In the crapshoot that is the annual fall TV season, CBS is betting big on Scott Bakula.

The man best known for Quantum Leap and Star Trek: Enterprise now headlines NCIS: New Orleans, a spinoff of the network’s no. 1 series. And the show occupies the coveted timeslot (Tuesdays, 9/8c) following the original, displacing older franchisee NCIS: Los Angeles.

For the actor whose recent credits include HBO’s Liberace bio Behind the Candelabra and the TNT buddy comedy Men of a Certain Age, it’s a southern-fried change of pace. He plays Special Agent Dwayne Pride, the team leader of the Big Easy branch of the Naval Investigative Service, introduced in two “backdoor pilot” episodes of NCIS last season. We tracked him down to talk pressure, Pride and the NOLA vibe.

“The best part of my relationship with New Orleans is that I understand humidity. Coming from St. Louis, I get that. Everybody was complaining in March about the heat. I said, ‘Oh guys, you have no idea what’s coming.’ ”

You’re joining CBS’s top franchise, in the plum timeslot following NCIS. Is the pressure on?
We have big footprints in the sand to follow, and the hope is that where we’re going and with the characters and the stories that are being developed for us, we can invest and get an audience to invest with us. The ball that’s being handed off is a perfect spiral, and there’s pressure that comes with that, no question about it. We have to earn our place. It’s not a given. But we have an opportunity to carve our own unique place.

What’s overwhelming is that everywhere we go, people are just crazy excited about it. Very few people could say they’re following the number one show on the planet. We have to work hard, earn our position. It comes with challenges. There’s huge pressure, first on the network and the creative team. Certainly we’re the face of it once it’s on the air. The actors ultimately get blamed, and that’s OK. That’s the nature of what we do. There was huge pressure when I started Enterprise, so many unforeseen elements. But I never would call it anything but a success because we made four years of television.

What do you like about this character?
I like everything about him. He has a huge appetite for life. He has an opportunity to behave in a way that is not what you would traditionally call the NCIS way. He still has to work within the confines of the Navy and the regulations, but it’s something he bridles against. And he’s very intent on doing things his own way. It’s a small office, a little bit off the radar, so he can get away with things. He’s not a guy that’s about walking around with a badge. He loves his city and cares about it. He knows it inside and out. He’s not above being with the people of the city. He’s in a power kind of position, but part of the city.

Had you spent time in New Orleans before?
I shot a movie there two years ago called Elsa & Fred, with Shirley MacLaine, Christopher Plummer and a bunch of other wonderful people. It was my first time there, and I loved it. We got to go to a couple of nice restaurants and I met some nice people. I had this gentle introduction to it. I’m from St. Louis so I’m literally up the river. And the best part of my relationship with New Orleans is that I understand humidity. Coming from St. Louis, I get that. Everybody was complaining in March about the heat. I said, “Oh guys, you have no idea what’s coming.”

Will you still have time now to do film roles?
I would love to. I’ve just been really fortunate the last couple of years—I’ve had some great opportunities and I’ve been riding on those coattails a little bit. I did the last five episodes of Desperate Housewives and it was a blast. I’d wanted to do that for eight years. I’ve always tried to do as many different kinds of things and be a part of as many sides of our business as I possibly can be. I’ve been around and have been able to survive for a while. I’ve been so fortunate and remain so. It’s been a great ride, and it doesn’t feel like it’s over.

Photo by Cliff Lipson/CBS