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Here's What A Gibbs Pass Means For NCIS Writers

In general, writers like to go long. Shakespeare's most famous pieces of dialogue come from extended soliloquies, and they're famous in part because of the beautiful, flowery language that they use. Often, it can be harder for writers to pare down the number of words they use to convey a certain idea. That's true in all forms of writing, but it's especially true in dialogue. 

Some characters are meant to be wordy and verbose, but there are characters in every piece of fiction that convey a lot of what they think and feel without saying much at all. That's especially true of Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon), the main character on "NCIS." Through almost 20 seasons now, fans have come to know Gibbs as the strong, silent type. He doesn't say any more than he has to, and he communicates as much as possible using only gestures and head nods. 

Thanks to Harmon's performance, these gestures succeed in communicating what Gibbs is thinking, but it can make writing for the character especially difficult. Here's what it means when "NCIS" writers need to introduce a "Gibbs Pass" to the script.

Writers often take a Gibbs Pass after scripts are complete

Because the process of writing for Gibbs can be so challenging, the show's writers will sometimes take a "Gibbs Pass" at a script even after it's been completed. This process allows the writing staff to determine if any of Gibbs' dialogue can be edited down or removed completely. When dialogue is edited out completely, it's often replaced by some sort of nonverbal action. 

Gibbs is a man who never says more than he needs to, but writers like to write dialogue. The writing staff has to strike a balance between writing what the character needs to say and finding other ways for him to communicate that don't involve speaking at all. 

"On other shows, the lead actor is always counting his lines," "NCIS" writer Christopher Silbert told TV Guide. "But I remember when I first got to 'NCIS', figuring out how to write that character was so complicated. You would type what you think is very little, and then you'd get your script back and be told, 'He can say that with a look, that with a look, and that with a look.' You get programmed to remember that and always think, 'As few words as possible.' Or no words, if possible. The best version of a scene would be no words at all for him! Or one word."