'NCIS' bosses say Ziva's story goes 'full circle' in season 17: It is an emotional 'bookend' (exclusive)

With Cote de Pablo back in the NCIS fold, the anticipation for the new season is high. 

"There was so much excitement during our last episode, just having Cote come back," executive producer Frank Cardea tells ET of de Pablo's epic surprise return in the season 16 finale. "It was great for everybody to see her and we pulled off a surprise we were hoping to pull off, so that invigorated us."

In the season opener, titled "Out of the Darkness," de Pablo's Ziva David cryptically warns Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) that he is in danger, prompting him to question why she remained underground for the last several years while allowing him and key members of the NCIS team believe she was dead. The intense season 17 trailer reveals the former colleagues running away from explosions and surprise attacks, as they run from a dangerous woman named Zahar, who has deep connections to Ziva's past. De Pablo is currently slated to appear in five episodes.

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LOS ANGELES - JULY 30: "Past, Present & Future" -- Determined to locate Ziva (Cote de Pablo, right), Tony (Michael Weatherly, left) chases leads in Israel in search of her current whereabouts, on NCIS, Tuesday, Oct. 1 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - APRIL 18: "Double Blind" -- A Department of Defense investigator scrutinizes the NCIS team's response to the Bodnar case involving the murder of Ziva's father and Vance's wife. Meanwhile, the team examines whether a Petty Officer is suffering from paranoia or if his claims of being followed are tied to a matter of national security, on NCIS, Tuesday, May 7 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured left to right: Mark Harmon, Sean Murray, Michael Weatherly and Cote de Pablo (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - APRIL 24: "Damned If You Do" -- The international manhunt for Eli David and Jackie Vance's killer turns into a federal witch hunt against Gibbs and the team, which questions their unconventional methods and threatens their future at the agency, on the 10th season finale of NCIS, Tuesday, May 14 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured left to right: Rocky Carroll, Michael Weatherly, Cote de Pablo and Sean Murray (Photo by Cliff Lipson/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - APRIL 15: "Double Blind" A Department of Defense investigator scrutinizes the NCIS team's response to the Bodnar case involving the murder of Ziva's father and Vance's wife, on NCIS, Tuesday, May 7 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Colin Hanks (right) guest stars as Department of Defense IG Investigator Richard Parsons. Also pictured: Cote de Pablo (left). (Photo by Michael Desmond/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - MARCH 13: "Chasing Ghosts" -- When a Navy reservist returns home to find her husband missing and her living room covered in blood, she turns to the NCIS team to bring him home. Meanwhile, Tony suspects that Ziva (Cote de Pablo) is planning a risky move to avenge her father's death, on NCIS, Tuesday, April 9 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Cliff Lipson/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - MARCH 28: "Berlin" -- While the NCIS team investigates the murder of a Mossad officer in Virginia, Tony (Michael Weatherly) and Ziva (Cote de Pablo) depart for Berlin as they track her father's killer, on NCIS, Tuesday, April 23 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Richard Foreman/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - MARCH 28: "Berlin" -- While the NCIS team investigates the murder of a Mossad officer in Virginia, Tony (Michael Weatherly) and Ziva (Cote de Pablo) depart for Berlin as they track her father's killer, on NCIS, Tuesday, April 23 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Richard Foreman/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - MARCH 13: "Chasing Ghosts" -- When a Navy reservist returns home to find her husband missing and her living room covered in blood, she turns to the NCIS team to bring him home. Meanwhile, Tony suspects that Ziva (Cote de Pablo, right) is planning a risky move to avenge her father's death, on NCIS, Tuesday, April 9 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured left: Mark Harmon (Photo by Cliff Lipson/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - FEBRUARY 28: "Squall" -- A massive storm brings the NCIS team aboard the USS Borealis, where everyone becomes a suspect once the crime scene proves that Mother Nature wasn't the only culprit. Tension builds when McGee discovers that his estranged father, Navy Admiral John McGee, was on board during the incident, on NCIS, Tuesday, March 26 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Cote de Pablo (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 14: "Canary" The NCIS team takes on a renowned hacker who could hold the key to tracking down the most-wanted cyber-terrorist