9 watertight facts about 'JAG'

By: H&I Staff    Posted: December 6, 2022, 9:09AM

Image: The Everett Collection

From Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. to M*A*S*H, the United States Military has proven to be a great setting for hit television. Still, when JAG (the acronym stands for Judge Advocate General) hit the airwaves in 1995, it hardly looked like a smash. Ratings almost sunk this battleship in its first season. The action-drama ranked a measly 79th overall. JAG's future looked uncertain.

However, with a second tour, the series grew to become one of the quietest pop-culture success stories of the new millennium. Thanks to its alluring stars David James Elliott and Catherine Bell, not to mention a heavy dose of military realism, JAG sailed for ten seasons and spawned even bigger spin-offs.

Let's hop aboard and take a look at some things you might not know about JAG.


It was canceled after its first season.

Yep, in the spring of 1996, NBC pulled the plug on the struggling show. The network had moved it from Saturdays to Wednesdays midseason, yet it still could not succeed against competion like The Jeff Foxworthy Show and Beverly Hills, 90210. CBS picked up the canceled JAG the following season — and likely still sends NBC thank you cards. JAG eventually became the foundation of CBS.

Image: The Everett Collection


It sparked the third biggest franchise in TV history.

Overall, the JAG "universe" is responsible for 35 total seasons of scripted network television. NCIS (14 seasons) spun-off of JAG, and in turn launched the spin-offs NCIS: Los Angeles (8 seasons) and NCIS: New Orleans (3 seasons). Americans are apparently quite hungry for Navy crime. The Law & Order franchise is larger, with 47 total seasons, while All My Children had 37 seasons.

Image: The Everett Collection


'NCIS' began as a backdoor pilot on 'JAG.'

NCIS kicked off in 2003 with the eighth-season JAG episode "Ice Queen," which introduced Gibbs (Mark Harmon), Abby and the crew. The story continued in the following episode, "Meltdown."


The show recycled footage from hit movies.

To save money, this Paramount production tapped into the archive of studio footage. Some of the Naval action scenes were taken from older films like Top Gun, Flight of the Intruder, Clear and Present Danger and The Hunt for Red October.

Image: Wikipedia


Prior to fame, David James Elliott worked in a belt factory.

Elliott grew up in an Ontario farming community. As a teen, he rocked out in a handful of punk and new-wave bands with names like the Assassinators. At the age of 17, he bailed for Toronto to make it big. "I was working at a belt factory and living in this boarding house," he explained to TV Guide.


It was filmed aboard real U.S. Navy ships.

The primary ship used for filming was the USS Forrestal (CV-59). A good deal of the Navy's Nimitz-class carriers also pop up during the course of the series, including the USS Saratoga, USS Enterprise and USS John F. Kennedy. However, the ships were often given fictional names like the Reprisal and the Seahawk.

Image: The Everett Collection


Catherine Bell appeared on game shows in the early '90s.

In 1990, "Cathy" Bell appeared as a contestant on Match Game and described herself as a massage therapist. That same year, she turned up on a short-lived NBC reboot of To Tell the Truth, playing one of the imposters, as seen here.

Image: NBC / YouTube


It was the first screen credit for 'Avatar' star Sam Worthington.

The Aussie actor earned his first screen credit in "Boomerang: Part 1," playing a seaman (and suspect) in the Royal Australian Navy.


The finale took everyone by surprise, including the creators and crew.

You'd think that after ten seasons, JAG would get a heads-up that the end was near. However, creator Donald P. Bellisario was only given a couple weeks notice that the show would not return. Writers scrambled to wrap up the ongoing will-they-won't-they romantic story, and finally bring together Elliott and Bell's characters.

Image: The Everett Collection