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Posted: Tuesday, 25 March 2014 6:30AM

New Orleans takes center stage in CBS crime drama

A prelude to what could become "NCIS: New Orleans" airs on CBS-TV tonight.

That's still just a working title, but if viewers like the show as much as its producers like New Orleans, it could become a regular series on the network this fall.

The 'NCIS' creator and producer has called tonight's spin-off episode a "Love Letter to New Orleans."

Chris Stelly, with the Louisiana Office of Entertainment Industry Development, says that's understandable, because the city usually becomes a big part of productions shot here...almost a character unto itself.

"New Orleans does become a character in most of the projects that are shot and set in Louisiana...and particularly in New Orleans."

Tonight's show is the first of two episodes shot in New Orleans, subtitled 'Crescent City Part 1' and 'Crescent City Part 2.'

All the outdoor scenes were done here in the city. They include the French Quarter, of course, and also Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, Armstrong Park, the Barataria Preserve, Washington Artillery Park and Cafe du Monde. The crew spent five days filming here.

"It should look like the entire thing was shot here," says Stelly. "I know they did a significant portion of the spin-off episodes here."

The interiors, including a set that simulates the front room at Mother's Restaurant, were shot in L.A.

In tonight's episode, Special Agent Jethro Gibbs, played by Mark Harmon, reunites with a former colleague when the body of a congressman washes ashore in New Orleans and prompts a joint investigation between the field offices and the FBI.

Scott Bakula guest stars as Special Agent Dwayne Cassius Pride, who grew up in Gretna.  Bakula would be the lead actor if the show is picked up for the fall schedule.

Stelly says it would be another feather in the cap of Hollywood South's capitol city.

"Anytime you get an opportunity to host a television series, it's a big win for the state and it's a big win for the city."

CBS tried another spin-off of the series before that didn't make the cut. But the NCIS producers really seemed to fall in love with New Orleans.

So did the actors, some of whom said they're ready to become local residents while the show is in production, should it get the go-ahead from CBS.

The second episode airs next Tuesday, April 1st.


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