Commentary submitted by, Maya Laukaran
When word came out in February that NCIS had been renewed for an 11th season, fans, critics, and journalists were not at all surprised by the news. However, fans would still have to wait five more months with bated breath for news about actress Cote de Pablo’s contract status for season 11. Then on July 10, only days before shooting on season 11 began, CBS shocked those same fans, critics, and journalists with the news that Cote de Pablo would be leaving television’s highest rated show.
The fan outcry was instantaneous. With Cote de Pablo’s initial public statement and recent interview in TV Guide making no mention of an actual desire, much less plan to leave the show, fans believed that something must have happened in negotiations to cause such an abrupt parting of ways that even cast and crew learned of it mere minutes before the official press release. Within days of the announcement an online petition was started to tell CBS to bring Cote back to NCIS. Fans began sending feedback to CBS via their online feedback page, email, and snail mail. All feedback had essentially the same message: ‘bring back Cote’. It was that message that launched the fan campaign, aptly named ‘Operation Bring Back Cote’.
There’s something to be said for the kind of actor that can evoke such a widespread, instantaneous – and ongoing – reaction from such a large part of the show’s viewers. As one of very few Latina actresses in network television, Cote de Pablo brought depth, complexity, and sincerity to the character she portrayed for eight years. As a Latina playing an Israeli-American, de Pablo has still managed to influence an extremely large television audience in a way that’s almost unheard of. And the strange thing is, her performance apparently doesn’t just touch the Latin and Israeli viewers. Ethnicity doesn’t seem to matter at all when it comes down to the fact that many women between their teenage years and up into their fifties and sixties are fascinated by both the character and the actress.
What began as many upset fans simply sending comments to CBS online via Twitter and the NCIS Facebook page as well as regular mail has grown into a coordinated internet and mail campaign. Several months in, at a point when most fan campaigns begin to lose steam, ‘Operation Bring Back Cote’, is continuing to gain momentum through the steady use of social media and new NCIS fans worldwide finding out about Cote’s departure from the show daily.
The fan campaign has its own website, bringbackcote.com, where fans of Cote de Pablo and her character, Ziva David, can go to find out what they can do to get involved and how to contact CBS. Thousands of fans, along with the site’s twitter account, successfully trend Cote and Ziva-related hashtags worldwide on a weekly basis as well as continue to remind CBS that an NCIS without Cote is not an NCIS they want to watch. On the campaign’s FB page, likes grow steadily everyday and people new to the fan campaign pop in to say how much the show has changed, and not for the better, in Cote’s absence. Operation Bring Back Cote also embraces the creative nature of other successful fan campaigns by sending items such as paperclips, carefully hand-crafted protest notes that made good use of the show’s own, often-cited rules, and banners. There were protest songs written and posted to Youtube, and some fans even went as far as sending their NCIS merchandise back to CBS headquarters, with a note attached that said they wouldn’t need this anymore. Operation Bring Back Cote is currently also, aside from the protests, crowdfunding a special birthday project to say ‘thank you’ to Cote for the eight years she already gave to NCIS and its fans.
Though this kind of blind support may seem unusual to many, it is only a testament to the way Cote de Pablo has touched people worldwide through her time on NCIS and her hard-working, down-to-earth nature. The size of the fan campaign to bring Cote back to NCIS demonstrates just how much the audience relates to the actress and her unique character. If there’s one way Cote and her character seem to be most alike, it’s that they’re the type of women people want to see more of – multicultural; strong and fierce, but compassionate where it counts; self-assured and independent. A true rarity in Hollywood’s leading ladies these days and something television needs more, not less of.