63rd Monte-Carlo TV Festival: 'NCIS: Tony & Ziva' Travels to Europe
BY Yako Molhov
This year's Monte-Carlo Television Festival saw a special celebration - one of the most-popular and watched US franchises in TV history - 'NCIS' - marked its 1000th episode with a three-tiered cake at one of the glamorous parties at the Festival. Michael Weatherly (who plays agent Anthony DiNozzo in the original series) and Cote de Pablo (who portrays agent Ziva David) reunited, with the two actors revealing details about the newest addition to the 'NCISverse' called 'NCIS: Tony & Ziva'. Brian Dietzen (Dr. Jimmy Palmer) and Wilmer Valderrama (agent Nick Torres) were also present at the Monte-Carlo Television Festival, as part of the 'NCIS' contingent, and talked to journalists about their own experience on 'NCIS'.
Left to right: Michael Weatherly, Cote de Pablo, Brian Dietzen, Wilmer Valderrama
Five television series make up the franchise: NCIS, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Hawai?i, and Sydney. All series in total amount to 1,007 episodes across 46 seasons of television. The main 'NCIS' series is the longest-running show of the franchise, which premiered its twenty-first season on February 12, 2024.

Weatherly and De Pablo revealed details about the upcoming 'NCIS: Tony & Ziva' which is scheduled to be available for streaming on Paramount+, with Paramount Global Content Distribution handling the distribution of the series which will have 10 episodes. Filming is set to begin in the upcoming weeks in Europe. Weatherly and de Pablo are also executive producers, together with writer and showrunner John McNamara, acclaimed for his work on 'Trumbo' and 'The Magicians'. In addition to McNamara, the team of executive producers includes Laurie Lieser, Christina Strain, and Shelley Meals. The two lead actors both talked about the fact their show switches up the tried and tested 'NCIS' format with a showrunner who has not worked on another series in the franchise: “It’s not an evergreen, procedural, it’s not structured the same way,” Weatherly said.

'NCIS: Tony & Ziva' will delve into the lives of beloved characters Tony DiNozzo and Ziva David. Following their departure from the agency, the story unfolds against the backdrop of Paris as the couple raises their daughter, Tali. However, their tranquil life is disrupted when Tony’s security firm becomes the target of an attack. This forces them to embark on a perilous journey across Europe, where they must untangle the web of threats and rekindle trust in one another.

Trust is one of the major themes in the latest addition to the franchise. De Pablo joked that the show should have been called “NCIS: Trust No One.” She added: “I think the idea of trust, and the idea of how this relationship moves forward is something that was intriguing to us as actors and also it's something that the fans have been asking about forever. Every single time we traveled outside of the country, we'd be, first of all, floored by just how much love the fans have for these two characters and for the show and the questions were always the same, they were always like 'whatever happened to Tony and Ziva', 'do you think they'll ever get back together', 'where are they', 'how are they' and so in a way you wanted to be able to say, well, in my world or how I feel and all of a sudden we had the opportunity to sort of put it together into a show. We’re trying to address all these questions and the idea of trust and we’re trying to address how they move forward parenting together with this child and trying to make things work and having a lot of challenges thrown at them.” Weatherly added “when you think about Tali, who is really the third character in Tony & Ziva, the idea for her to think that her mother was dead, and then her mother is alive, but was running around the world and didn’t come home to protect her. Trust doesn’t mean truth, doesn’t mean honesty. Just because I’m telling you the truth doesn’t mean you can trust me. And I think that a lot of the relationships inside. I won’t give away anything. You have a daughter who’s going to question the story. No dad – you told me she was dead, and she just walked through the door.’ Yeah, but your mom had reasons, No, no, no. The facts are the facts... Where do you stand with the truth? And who do you trust? I mean, these are like the core principles of the show.”

