U.S. Navy Assists With Show The Last Ship
About the Author

Don Vaughan is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. 

When the producers of TNT’s hit show The Last Ship decided to adapt William Brinkley’s post-apocalyptic novel for television, they knew from the start they wouldn’t be able to do it without the participation of the U.S. Navy. The action-packed story required occasional filming on an actual destroyer, as well as technical support to ensure authenticity, none of which would have been available to them without the Navy’s cooperation.

Ultimately, they had nothing to worry about. The Navy quickly realized The Last Ship, which follows the fictional destroyer USS Nathan James as its crew deals with the aftermath of a deadly global pandemic, held true to the core values of honor, courage, and commitment and offered its full assistance.

“Americans often don’t get to see what the Navy does on a daily basis while protecting our freedoms,” says series cocreator and executive producer Steven Kane. “So for a television series to show what a surface warfare fighter’s life is like and what their culture is like, that’s a great way to advertise to the nation what the Navy can do. There was a lot of incentive for the Navy to get their message out and incentive for us to work with them.”

Navy Lt. Anthony Florez, project officer, Navy Office of Information West in Los Angeles, acts as the show’s technical advisor. He and his office work with the scriptwriters to ensure military accuracy throughout the story and provide input on everything from uniforms to military jargon to the proper use of weapons. “We also coordinate and liaison whenever the production wants to go down to San Diego for filming on base or on a ship,” Florez says. “We assist to make sure that the Navy has no issues with security and to make sure production and base requirements are met.”

The first few episodes of season one were filmed aboard a real destroyer while sets were being built. Currently, scenes showing the bridge, the helicopter bay, the combat information center, and the medical bay are filmed on sets in Culver City, Calif., while scenes on the flight deck or the forecastle are filmed aboard a real ship docked in San Diego, occasionally with active duty sailors serving as extras. Computers sometimes are used for enhancement, such as showing islands in the background or when the ship’s guns or missiles are fired.  

Kane admits to knowing next to nothing about the Navy when he and series cocreator Hank Steinberg first started working on The Last Ship, but he learned quickly by chatting with officers and others during breaks in filming. These conversations also shed light on the personal traits of Navy personnel, and tidbits occasionally made their way onto the show, such as Capt. Mike Slattery (Adam Baldwin) enjoying morning coffee on the bridge wing — something a real captain told Kane he liked to do when safe and appropriate.

Another captain, who was serving as an advisor at the time, took Kane to task for having an officer on the show punished by performing kitchen duty. This was an insult to the culinary specialists who work hard to feed their ship, Kane was told, and would never happen in real life. Instead, the captain suggested the officer be made to train the junior officers on all of the equipment in the battle center, while also explaining what she did wrong and how her punishment should serve as an example. “I thought that was amazing leadership,” Kane says. “So we changed the scene, and it was much better for it.”

To prepare his principal cast for their roles as personnel aboard a Navy destroyer, Kane had them read Command at Sea, by Adm. James Stavridis, USN (Ret), and Rear Adm. Robert Girrier, USN (Ret), as well as Stavridis’ memoir, Destroyer Captain: Lessons of a First Command. But the real education came when Eric Dane, who plays Capt. Tom Chandler, and Charles Purnell, who plays Master Chief Petty Officer Russell Jeter, put on their uniforms and found themselves being saluted as they walked down the pier in San Diego. “They were embarrassed to be saluted, frankly, because they hadn’t earned it,” Kane notes. “Someone from the Navy quickly reminded them that the sailors weren’t saluting the man, they were saluting the uniform. But they still felt the awesome responsibility of it.”

According to Florez, the Navy gets much out of its relationship with The Last Ship. “The Navy demographic is very diverse, and I think the show has done a great job of showing that,” he notes. “We get to display sailors in diverse roles conducting a Navy mission with honor, courage, and commitment. And in working with the writers, we get to display other parts of the Navy as well. Our goal is to inform the public and show them how the Navy works and operates. If it persuades someone to make a career in the Navy, then we’ve done our job.” 

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