in the world, on NCIS, Tuesday, Feb. 5 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. pictured: Cote de Pablo (Photo by Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - FEBRUARY 5: "Prime Suspect" -- A media frenzy surrounding an unidentified criminal prompts Gibbs' (Mark Harmon, right) barber to question his son's involvement and ask for Gibbs' help in ruling out his son as a prime suspect, on NCIS, Tuesday, March 5 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Also pictured l-r: Sean Murray, Cote de Pablo and Rocky Carroll (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 7: "Shabbat Shalom" -- Ziva (Cote de Pablo, left) is taken aback by the sudden emotional visit by her father, who she hasn't seen in more than two years. While Ziva questions the purpose of her father's visit as the Director of Mossad, her father insists he is in the U.S. strictly to see his daughter for Shabbat dinner, on NCIS, Tuesday, Jan. 8 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. also pictured: Mark Harmon (right) and Rocky Carroll (center) (Photo by Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 7: "Shabbat Shalom" -- Ziva (Cote de Pablo) is taken aback by the sudden emotional visit by her father, who she hasn't seen in more than two years. While Ziva questions the purpose of her father's visit as the Director of Mossad, her father insists he is in the U.S. strictly to see his daughter for Shabbat dinner, on NCIS, Tuesday, Jan. 8 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 7: "Shabbat Shalom" -- Ziva (Cote de Pablo, right) is taken aback by the sudden emotional visit by her father, (Michael Nouri, left) who she hasn't seen in more than two years. While Ziva questions the purpose of her father's visit as the Director of Mossad, her father insists he is in the U.S. strictly to see his daughter for Shabbat dinner, on NCIS, Tuesday, Jan. 8 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 1: "Shell Shock - Part II" -- Tony's (Michael Weatherly, right) curiosity is peaking when he learns Ziva (Cote de Pablo, left) is making special plans for the opera, in part two of a two-part episode of NCIS, Tuesday, Nov. 20 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Cliff Lipson/CBS via Getty Images) *** Local Caption)
LOS ANGELES - SEPTEMBER 4: "Lost at Sea" -- When a helicopter crew is adrift at sea and later discovered on shore, the NCIS team must determine the cause of the crash and locate the missing pilot, on NCIS, Tuesday, Oct. 23 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Cote de Pablo (Photo by Cliff Lipson/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JULY 30: "Recovery" -- The team is required to complete mandatory psych evaluations with a crisis counselor, and Gibbs is most concerned about Abby"s recurring nightmares since the bombing, on NCIS, Tuesday, Oct. 2 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured left to right: Cote de Pablo and Sean Murray (Photo by Michael Yarish/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - APRIL 25: "Till Death Do Us Part" -- Terrorism threatens to shake the foundations of the Navy and NCIS, when the team continues to be eluded by the newest member of the NCIS Most Wanted Wall. Meanwhile, Jimmy Palmer's destination wedding is impacted by the case, on the season finale of NCIS, Tuesday, May 15 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured left to right: Cote de Pablo, Sean Murray and Michael Weatherly (Photo by Michael Yarish/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - APRIL 25: "Till Death Do Us Part" -- Terrorism threatens to shake the foundations of the Navy and NCIS, when the team continues to be eluded by the newest member of the NCIS Most Wanted Wall. Meanwhile, Jimmy Palmer's destination wedding is impacted by the case, on the season finale of NCIS, Tuesday, May 15 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured left to right: Cote de Pablo, Sean Murray and Michael Weatherly (Photo by Michael Yarish/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - APRIL 4: "Playing With Fire" -- DiNozzo and Ziva (Cote de Pablo, pictured) travel to Italy when an explosive device is found hidden on a Navy ship, on NCIS, Tuesday, May 1 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Ron P. Jaffe/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - MARCH 21: "Rekindled" -- After a warehouse fire reveals missing Navy documents, posing a potential threat to national security, the NCIS team joins the Baltimore P.D. investigation, reuniting Tony with a boy from his past, on NCIS, Tuesday, April 17 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Cote de Pablo (Photo by Jaimie Trueblood/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 10: Cote de Pablo of NCIS on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Art Streiber/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 28: "Housekeeping" -- The investigation into the murder of a Navy Commander leads the NCIS team to E.J. Barrett's whereabouts, on NCIS, Tuesday, Jan. 3 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Cote de