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‘NCIS’ Showrunner Gary Glasberg Remembered as Generous Soul, Talented Writer

He was a great cook who loved making pancakes for his two sons. He was the showrunner of one of TV’s most high-octane dramas but in his downtime was mesmerized by HGTV. He was the kind of a guy who never let anyone stand awkwardly alone at a party, even if he wasn’t the host. 

More than anything else, Gary Glasberg, the “NCIS” showrunner and “NCIS: New Orleans” creator who died unexpectedly in his sleep on Sept. 28 at age 50, is remembered by friends and colleagues as a warm, kind, generous soul.

“His sense of humor and deeply compassionate nature made him a great writer, for sure, but more important, one of the greatest friends or family members you could ever hope to have,” says producer Sarah Timberman, a longtime friend of Glasberg and his wife, writer/producer Mimi Schmir. “It’s hard to put into words the loss suffered by all who love him.”

David Stapf, president of “NCIS” producer CBS Television Studios, says he often turned to Glasberg for advice. “He was a touchstone for me. He was a guy who always kept life in perspective.” The two spoke by phone nearly every day, including the day before Glasberg’s death. 

“For me, Gary would have been the guy I called when something like this happened,” Stapf says. “He was a really good listener. That was one of the things that made him a great showrunner.” 

A New York native who attended NYU, Glasberg started his career in the late 1980s as a writer of comic books and children’s animated series, before moving into primetime drama. He worked his way up the ladder in the mid-1990s at a time when writers had to pay their dues for years before getting a shot at showrunning or fielding their own pilots. The first pilot Glasberg created and produced — a legal drama for ABC, “Laws of Chance,” that starred Viola Davis — was a turning point for him even though it didn’t get picked up to series in 2005.

The experience of working on many short-lived series helped Glasberg stay humble about the stature he achieved with “NCIS.” He joined the CBS drama in 2009 and was upped to showrunner the following year. On his watch, “NCIS” solidified its status as primetime’s most-watched drama series and a global juggernaut. In 2014, he created the spinoff “NCIS: New Orleans.”

“He worked really, really hard,” says Showtime Networks CEO David Nevins, another longtime friend. “He was driving the biggest freight train in worldwide television, and he really appreciated his success.”

As a writer, Glasberg was adept at working out plot twists and long story arcs. “He had a good mind for puzzles and how to move a story through a great twist and keep it going,” says Nevins. The two worked together on the 2006-2008 CBS drama “Shark” when Nevins was president of Imagine Television. Glasberg was not the showrunner, but his leadership skills were evident in the writers’ room. 

“Other writers really liked him because he could make them better,” Nevins says. “He was really helpful and generous.”

CAA agent Ann Blanchard, who represented Glasberg for 20 years, said he was driven to achieve and liked to juggle numerous projects, but still managed to maintain a clear focus on what was most pressing at any given moment. He’d exchanged emails with Blanchard and others about development ideas the night before he died.

“He really had a strong sense of being present for every person who came along in his world,” Blanchard says. “He believed everybody was deserving of his time and respect.”

Glasberg’s approach was crucial on “NCIS,” which had no shortage of behind-the-scenes drama before he took the reins. Star Mark Harmon had famously clashed in the series’ early years with creator/exec producer Donald Bellisario. But Glasberg’s style changed that. It’s unlikely the show would have lasted 14 seasons (and counting) without his steadiness at the wheel. 

“Because of who he was, Gary turned this incredibly volatile situation into one that was super-calm and just normal,” Stapf notes. 

Glasberg strengthened a winning formula by recognizing that the core “NCIS” ensemble of Naval investigators amounted to a family with whom viewers enjoyed checking in each week. It was no surprise that Glasberg would key in on the importance of the family dynamic, given the extremely loving home life he shared with his wife of 20 years and their sons, Elias, 15, and Dash, 12.

As “NCIS” and “NCIS: New Orleans” shot him to A-list showrunner status, Glasberg never lost sight of what mattered most. Friends were more likely to hear him brag about winning the chili cook-off at his sons’ school than about ratings. In an industry in which success comes with big money and ego-inflating accolades, that can be a tricky balance to maintain.

“Gary managed to pull off living a challenging whirlwind of a professional life while at the same time a having really cozy life with Mimi and the boys — the family that he loved beyond measure,” says Timberman.

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