NCIS Executive Producer Chas Johnson
Three-time Emmy award winner and seven-time Emmy nominee Chas Floyd Johnson is the executive producer of the hit CBS show NCIS. The investigative show has a weekly audience of around 19 million viewers & this reporter sat down with Johnson to discuss his formidable career with credits including The Rockford Files, Magnum P.I., Quantum Leap, JAG and the George Lucas film Red Tails, as well as advice for the future generations.
While most film producers have to put up money towards their project’s budget, Mr. Johnsons doesn’t need to personally fund NCIS’s four million dollar per episode budget. “Television works this way, and that’s why I love it. There’s no [monetary] responsibility on my part … The money comes all from the studio and the network [CBS]…There’s no money coming from any of the producers.”
While Johnson has an attractive career, actually becoming a producer is a difficult and idiosyncratic journey. Mr. Johnson admitted that, “…it’s very hard to talk about preparing yourself for a career in our industry because there’s no road map. If you talk to fifteen people, everybody will tell you a different way they made it.”
For those who know they are interested in a television and film industry career, Mr. Johnson recommends attending film school. “I think what I’d tell you is if you really want to do that, if you know that’s what you want to do, then go to school for it.” Johnson himself didn’t go to film school; he graduated from law school and practiced law for years before moving to Los Angeles. “I didn’t go to film school and I know lots of people who didn’t go to film school, and I know lots of lawyers who are now producers.” When asked if the lawyer-turned-producer career move was a popular transition, Johnson said that it’s a transition that is seen “quite a bit.”
In his view, being a lawyer encourages analytical thinking. Johnson told the reporter, “I think where that comes from is [that] a law degree is a very analytical degree… Lots of people think they can be producers or actors and neither one is easy but producing is analytical as well as creative. It’s about how you put the project together, the decisions you make [and] I think you have to have really good, creative, artistic instincts to do that… So the reason I think some of us who were lawyers ended up moving [to producing], is that we are probably [naturally] creative and artistic in our thinking anyway plus we have that analytical background. I think some of my ability to become successful has come from that analytical background. I never get riled up about things but I always approach it from “Ok, it’s happened. Now, how do we deal with it?” And there can be hysteria sometimes around these things and you just have to be the calm in the storm. “We will get through this and on the other side.” That’s how I function. I may have a great deal of internal butterflies too but somebody has to be the calm in the storm. Some people are yellers and screamers but I just don’t think you need to do that to make it work.”
Mr. Johnson knows a thing or two about “making it work”. NCIS is the most watched drama in the United States according to TVbytheNumbers and the Monte Carlo International Television Festival has declared NCIS the most watched drama in the world.
If that isn’t making it work, what is?