Pablo as NCIS Special Agent Ziva David (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 4: "Newborn King" -- When a Navy captain is killed in a hotel room, NCIS must track down and protect his very pregnant companion from unknown assailants, on NCIS, Tuesday, Dec. 13 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Sean Murray as NCIS Special Agent Timothy McGee and Cote de Pablo as NCIS Special Agent Ziva David. (Photo by Ron P. Jaffe/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JULY 25: "Restless" -- Coverage of CBS' NCIS scheduled to air on the CBS Television Network. Cote de Pablo, pictured. (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JULY 25: "Restless" -- Ziva (Cote de Pablo, pictured), McGee & DiNozzo dig thru trash (literally) after a squeaky clean Marine is murdered on NCIS, Tuesday, Sept. 27 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Richard Foreman/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - MARCH 3: "Two-Faced" Ziva (Cote de Pablo, pictured) finally introduces her boyfriend, Ray, to the team, on NCIS, Tuesday, April 5 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.(Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - MARCH 11: "Dead Reflection" -- The NCIS team (left to right: Cote de Pablo, Michael Weatherly and Mark Harmon) tracks a Navy lieutenant's killer after a Pentagon security camera reveals a petty officer committing the crime. Meanwhile, Gibbs announces that Agent Barrett and her team will take over the Port-to-Port serial killer case, on NCIS, Tuesday, April 12 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 26: "One Last Score" -- NCIS discovers that one of its former investigative assistants found brutally stabbed to death was selling details for how to rob a warehouse full of valuable possessions belonging to a woman convicted of fraud. Meanwhile, a new special agent joins the office, on NCIS, Tuesday, March 1 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Episode directed by series star Michael Weatherly (left). Also pictured Cote de Pablo (Photo by Cliff Lipson/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 18: "Kill Screen" -- The dismembered fingertips and teeth of a murdered Marine are discovered in the stolen purse of a pickpocketer, launching NCIS on a mission to find a cold-blooded killer, on NCIS, Tuesday, Feb. 22 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. pictured left to right: Sean Murray, Mark Harmon, Cote de Pablo, Michael Weatherly, Brian Dietzen and David McCallum. (Photo by Patrick Wymore/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 6: "Defiance" -- A botched assassination attempt in Belgravia forces NCIS to protect the Defense Minister's daughter, who is studying in the U.S. and smitten with McGee. Meanwhile, Gibbs investigates the death of the U.S. Marine who was killed in the bombing, on NCIS, Tuesday, Feb. 15 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Cote de Pablo (Photo by Ron P. Jaffe/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - -OCTOBER 3: "Enemies Foreign" -- The team is assigned to protect Ziva's (Cote de Pablo, left, with guest star Sarai Givaty) father, when his attendance at a NCIS conference leads to some unexpected surprises on "NCIS," Tuesday, November 16 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 2: "Ships in the Night" -- Gibbs and the NCIS team partner with a Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) Agent to solve the murder of a Marine gunned down on a dinner boat, on NCIS, Tuesday, Jan. 11 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Diane Neal reprises her role as CGIS Special Agent Abigail Borin. Pictured: Cote de Pablo (Photo by Cliff Lipson/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - AUGUST 31: "Dead Air" -- When a controversial DJ and a Naval Officer are shot to death, Ziva (Cote de Pablo, left), McGee (Sean Murray), DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly, right) and team uncover a sinister plan, on "NCIS," Tuesday, October 19 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Randy Tepper/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JULY 29: "Worst Nightmare" -- Ziva (Cote de Pablo) and the team find their attempts to track down a kidnapped girl compromised by her determined grandfather, on "NCIS," Tuesday, September 28 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Cliff Lipson/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JULY 29: "Worst Nightmare" -- Gibbs (Mark Harmon, right), Ziva (Cote de Pablo, left) and the team find their attempts to track down a kidnapped girl compromised by her determined grandfather, on "NCIS," Tuesday, September 28 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty Images)
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For Cardeaand fellow executive producer Steven D. Binder, the upcoming season of NCIS marks a historic achievement for the long-running CBS procedural. The series will reach the rare 400-episode milestone toward the end of the season. For the co-showrunners, the series' longevity is due largely to Harmon. 

