Ziva’s Successor: How Do TV Shows Create New Characters?

By Tara MacIsaac
Tara MacIsaac
Tara MacIsaac
Tara MacIsaac is an editor and reporter who has worked on a variety of topics over the course of her ten years with The Epoch Times, including science, the environment, and local New York news. She is currently working with The Epoch Times edition based in Southern California.
August 15, 2013 Updated: August 15, 2013

CBS has created a new character to replace Ziva on the series NCIS, played by Cote de Pablo, after Pablo announced her departure from the show in July.

Ziva has been a part of NCIS fans’ lives for eight of the ten seasons the show has been on the air, but as the 11th season commences Sept. 24, fans will have a couple of episodes to say goodbye—CBS promises closure on Ziva’s storyline—and later in the season they will meet Ziva’s successor, Bishop.

Bishop will be female, in her twenties, “bright, educated, athletic, attractive, fresh-faced, focused and somewhat socially awkward,” TVLine quotes the casting intel it received from CBS. TVLine was the first to report on Bishop’s appearance, expected January or February.

The description continues: “She has a mysterious mixture of analytic brilliance, fierce determination and idealism. She’s traveled extensively, but only feels comfortable at home.”

So how does a show decide what personality and background a new character should have?

John Yorke, controller of drama production at the BBC gave his insight in a 2011 BBC article. At that time, a slew of main characters in popular television programs were leaving their roles and the networks were drafting replacements: Laurence Fishburne left CSI, Steve Carell left The Office, and Charlie Sheen left Two And A Half Men.

Yorke said it’s important to realize what function the leaving character served in the show’s dynamic. The new character doesn’t have to have the same qualities as the old, but should hold the elements together in the same way—the writers shouldn’t stray too far off the premise of the show.

“If you just create a carbon copy of a character that’s gone before, you’re going to be in terrible trouble,” he said. He explained how M*A*S*H successfully re-cast the colonel—actor Harry Morgan replaced McLean Stevenson in the fourth season.

“In the early years, they had someone very ineffectual and useless in charge. When he left, at a time when the show was enormously popular, his replacement seemed to be the complete opposite—a very brutal, almost dictatorial character. But essentially they fulfilled the same function in very different ways,” Yorke said.

He also gave some insight into the importance of how a character is debuted. He said the debut should be memorable. In EastEnders, a BBC production, new characters would often come in swinging—they would be antagonistic to the established and well-loved characters.

“Almost every new EastEnders character is hated for a month and then, you know, 60 percent of them go on to become loved,” he said.

The debut should also leave some mystery. In-depth character expositions are not necessary, he said: “Good writers know you don’t need to explain who someone is, you get to know them through what they do. Now, you’ll need a little bit of a story to explain why they’ve arrived—but a really good writer will make it a mystery.”

Tara MacIsaac
Tara MacIsaac
Tara MacIsaac is an editor and reporter who has worked on a variety of topics over the course of her ten years with The Epoch Times, including science, the environment, and local New York news. She is currently working with The Epoch Times edition based in Southern California.