Michael Weatherly told TVBIZZ details about where the new show is set and where filming will take place: “Tony and Ziva live in Paris, and we will be shooting in Budapest, because the Olympics are in Paris right now and that would be complicated. But the show will have a lot of international locations that we will reveal later, and international casting that is going to be absolutely stellar. We’re a part of that as executive producers. And we don't make the decision. The final decision is elsewhere. But we have a lot of input... And also just to be able to see that talent. It's sort of like coming to Monte-Carlo and getting to see these extraordinary shows. And we watched The Gray House last night and saw this extraordinary talent..." De Pablo added: "It's the toughest thing because now we're on the other side. And so as executive producers you get to see all of these incredible casting, these auditions that are coming in. And you're just baffled. First of all, you have incredible appreciation for what we do. You go, wow, it's tough to be an actor. But it's also tough to be on the receiving end because now you have to make a decision on really, really highly qualified people. They're all really good when you get to that level. And so it's making us respect the thing that we've been doing for a long time..."

On going international, De Pablo commented: "Michael and I are fans of series that shoot abroad. So, for example, he watches French shows, I've watched French shows. There was an audition that came in not long ago with people that we've recognized from all of these different shows. And we were like, oh my God, we became fans, wouldn't it be great to work with these people? You have a say in how you feel. And so you could say, we would love this person. But at the end of the day, it's not our decision. All it is is just one more vote of many votes..." Filming outside the U.S. was always a priority for the two actors, even though they thought the studio would want it to be set in the States, Chicago for example. “At the beginning, I was very adamant about that, like, ‘no, I’m not interested if that’s where they want to go,'” De Pablo said. “I really think the show should be taken out of the United States. It would separate us from the agency, and it would give us a chance to sort of reinvent it in a completely different way, from a different standpoint.” Both of them commented that they were very firm on shooting in Europe: "it has always been Europe, it has to be in Europe". Weatherly added “it took some time to get them completely there (Paramount) because it is such a departure. It’s streaming. It’s not an evergreen procedural. It’s not structured the same way. Will the audience show up for that? Are we shooting out of our weight class here with a different kind of story? Is it not going to feel like the other show? All of those troubles. And John is not from the ‘NCIS’ universe. So we’re introducing a new voice. And I think those things that might a few years ago have been to our detriment became assets when people started really understanding streaming, and really understanding Paramount+ as a platform.”

The actor commented that people who come across 'Tony & Ziva' will subsequently have the opportunity to delve into the 1,000 episodes constituting the 'NCIS' universe, encompassing the flagship series along with its spinoffs. "If you watch 'Tony & Ziva' and you've never watched an episode of 'NCIS', but you see a cool trailer on YouTube and you think, ah, that looks cool, I want to watch that - you go to Paramount+, you're like, 'I don't have Paramount+', what does it cost? 'Well, I'd pay $7.99 for a movie ticket at a matinee, right?' So maybe I'll get a month of, and then you go and you watch it, and then you go, there's 1,000 episodes of the NCIS universe? And then you can go back and see 'Tony & Ziva' on Paramount+ in Season 3. Where did they, how did they meet? And so I think that if you're a viewer who stopped watching 10 years ago because this was your couple, then this is a great nostalgic re-up. If you've never watched a show before, it's like you're coming into what looks like a little house, and when you get inside, it's like those spaceships they talk about. We're inside the ship, it's like 10 football fields wide. And that's our story."

Weatherly also noted: “I think that we’re going to be bringing people into a world that might feel small, because it’s just Tony, Tali and Ziva. But it’s Europe. It’s love. It’s the universe. And we have to save those things.” To that De Pablo added: "we always relied on the love that we got from the fans and the fact that the fans really latched on to these two characters, that it was really like what happened to Tony and Ziva. And so we knew that if they wanted to find out what happened to Tony and Ziva, it didn't have to happen within an agency. And because they left the agency, it would have to take place outside of the agency. And so when we thought, okay, well, if it takes place outside of the agency, where? Let's make it interesting. How about we take it really outside of the agency, outside of the country? And that's where, inevitably, it ended up."

On working with Weatherly and being an on-screen couple, De Pablo commented: "you know what I've always said about working with Michael? It's that it's always refreshingly unpredictable. And I think he also likes the fact that I love to play, even though sometimes I come across as sort of put together. My favorite thing is to go into kid land and play. I think we relate on that level. We're both at our core kids.We love playing. So I respect the boundaries and the structure of that. He has a tougher time with the structure and the boundaries. But at the end of the day, we both like to play."