"We still pinch ourselves every day that we have this fan base that continues to follow the show. that we've done as well in season 16 as the show did in seasons five or six," Cardea says. "It's something that we are very grateful for and do not take for granted. A lot of it is a great testament to Mark Harmon. He is the leader of this family and he takes that responsibility very seriously."

Binder echoed the sentiment, adding, "Everything flows down from Mark in that he sets the tone and we follow and encourage and live the kind of workplace that he set for us." Ahead of Tuesday's premiere, ET spoke with Cardea and Binder about welcoming de Pablo back into the fold, if they've had discussions with Michael Weatherly about a cameo ("We like surprises") and the repercussions of Ziva's resurrection. 

ET: Before we get into the upcoming season, I want to ask you about pulling off Cote de Pablo's surprise return in the finale. How early in the process did you know there was going to be a real chance Cote would be back for a significant amount of time?

Frank Cardea: We had a couple of months head start. We approached Cote about maybe five episodes before the end of the season and started talking to her about it. We had a couple of meetings and it all went well.

Steven D. Binder: Cote, the staff, Frank and I, we were all in agreement that we didn't want to have Cote first and the story second. The story needed to be something that merited the return of this character and wasn't just a cheap publicity shot. We, as a staff, spent quite a bit of time trying to find a story that fit. We wanted it to be full. We wanted to use the show's DNA, something that touched on Cote's entire run on the show -- from the circumstances of her first arriving on the show to things that happened with the character throughout the show. We wanted to use that as the raw material. We had one final meeting with Cote where we discussed these things and whether it was something that she was interested in, and you know the answer to that. It was story first, Cote second.

The character of Ziva David has had an interesting history on NCIS. A few years ago, it was presumed Ziva had died in a mortar blast, which we now obviously know isn't true. Before the decision was made to resurrect the character, did you always believe Ziva was alive all this time? 

Binder: This is coming from me as a TV consumer and not a TV producer: If I don't see the body exploded in front of me, they're not necessarily dead. 

Cardea: When Cote left the show, it was a conscious decision not to show the body, not to have DNA proof, just to keep that door open for the future. We didn't know it would be that far in the future at that time. The time seemed right for us and, I think, for Cote, and it all worked out.

Can you set the table for the season 17 premiere?

Binder: A lot of time has gone by. Things have changed about how Ziva feels about her former life, about the people in her former life. She's got a lot of issues that need to be resolved that may or may not necessarily get resolved in the way you'd expect. And, it's a procedural show but it's always about the characters and about the emotions of the characters. 

Cardea: And likewise, while she was gone, the person closest to her, Gibbs, has changed a lot too. They explore a lot of that in the first couple of episodes.

How has Ziva and Gibbs' relationship shifted or evolved over these last few years?

Binder: I have a daughter and imagine if I hadn't spoken to my daughter in five years and then, there she was. There would be some profound things to have to work out between us as a result of whatever reason caused the absence, and the absence itself. If you think of it in terms of that dynamic, you have a father who hasn't seen his daughter in five years under a circumstance that's less than ideal. And suddenly, they're thrust together. It's not necessarily, "Hey, Dad, how are you doing? It's been a while. We should have lunch." They've been forced back together again.

Cardea: As you can tell by the teasers we've run, they're in serious jeopardy. A lot of this plays out against the backdrop of great tension and jeopardy.

