'NCIS' hits 300 episodes -- with a genuine 'Hero'

MusiCorps' Arthur Bloom, Nathan Kalwicki, Tim Donley, Will Cook, Josh Cawthorn, Marcus Dandrea and Johnathon Mullen on the "NCIS" set.

Story highlights

  • MusiCorps, a program for wounded vets, gets a spot on "NCIS"
  • The popular CBS show aired its 300th episode in March

(CNN)The 300th episode of "NCIS," which aired in March, featured some real heroes.

No, not Jethro, DiNozzo, Abby or even Ducky. They're just TV characters.
    Try Arthur Bloom and the MusiCorps Wounded Warrior Band.
    Bloom founded MusiCorps, a music rehabilitation program for severely wounded soldiers who are recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in 2007. He was one of the Top 10 CNN Heroes in 2014.
    "MusiCorps on 'NCIS.' How cool is that?" he said.
    For Gina Monreal, who co-wrote the episode with showrunner Gary Glasberg, the fit was a natural.
    Monreal had seen Bloom and MusiCorps profiled on CNN in September 2014 and had wanted to work the group into a story. With "NCIS" approaching its 300th episode -- the show is in the middle of its 13th season -- she saw her opportunity.
    "We didn't want to rush it," she said. "This was so special to us, and we knew that we wanted to take our time and do our research and bring all to it that we could." The 300th, she added, was a perfect venue "to pay tribute to our wounded warriors and to showcase this program."

    'Just as powerful as the spoken word'

    MusiCorps was an offshoot of the work that Bloom, a graduate of the Yale School of Music, offers to patients at Walter Reed. He'd visited the hospital to see a soldier, a drummer who'd lost his leg to a bomb. The soldier wanted to play the drums again.
    Bloom dedicated himself to helping every recovering veteran at the hospital who wanted to learn an instrument.
    "Some of what we do, you could call adaptive music making," Bloom said in 2014. "The folks who are missing limbs or have damaged hands and arms sometimes require specialized instruments, which we provide."
    Writer Gina Monreal, second from right, helped make the MusiCorps episode happen.
    Music is an effective tool for healing, he observed then.
    "I've seen guys come in here, and they're going through such a tough time with their injuries that they are very withdrawn," Bloom said. "The music becomes their new way of communicating. It can be just as powerful as the spoken word. ... By injecting music into this space, we can inject life."
    The "NCIS" storyline follows an injured Marine, played by Taye Diggs, who's struggling and finds hope in MusiCorps. The TV show tapped real-life members of the group for roles.
    "Everything is as accurate as possible," Bloom said. "They got the actual guys in our program to play the guys in our program on the show." "NCIS" even duplicated the program's practice space on its set so precisely that "it was like our space had been transported to their set," he added.
    Though "NCIS" is set in Washington, it films in Santa Clarita, California.

    'Everyone is like family'

    It's been a long trip for "NCIS" in other ways.
    The show premiered in 2003 as a spinoff of "JAG," the popular Navy legal drama starring David James Elliott. "NCIS," based on the real-life Naval Criminal Investigative Service, stars Mark Harmon as Jethro Gibbs, who leads an elite group of investigators, including long-timers Anthony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly, who's leaving after this season), Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette) and Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum).
    The show, like "JAG," was not an immediate hit but climbed steadily in the ratings, helped by the 2007 writers' strike and endless reruns on USA, which still airs the show. It didn't hurt that it was also a hit overseas.
    "NCIS" cast member Pauley Perrette, center, poses with the MusiCorps members.
    Viewers warmed to the easy camaraderie of the cast, including the not-quite love affair between DiNozzo and an Israeli agent, Ziva David (Cote de Pablo) -- a relationship that has its own Wikipedia page -- as well as Harmon's gruff but caring portrayal of Gibbs. It's been one of the five highest-rated programs on television for the past seven years and has spawned two spinoffs, "NCIS: Los Angeles" and "NCIS: New Orleans."
    Bloom said the cast and crew got along famously and were welcoming to the MusiCorps visitors.
    "Everyone is like family, eating together and working together," he said. "(Our) guys were extremely comfortable and relaxed and animated."
    Monreal said it was a pleasure to have them.
    "The day that we had the guys from MusiCorps here shooting with us was such a magical and electric experience on set," she said. "When the guys finished the scene where they were playing music together, the entire cast and crew just erupted into applause."
    She's glad that the whole project finally came to fruition.
    "As a writer, sometimes you encounter things that you can't get out of our head until you write about them. Arthur's program was one of those things for me," she said. "The heart of 'NCIS' is so much about the struggles of our servicemen and -women, and so it felt like such a perfect match for us to feature them. And I can say that, for all of us, in some small way, to be a part of the remarkable journey of this band, it was rewarding."