Brian Dietzen (who plays Dr. Jimmy Palmer) and Wilmer Valderrama (agent Nick Torres) were also attending the Festival this year. Dietzen commented that "I was a guest star in the first season for one day, and then they kept asking me to come back, and so two decades later, I'm still working on the show, and loving it. I think one of the reasons that our cast maintains this passion for our show and for working together, is because of the ability to grow on the show itself. I was 23 years old when I first started and what's been incredible is being allowed to have the agency to have the character move through different portions of his life, from a single person to a married person, to a father, to then a widower, and then the chief medical examiner, after Ducky passed the reins on to him. And when you have a television show that's run for as long as ours have, ours has been lucky enough to, the characters really get to live their lives in front of you, so I think that's one of the real joys in a long-form storytelling like this, is that we actually get to see the different phases of a person's life, as opposed to, you know, maybe one year or two years, where it would be more of a snapshot in time."

On joining 'NCIS' Valderrama commented: "when I first joined 'NCIS' about seven years ago, and I had the privilege of coming here a few years ago to this festival... I was the newbie there, I was the new guy, and I remember collecting the Nymph award on stage (in 2017 NCIS won the Golden Nymph Award, ed) and seven years later, be able to say that I am now a part of them is something that personally feels really good. The writers and the showrunners have done a great job of keeping the door open for us to be very involved into what are the things we want to play, how do we want to, where do we want to take the character and when you have a show that does 20, 22, 24 episodes a season, you have a little bit of a runway, you have time to kind of say okay, what else can we do? And I think that the writers really appreciate that feedback too, in many ways one thing is having the case of the week and solving the crime of the week, and the other one is it's keeping these characters human, keeping them alive, keeping them in a way that, like, fans will actually tune in and say, oh, I can't wait to watch Jimmy Palmer and when you have people looking forward to watching these characters do extraordinary circumstances, it creates a live viewership that keeps the show alive. For me it's been a gift to be able to say I love Torres to start this way, I want him to go this way and then I want him to go that far, and then I want him to break, I want him to build himself back up - it's not about solving the case of the week, it's about the people that are solving it."

When asked about Latino representation in Hollywood, Valderrama said: "when I reflect back on the representation of our culture in the last couple of decades, I think it's kind of gone back and forth a little bit, some years it gets better, some years it gets not as good and some years it gets worse. This year we're experiencing, I think, a 12% drop of representation across the board in all ethnicities and leading roles on television, that's a major, major failure... I will say, though, the industry, the studios, the networks, the streaming platforms, do have a major interest in really making sure these stories are not only represented, but included... What I predict is that in the next two to three years, you're going to see a wave of content led by the Latino community that is going to be very high-level, very premium, and very exciting, and also very pioneering for how we are portrayed on screen. I humbly can say my production company, we have a first deal with CBS Studios and Paramount and we have 12 shows in development, and I'm developing a lot of different things and one of the big mandates was creating more Latino leads."

Valderrama also talked about being a producer: "I got very hungry to make my own things and so about, I would say maybe almost 18 years ago, I started my production company and I started developing shows and I had the privilege of having some amazing mentors on the shows that I was an actor on, to be able to ask the questions - like you can go to Scott Williams, who's a great writer, and be like 'hey, I want to write, how do you break the first act, if I want to end up here in the fourth act?' All these things take a little time of understanding. But there's a new generation where we understand the value we have as actors, as individuals that tell stories to millions. And when you tell enough stories over a course of many years, you realize 'oh, I have a story I want to tell, I want to show, I want to make'. And then you start making those phone calls. And I'm the delusional guy, I'm the guy who like makes very inappropriate phone calls to like the CEO of a studio. I'll call anyone in the studio, and I'll be like 'hey, I have a crazy idea'. And they'd say 'that's not that crazy, just put it in development'...As a storyteller, you get to wear a couple of hats now."