Binder: Family therapy with bin Laden on your a**.

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In the trailer, Ziva mentions there is a woman, Zahar, who is after her. What can you say about this character and her looming presence?

Binder: It's a name you haven't heard before, so that's new. But the world in which Zahar has moved and the relevancy of that world to Ziva is not new. It goes back almost to the beginning.

With Ziva back in the fold, a lot of old emotions and feelings resurface with members of the NCIS team, most notably McGee (Sean Murray), Vance (Rocky Carroll) and Ducky (David McCallum). How does the rest of the team feel about her reemergence?

Cardea: For McGee, she was like a sister to him, and we explore that relationship in the first and second episodes. He is profoundly moved when he finds out she's alive.

Binder: And that Bishop (Emily Wickersham), his other little sister, knew and didn't tell him.

Cardea: Bishop had a hint at the end of last season that Ziva might be alive. The fact that she kept that from everybody is played out. All the emotions are explored.

Binder: When you're constructing these episodes, we always want to tell a story. But there were so many elements. How could you not address that in an episode? Bishop knew and McGee is going to find out she knew. Did Gibbs know? Did Jimmy (Brian Dietzen) know? It's a very complicated square of feelings and emotions that everyone has with everyone. That's played out in the backdrop of both the episodes.

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LOS ANGELES - AUGUST 3: 'Twofer' -- NCIS is called in to investigate when the body of a missing Navy Lieutenant who disappeared a year and a half ago is located by a cemetery grounds crew while they are relocating caskets on the property. Also, Gibbs and McGee must pass a psych evaluation with Doctor Grace Confalone (Laura San Giacomo) before officially resuming all work responsibilities, on NCIS, Tuesday, Oct. 3 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Pauley Perrette (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 24: 'Pandora's Box, Part I' -- After Abby's homeland security think tank is compromised and she is found in possession of a real bomb, the NCIS team discovers the leader of the group has been murdered and a theoretical terror playbook has been stolen, on the first part of a special two-hour crossover event on NCIS, Tuesday, Feb. 14 (8:00-9:00, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Pauley Perrette. (Photo by Cliff Lipson/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 10: 'Philly' -- When a missing MI6 Officer is linked to a murdered petty officer, Gibbs sends Quinn and Bishop to Philadelphia to work with MI6 Officer Clayton Reeves (Duane Henry). Also, Quinn painfully recounts the NCIS case that made her leave field work, on NCIS, Tuesday, Oct. 18 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT), on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Pauley Perrette, Wilmer Valderrama. (Photo by Bill Inoshita/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - AUGUST 11: 'Privileged Information' -- When the NCIS team investigates a marine sergeant's tragic fall from a building, her doctor, Grace Confalone (Laura San Giacomo), confides in Gibbs and suggests he treat it as a murder investigation. Also, Torres searches for a place to live, on NCIS, Tuesday, Oct. 4 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT), on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Mark Harmon, Pauley Perrette (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - APRIL 18: 'Family First' -- NCIS, FBI and MI6 continue an international manhunt for an escaped British spy who is targeting current and former agents, on the 13th season finale of NCIS, Tuesday, May 17 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT), on the CBS Television Network. Guest stars include Robert Wagner as Anthony DiNozzo, Sr., Sarah Clarke as FBI Special Agent Tess Monroe and Duane Henry as MI6 Officer Clayton Reeves. Pictured: Pauley Perrette as Abby Sciuto, Sean Murray as Timothy McGee, Emily Wickersham as Eleanor 'Ellie' Bishop, Brian Dietzen as Jimmy Palmer, Michael Weatherly as Anthony DiNozzo. (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 20: 'Sister City: Part One' -- After the passengers and crew of a private plane traveling from New Orleans to Washington D.C. are lethally poisoned, all evidence points to the missing chef, Abby's brother, Luca (Tyler Ritter). Gibbs and the D.C. team work in conjunction with Pride and the New Orleans team to locate Luca and determine why a private tech company was targeted, on the first part of a special two-hour crossover event on NCIS, Tuesday, Jan. 5 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT), on the CBS Television Network. Pictured left to right: Pauley Perrette and Michael Weatherly (Photo by Bill Inoshita/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - DECEMBER 16: 'Decompressed' -- When a deep sea diver is murdered on the job, his body and suspected co-workers must remain in a high-tech decompression chamber for four days, leaving the NCIS team to complete an unorthodox investigation from outside the tank, on NCIS, Tuesday, Feb. 9 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT), on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Pauley Perrette (Photo by Michael Yarish/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 7: 'Viral' -- When a petty officer's murder matches the M.O. of a local serial killer, the NCIS team must determine if this is the killer's latest victim or the work of a copycat, on