NEW YORK (AP) — Life comes with few chances to witness a fundamental law being turned on its head.
But last season 18.5 million viewers did just that every week, tuning to "NCIS" to certify it as one of TV's highest-rated shows and, even more impressively, make it a series whose audience after 10 seasons has expanded, not shriveled, with age.
"NCIS," which averaged 11.8 million viewers its first season back in 2003-04, grew by more than a million viewers last year alone.
This, of course, contradicts TV's natural order. "NCIS" (which starts its 11th season Tuesday at 8 p.m. EDT on CBS) seems to have a long-term lease on TV's fountain of youth.
It doesn't hurt that "NCIS" maintains an absorbing, go-down-easy recipe of drama, character and humor that no other show is able to match.
"We've been successful so far," says series star Mark Harmon with some understatement, "and we keep finding ways to grow it."
But don't go laying too much credit for that growth, or any other metric of success, at Harmon's feet.
He's the star, of course, playing tormented but intrepid Leroy Jethro Gibbs, Special Agent in Charge of the military's Major Case Response Team.
Harmon is surrounded by a sturdy troupe of actors including fellow charter cast members Michael Weatherly (NCIS Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo), David McCallum (Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard) and the wildly popular Pauley Perrette (as Goth lab rat Abby Sciuto).
"There's four of us who were there in the beginning, plus pretty much 90 percent of our crew," says Harmon, citing the stability of the show's production team as one key reason for its continued robustness.
Granted, there have been comings and goings. This summer, "NCIS" fans were shocked to learn that Cote de Pablo was exiting after eight seasons. The new season's first two episodes give her character, Special Agent Ziva David, a dramatic send-off.