Dietzen also talked about the special episode-homage to Ducky (David McCallum): "It was very important for me (to write this episode). It was important to all of our writers, to our cast. We've worked with the legend David McCallum for 21 years and he's been an important part of our lives. And in that way, the cast and the crew really does become your family away from home. So when David McCallum passed in September, we were all in the picket line still during the actors and writers' strike in Hollywood and we knew that when our show started up again, we'd have a shorter season than usual. And so, though I had co-written a couple of episodes in prior years and I knew that this year I probably wouldn't get an episode because there was not enough to go around. So I told my producers, I don't need to write this year, it's okay. And then when David passed away, they said we think it's only fitting that you co-write this episode with Scott Williams who's one of our executive producers. It was very important to be able to have a hand in that and to really honor the man that had spent so much time with us. And not only honor him, but also to hopefully honor his career as well and give our fans the opportunity to grieve alongside us and also to share some of the wonderful memories that we have of him and create a piece that we could all say, this is something that's a tribute to David McCallum and to Ducky".

When asked by TVBIZZ about celebrating the 1000th episode of the franchise and whether he will be involved in "Tony & Ziva", Dietzen said that "the 1,000th episode was a special, special thing. And not just the singular episode, but taking time with, we had a little event at our set where George Cheeks was there, Amy Reisenbach, David Staff, all the heads of CBS came. We had members of the New Orleans cast, of the Los Angeles cast, of Hawaii. Even people from Sydney were Zooming in from overseas. And to know that it was not just our cast or our crew that had created this 1,000th episode, it was thousands of people across five shows that had contributed, all of these artists, all these creators. And we had this wonderful moment to be able to just sit back and say all right, we're not done, but we need to take a moment to take a breath to say, whew, we're here, like we're here together, this is wonderful. And then as soon as that's done, we go, okay, back to work and we kind of keep going, we're halfway there to 2,000. And it was incredible to be able to share that moment with so many people... I’m so happy for Michael and Cote and think John McNamara is going to do a fantastic job for them,” he said. “It sounds very atypical for NCIS as far as the storytelling because it won’t be a case-of-the week type of show. That said, if they say: ‘Hey we need Jimmy Palmer on a plasma screen’ at any point, I’d say hell yes, that’d be fun, I’d do that in a heartbeat.” Valderrama said he would also like some European action for his character in the mothership series. “I’ve explored so much, I have got to do a lot of good things… but I’d like to maybe have my character be undercover somewhere in Europe, to leave Washington DC and have my character embedded in Italy, France or London,” he said.

Valderrama also shared some details about his participation in the spinoff of 'That '70s Show' called 'That '90s Show': "The creators of the show gave me a call. Bonnie Turner and Terry Turner are people who discovered me in so many ways. They gave me a start. They gave me a character that allowed me to fly in ways that I never thought was possible creatively. I created something that I'll never forget. That changed my life. As a character that took me around the world in so many ways. And people are still remembering, I'm still signing those photos outside. I'm incredibly grateful for that experience. So when they called I was like, absolutely. Whatever you need. How do we figure it out? And they asked me, what do you think Fez would be doing right now? If it was the 90's and I said, he'd be the Paul Mitchell of Wisconsin. He would have a commercial, like a local commercial - and they were dying, they were laughing so hard. So I was like, let's do that and he was great, he had beautiful hair. His pants were still that tight, oddly enough on the same measurements as I finished the season... So that was a great experience. I was very collaborative with that stuff. But the big question is, and I've said this before - man, can I still do the voice? I feel like I haven't done the voice since I was 26. I don't care how much fun or who asked me to do the voice - I never did it. So when I had to do the table read, I was like okay, here we go. And then - by this time in the 90's - did he lose his accent? Is his accent softer? I said no, it's got to be 100% the same accent. So everybody at the table read was just waiting. My line was coming. Everyone was just looking at me. And then all of a sudden he came out and he was riding a bicycle. I never forgot it, you don't forget an experience like that. It also gave me and a few others the platform to be everything we wanted to be as actors. That was a great experience. And I think what I would say about 'That 90's Show' is that it's now officially this young cast's vehicle. It's their show now. To be able to commemorate, say thank you to the character one more time is something rarely actors get to do. So I felt incredibly privileged to do it. And we also take a lot of pride and excitement in saying that this show now can change the life of another new gang of kids."
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