NCIS, Tuesday, Oct. 27 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT), on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Pauley Perrette (Photo by Darren Michaels//CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - SEPTEMBER 8: 'Lockdown' -- While visiting a pharmaceutical lab on a murder case, Abby (Pauley Perrette) is trapped with no communication to the outside world after armed men take over the building and hold everyone hostage, on NCIS, Tuesday, Oct. 20 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT), on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 7: 'Semper Fortis' -- While the NCIS team investigates the cause of a hit and run accident that resulted in the death of a Petty Officer, Gibbs searches for a way to clear a Navy Hospital Corpsman, who has served two medical tours in Afghanistan, after she's indicted for illegally providing medical aid to the victims of the crash, even though the surviving victims swear by her life-saving techniques, on NCIS, Tuesday, Nov. 18 (8:00-9:00, ET/PT), on the CBS Television Network. Pictured left to right: Pauley Perrette, Sean Murray, Emily Wickersham and Michael Weatherly (Photo by Cliff Lipson/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 12: 'Homesick' -- After a mysterious illness strikes children from military families, Gibbs and the team investigate the cause. Meanwhile, Abby and Jimmy partner with the Naval Medical Research Center to determine the strain of illness, all in hopes of delivering a cure before the holidays, on NCIS, Tuesday, Dec. 17 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Pauley Perrette. (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JULY 22: 'Whiskey Tango Foxtrot' -- An explosion at a D.C. event that results in a casualty connected to the agency changes Parsons-� (Colin Hanks, center) perspective on Gibbs (Mark Harmon, left) and the NCIS team, on the 11th season premiere of NCIS, Tuesday, September 24 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Also pictured: Pauley Perrette (right). (Photo by Cliff Lipson/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - APRIL 24: 'Damned If You Do' -- The international manhunt for Eli David and Jackie Vance's killer turns into a federal witch hunt against Gibbs and the team, which questions their unconventional methods and threatens their future at the agency, on the 10th season finale of NCIS, Tuesday, May 14 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured left to right: Sean Murray and Pauley Perrette (Photo by Cliff Lipson/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 5: 'Gone' - As the NCIS team investigates a teenage girl's abduction, Ziva and Abby (Pauley Perrette ) work closely with her young friend who witnessed the kidnapping on NCIS, Tuesday, Nov. 27 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - SEPTEMBER 23: 'Broken Arrow' -- Abby (Pauley Perrette) and the team is stunned when Gibbs, enlists the help of DiNozzo's father, Anthony DiNozzo Sr. to solve a case on 'NCIS,' Tuesday, November 9 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Michael Yarish/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 28: 'Sins of the Father'-- After Anthony DiNozzo, Sr. (Robert Wagner, right) is found in a car with a dead body in the trunk and no memory of the previous night on NCIS, on the CBS Television Network. Pictured in a behind the scenes shot are Pauley Perrette and Robert Wagner. (Photo by Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - FEBRUARY 17: 'Tell-All' -- NCIS connects a message in blood left by a murdered Navy commander to a manuscript that may contain classified military information, on NCIS, Tuesday, March 29 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Pauley Perrette. (Photo by Adam Rose/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - MARCH 12: 'Moonlighting' -- When an NCIS polygraph specialist� night job takes a dangerous turn, McGee (Sean Murray, left) Abby (Pauley Perrette, center) and Agent Susan Grady (guest star Jackie Geary, right) have to uncover the truth, on NCIS, Tuesday Apr. 27 (8:00-9:00PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - MARCH 5: 'Moonlighting' -- When an NCIS polygraph specialist's night job takes a dangerous turn, Abby (Pauley Perrette) and the team have to uncover the truth, on NCIS, Tuesday Apr. 27 (8:00-9:00PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Cliff Lipson/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 23: 'Random on Purpose' -- Eric Beal (Barrett Foa) and Abby (Pauley Perrette guest stars) on NCIS: LOS ANGELES, Tuesday, Nov. 24 (9:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.(Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images)
VALENCIA - SEPTEMBER 16: 'Outlaws and In-Laws' --When Gibbs' boat is found with two dead mercenaries on board, he, along with Abby (Pauley Perrette) and the team are forced to look at an old friend in a new light, on NCIS, Tuesday Nov. 3 (8:00-9:00PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images)
American actress Pauley Perrette in a scene from the television crime drama series 'NCIS' (also known as 'Navy NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service') entitled 'Mind Games,' Los Angeles, California, 2005. The episode, part of the series third season, was originally broadcast on October 4, 2005. (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
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Cote is back for a handful of episodes this season. Is the door open where she could appear in more episodes this season? Has that been something you've had conversations about?

