'NCIS' Season 9 finale cliffhanger: Where will the show go next year?

ncis-til-death-do-us-part-cbs.jpgPretty much everything is up in the air after the final moments of the "NCIS" season finale -- and for those following the off-screen business of the show, there's an extra bit of suspense too.

Tuesday's (May 15) finale ended with Harper Dearing ( Richard Schiff) setting off a car bomb outside the NCIS headquarters -- and even though the building was under an evacuation order, nearly every member of the team was still inside. The one who wasn't, Ducky ( David McCallum), collapsed on the beach after hearing the news, presumably from a heart attack.

It was a big ending to a strong three-part arc with a pretty unconventional villain: Schiff's Dearing is not a terrorist but the father of a dead sailor who blames the Navy for his son's death and is taking out on Gibbs and anyone else who might get in the way of his twisted quest for justice.

Now, about that off-screen stuff: While McCallum recently signed a new contract with the show, three other regulars -- Pauley Perrette, Sean Murray and Michael Weatherly -- are still in negotiations with the studio. It's likely they'll return as well, but until they do sign, it could make for a few anxious moments for "NCIS" fans.

The business aspect, however, did not affect the storytelling of the finale, executive producer Gary Glasberg says: "The arc for the end of the season has been something we've been working on for a long time. I can absolutely assure you the story had nothing to do with any kind of contract negotiation that's happening. It's not the way I approach things. ... It is a cliffhanger, there's suspense to it -- I would have done that regardless."

Glasberg says the Season 10 opener in the fall will follow "NCIS" tradition and continue the action from the finale. "We'll pick up where we left off and give closure to that story," he says. "Then I like to get back to really self-contained stories after that, and I think the audience does too."

Fans can also still expect the usual "NCIS" mix of solid crime stories and lighter and more character-based moments, though. "We'll probably mix it up again come November sweeps," Glasberg says, "see what we can come up with that will surprise people."

What did you think of the "NCIS" season finale? What do you hope Season 10 brings?
Photo/Video credit: CBS