CBS and “NCIS” are on the verge of going where only one television franchise has gone before — a third-generation spin-off.
As you may recall, “JAG” begot “NCIS,” which begot “NCIS: Los Angeles.” And now the network is working on begetting an “NCIS: Los Angeles” spin-off, which is a strong candidate to be on CBS’ fall schedule.
With the exception of “Star Trek,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Star Trek: “Voyager,” that’s never happened before.
(“Star Trek: The Animated Series” was more a continuation than a spin-off, and it came directly from the original series. And “Star Trek: “Enterprise” did not spin off from “Voyager,” so there was no fourth generation.)
There are three ways to create a spin-off. You can take characters from one show and give them their own show.
You can plant characters on a series for an episode or two and then give them their own show.
Or you can have characters from Series A appear in the pilot of Series B — like Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelly) on “Next Generation”; Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) on “Deep Space Nine”; or Quark (Armin Shimmerman) on “Voyager.”
The concept and characters of “NCIS” were introduced in two episodes of “JAG.” The concept and characters of “NCIS: Los Angeles” were introduced in two episodes of “NCIS.”
It won’t surprise you that the concept and characters of the proposed series (tentatively titled “NCIS: Red”) were introduced in the first half of a “NCIS: Los Angeles” two-parter, which concludes Tuesday at 8 p.m. on CBS/Channel 2.
Certainly, there have been shows that spawned more spin-offs than “JAG.”
“All In the Family” directly or indirectly launched eight other series — “Maude,” “Good Times,” “The Jeffersons,” “Checkin’ In,” “E/R,” “Archie Bunker’s Place,” “Gloria” and “704 Hauser” — but none was more than two generations removed from the original.
“Happy Days” launched five other series — “Laverne & Shirley,” “Blansky’s Beauties,” “Mork and Mindy,” “Out of the Blue” and “Joanie Loves Chachi” — but they were all direct spin-offs.
Although you could argue each was a second-generation spin-off of “Love, American Style,” the anthology series that introduced “Happy Days.”
What makes the possibility of another “NCIS” series a bit ironic is that NBC canceled “JAG” after one season and CBS picked it up. Eighteen years later, CBS has aired 205 episodes of that show; 228 episode of “NCIS”; 90 episodes of “NCIS: Los Angeles”; and now has a fourth series on deck.
When NBC canceled “JAG” back in 1996, it just might have been the worst programming decision ever.
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.