Binder: I will say that, because we're in the middle of the season and moving fast, all of these things are planned out far in advance. So, our plan right now is our plan. We've always been a show that thinks quickly on our feet and adapts to change, so I can't give you anything definitive except that we've planned ahead and yet we're also very nimble. If the opportunity presents itself, which it often does in this show...

Many times we're cruising to the last four episodes and creating our world because things have changed and we're changing what we're doing. We have a plan right now and it could change. Or it may not. We'll see how the reception is and what our writers come up with if... watching [these episodes] sparks new ideas. But, we're a fluid, nimble show for sure.

With Cote's arrival, naturally, the character of Tony DiNozzo is going to be brought up. Are you looking to address what happened there? Have you talked to Michael Weatherly about possibly making a cameo?

Cardea: Not to dodge your question, but we were pretty successful keeping Cote's appearance last year a secret. We like surprises -- and I'm not saying one way or the other. It's still a little bit off, but it's nothing that we really want to comment on right now.

Was there a lingering question with Ziva that was at the top of your list that you knew you had to answer this season?

Binder: When she left, she left a child behind -- and she left that child with Tony. So there are definitely questions there. Where has she been? Who knows what?

Cardea: Something that Steve said earlier, a lot of the story we tell goes all the way back to the very beginning of Ziva. We're going back to that history.

Are you looking at Ziva's journey this season as a full-circle moment?

Binder: Yes, as a matter of fact. There will be a very large full circle when all is said and done. It will be emotionally obvious. It will be for a lot of characters, not just Ziva. There's a big bookend here. When you see the B-side, you will know instantly what the A-side was.

What else can you preview for the upcoming season?

Cardea: Some of our other characters are going to go find out new things about each other, certainly Casey (Diona Reasonover), who is the newest member of our cast. We also advance the relationships amongst our existing characters.

Binder: We're keeping our eye on Bishop and Torres (Wilmer Valderrama). We've gone down this path once before and if we go down it again, we want to make sure that it's worth going down. But we're definitely spending a lot of time thinking about it. We also hope to have some surprises in store for you. We had a season finale that set the bar high. We're working hard to try and top ourselves.

Because the finale was such an amazing surprise for fans, how are you going to top it?

Binder: I think we got it. 

Cardea: Another big milestone for us will be towards the end of our season. We're going to hit episode 400, which is rarefied air for a network show. It's truly rarefied air. 

You'll be planning something special for the milestone?

Binder: There isn't a lot of trail in front of us to take inspiration from on this subject. I think there are only six primetime shows that have ever done this. Not that I'm counting.

NCIS returns Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

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