When NCIS: New Orleans returns to CBS in the fall, expect to see aspects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the new episodes. More so, the real-life-inspired premiere features Jefferson Parish coroner Dr. Loretta Wade (CCH Pounder) in the epicenter of it all.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic shut down ‘NCIS: New Orleans’ early
Like most other productions, season 6 of NCIS: New Orleans was shut down unexpectedly when COVID-19 hit in March. The pandemic changed the way shows ended their season and NCIS: New Orleans was no exception.
“We were working, when everybody got called to a central location on set; I thought it was somebody’s birthday, nothing more than that! And then it was, ‘We’re packing up and shutting down for the rest of the season,'” CCH Pounder told TV Line.
Pounder gives a glimpse of what’s ahead for the ‘NCIS: New Orleans’ Season 7 premiere
Like many, Pounder thought the “break” would last only a couple of weeks. Now, months later, production for season 7 is set to begin in late Aug. or early Sept. and the series won’t ignore the pandemic with its premiere.
“We are a part of it and we are living in it,” she said. “And that is when I got the call from [executive producers] Jan Nash and Chris Silber who wrote the season opener, saying, ‘This will be about COVID.’”
The NOLA star explained that the first episode back will focus on Loretta being “understaffed while overwhelmed by the pandemic and the ongoing loss of life.” One life lost will be someone Loretta recognizes.
“It reflects on the first part of the [pandemic] situation with masks and people saying, ‘No, I’m fine! I don’t need to wear a mask.’ All of those things you hear in the community,” Pounder said. “So it’s quite a shock to her that she wasn’t listened to, or that it wasn’t that important to this person.”
Pounder added that the story mirrors actions taken by New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and Governor John Bel Edwards when the pandemic first began and how “the numbers went down” because of said actions.
It’s not yet clear when the season 8 premiere will air. However, some wonder if fan-favorite Shalita Grant could return at any point. Here’s why she likely won’t.
Shalita Grant left in season 4 after disturbing experiences
While the NCIS: New Orleans cast and crew ramp up for season 8, former star (and fan-favorite), Shalita Grant, moved on to star in HBO Max’s Search Party as Cassidy Diamond.
Grant has been outspoken about working in TV and her experiences on sets.
“In TV, the relationship to problems is, ‘Whose fault is it? Heads will roll!’” she told the Los Angeles Times. “Nobody wants their head to roll. It takes forever for people to solve problems because nobody wants to take responsibility.”
The problems Grant referred to are NCIS: New Orleans-specific, where she played Sonja Percy for three years. Aside from accusations of a hostile work environment via ex-showrunner Brad Kern, Grant explained a plethora of issues including “race, gender” and “stupid actor [expletive].”
Grant nearly left the show in season 3 but stay through season 4 after a stint in Shakespeare in the Park revitalized her.
“I came back and I was like, ‘I ain’t taking this no more.’ I found joy, and my standards are higher,” she said. “I am letting you know now, if you don’t want me here, if I’m just being tolerated, I’m leaving. Because I want to go where I’m celebrated, not where I’m tolerated.”
Grant had to re-build her sense of self
Much of Grant’s negative feelings about the job on the show have more to do with the way she was treated in regards to styling her hair. The damage caused to her Type 4 curly hair “decimated my self-image,” she added.
Since leaving, Grant has re-focused those traumas into her own hair care company, Four Naturals.
“I still had the damage from NCIS — this bald spot in the center of my head. I’m still wildly uncomfortable with wearing my natural hair,” she told Elle Magazine. “There was so much undoing that needed to happen. [So] I discovered my product for afros and created that brand.”
In the end, Grant said she “learned so much from that darkness. That trauma, I turned it into joy. Everything that happened to my hair, I healed it. It’s in my business. I am healing other Black women as well.”
That said, fans shouldn’t count on Agent Percy making a cameo anytime soon.
Has Pounder indicated similar interactions on the set of ‘NCIS: New Orleans’?
Considering Grant’s experiences on the CBS hit show, some wonder if Pounder has endured anything similar. This leads to the 2018 firing of former showrunner, Kern. According to Variety, Kern “spoke in an offensive voice meant to imitate African-American vernacular speech,” at times.
The lengthy report also cited that Kern’s “racially insensitive” behavior was a regular problem. He reportedly utilized a “stereotyped rendition of African-American speech patterns as he tried out dialogue meant for characters played by Darryl “Chill” Mitchell and [Pounder].”
Pounder didn’t comment on those allegations or whether it affected her role on NCIS: New Orleans directly. She told Huffington Post in 2016 — two years before Kern’s firing — there had been “progress” in terms of Black characters.
“Black female characters,” she said, “can now be responsible, but not always brilliant. Not always beautiful, but gorgeous.”
Pounder reflects on her continued success as a Black actress in Hollywood
Likewise in an interview NPR, Pounder revealed the secret to her success.
“I don’t put down the script because they’re only whites in it,” she said. “I don’t put down the script because it’s all men, I don’t put down the script because there’s an accent required. So I keep finding a way that I can work successfully.”
And, while Grant’s hair was at the center of her exit, it’s not clear whether Pounder’s time on the set is similar. The most that’s been said about the star comes from costume designer Ann Walters, who chooses Pounder’s headgear.
“When I first started the show, I knew I wanted to find something unique for her character, considering she spends most of her screen time in scrubs,” Walters told NOLA.com. “And it was also practical. I wanted something that worked with her hair.”