‘NCIS’ Creator Donald Bellisario Was on the Most-Wanted Wall

While you may not recognize the name, Donald Bellisario is the mind behind many of your favorite prime-time television shows. Bellisario’s most successful show is arguably NCIS which has been on the air since 2003. So, how did this esteemed television screenwriter and producer end up on a “most-wanted” wall?

What is the most-wanted wall?

donald bellisario ncis
Donald P. Bellisario and Pauley Perrette during CBS Paramount Network Television presents “For Your Consideration” screening of NCIS at Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre in North Hollywood, California, United States. | Mathew Imaging/FilmMagic

Just like government agency offices in real life, the squad room on NCIS is adorned with the “Most Wanted” wall. Essentially, the “Most Wanted” wall bears the images of at-large criminals that are deemed the worst of the worst and pose a significant threat to the safety and security of the United States. Over its 20 seasons, the “Most Wanted” wall on NCIS has bore the images of all manner of criminals, murderers, and terrorists. 

The featured individuals on the wall are a mixture of real people and fictitious characters. On the show, the criminals are removed from the wall if the NCIS agents are able to capture them and get them in custody. However, if the individuals are killed, they get a big red stripe across their portrait on the wall. For example, Osama bin Laden’s portrait appeared on the NCIS most-most wanted wall from the show’s debut in 2003 until Navy SEALs hunted him down in 2011. 

How did the show’s creator end up on the most-wanted wall?

Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that not individuals on the show’s most-wanted wall are “bad guys” or even “real guys.” For example, the show once used a portrait of Donald Bellisario as an at-large criminal, according to Looper. In reality, Donald Bellisario is the creator of NCIS. While Bellisario might not be a criminal himself, he has met a few in his day.

According to IMDb, the now 87-year-old television producer served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1955 to 1959 and attained the rank of sergeant. During his service, Bellisario also met Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who assassinated President Kennedy in 1963. 

After being honorably discharged from the Marine Corps, Bellisario attended Pennsylvania State University and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He initially began work as an advertising copywriter, but after nearly a decade in the profession, Bellisario decided to take his writing expertise in another direction and moved to Hollywood to pursue screenwriting and production.

Once in Hollywood, Bellisario created and co-created a number of TV series, including Magnum, P.I., Airwolf, Quantum Leap, and JAG. On JAG, Bellisario actually wrote in a character by the name of Leroy Jethro Gibbs into two episodes. This character would go on to be the lead in what would become NCIS

How many ‘NCIS’ spin-offs are there? 

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As outlined earlier, Bellisario’s longest-running series is NCIS which has been on the air since 2003. However, Bellisario actually retired in 2007 after widely reported tension with NCIS star Mark Harmon who plays Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs on the series. Despite no longer being in direct involvement with the show, Bellisario retains the title of executive producer. 

In addition, when CBS decided to make a spinoff of the show known as NCIS: Los Angeles in 2009, Bellisario sued CBS over its creation, arguing that his contract with the network should entitle him to the right to create any type of NCIS spinoff show. However, the suit was settled before trial in 2011 for an undisclosed amount of money.

Following the creation and success of the NCIS: Los Angeles spinoff, more spinoffs ensued. In 2014, NCIS: New Orleans was created, followed by NCIS: Hawai’i in 2021. Another spinoff known as NCIS: Sydney is set to begin airing in 2023. The show will reportedly air on Network 10 in Australia and will be available for worldwide streaming on Paramount+.