NCIS branch in an­other city seemed like a nat­u­ral.

And go­ing by the re­sponse to the re­cent pre­miere of NCIS: Los An­ge­les, it would ap­pear that the gam­ble has paid off .

The action-packed se­ries, star­ring Chris O’Don­nell and rap­per-turned-ac­tor LL Cool J in the lead roles, is prov­ing al­most as pop­u­lar as the orig­i­nal in the United States and is rat­ing healthily in Aus­tralia, where it airs on Ten.

The action, how­ever, isn’t the key el­e­ment of the suc­cess en­joyed by the NCIS brand. Fans of the fran­chise have made it clear that one of its main draw­cards is the com­bi­na­tion of thrills, hu­mour and, most im­por­tant, char­ac­ter in­ter­ac­tion.

The team dy­namic be­tween Gibbs, DiNozzo, Ziva and the rest of the NCIS crew is a big part of the show’s ap­peal, and when it came to the L. A. spin-off , both O’Don­nell and LL Cool J were keen to en­sure that it would be em­u­lated.

“ Char­ac­ter is re­ally im­por­tant to Shane and re­ally im­por­tant to us,” said LL Cool J, re­fer­ring to Shane Bren­nan, the Aus­tralian ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer cred­ited by many as the one re­spon­si­ble for refi ning the NCIS for­mula.

“ I don’t think that it would ever just be­come about only plot and only action. When you stay true to the NCIS fran­chise in gen­eral, it’s the char­ac­ters that are re­ally im­por­tant.”

“ A show like NCIS kind of has the lib­erty to do what­ever they want,” added O’Don­nell, who ap­peared as Robin in a pair of big-bud­get Bat­man block­busters in the ’ 90s.

“ They can be as funny as they want, as dra­matic as they want, as much action as they want. They’ve kind of opened it up so that they could go in any di­rec­tion and their fans wouldn’t be too shocked.

“ But I re­ally hope that there’s al­ways a cer­tain level of char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment and drama and that sort of thing be­cause from an act­ing stand­point that’s a lot more ex­cit­ing.”

O’Don­nell’s un­der­cover op­er­a­tive G. Callen ( no, he doesn’t have a fi rst name – an or­phan, his back­ground is a mys­tery) and LL Cool J’s for­mer Navy SEAL Sam Hanna were in­tro­duced in cross­over episodes that aired dur­ing the sixth sea­son of the orig­i­nal NCIS.

Those episodes acted as a launch pad for the Los An­ge­les se­ries, which re­volves around the LA Offi ce of Spe­cial Projects.

There will con­tinue to be cross­over be­tween the two NCIS branches in Wash­ing­ton DC and Los An­ge­les, the mak­ers of the show have stated, with foren­sic spe­cial­ist Abby Sci­uto ( played by Pauley Per­rette) al­ready sched­uled for a work­ing visit to the West Coast in the near fu­ture.

How­ever, the plan is that NCIS: Los An­ge­les will be very much its own show with its own iden­tity.

While both O’Don­nell and LL Cool J have big-screen back­grounds, nei­ther is a stranger to TV. But they ad­mit that the grind of putting to­gether a prime-time pro­gram, es­pe­cially one with its fair share of action, has been eye-open­ing.

“ It’s a big com­mit­ment,” said O’Don­nell, who played guest roles on The Prac­tice and Grey’s Anatomy. “ I’ve ac­tu­ally felt en­er­gised by the amount of work we’ve been do­ing. But the phys­i­cal chal­lenges are not so much the action se­quences we’ve been do­ing, it’s hav­ing the stamina to be fo­cused and en­er­gised ev­ery day.”

“ Noth­ing can pre­pare you for a prime-time drama sched­ule,” added LL Cool J. “ You have to re­ally be com­mit­ted.”

But it’s a com­mit­ment LL Cool J is confi dent is worth the in­vest­ment.

“ You don’t need to be fa­mil­iar with the orig­i­nal show to un­der­stand our show or be a fan of our show,” he said.

“ You can defi nitely go in with cold feet. At the same time, we want to make sure that we’re re­spect­ful of the fans of the orig­i­nal NCIS, and hope­fully main­tain the el­e­ments that made that show suc­cess­ful.

“ We’re main­tain­ing the same wit and ban­ter as the orig­i­nal, but the un­der­cover as­pect gives us a bit of fl ex­i­bil­ity.”

Think tank: Chris O’Don­nell teams up with ( inset, from left) Adam Jamal Craig, LL Cool J and Daniela Ruah to

play agents of the LA Offi ce of Spe­cial Projects.

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