NCIS’ Brian Dietzen explains the subtle change that made all the difference in the show’s tribute to David McCallum

Below contains spoilers for NCIS Season 21 Episode 2 “The Stories We Leave Behind.”

Last night we watched perhaps one of the most emotional episodes of NCIS, the series’ tribute to longtime cast member David McCallum and his character Dr. Mallard. The death of Dr. Mallard came as no surprise – McCallum died September 2023 – but there was one tiny detail that came as a shock, and no we’re not talking about the surprise cameo at the end of the episode.

Keep reading to learn more.

The episode began with Dr. Jimmy Palmer, played by Brian Dietzen who also co-wrote the episode, bringing coffee to Dr. Mallard at his home. Except when he arrives Palmer discovers Ducky has died in his sleep.

Rather than abruptly cut to the NCIS opening, the show slowly fades into the opener with a slower version of the theme song we’ve been hearing for the past two decades.The decision to slow down the opening was a deliberate one, albeit a slightly difficult one.

VALENCIA, CA – SEPTEMBER 04: NCIS cast members (L-R) Michael Weatherly, Lauren Holly, Brian Deitzen, Pauley Perrette, David McCallum, Sean Murray, Cote de Pablo, and Mark Harmon at the NCIS 100th Episode Celebration at Valencia Studios on September 4, 2007 in Valencia, California. (Photo by John Shearer/WireImage)

“We were struggling with that, I’ll be real honest, because coming out of that cold open, it didn’t really feel very fitting to [have] all of a sudden our wonderful opening credits that our people do, our post-production people do an amazing, amazing job on,” Dietzen told TV Insider.

“It usually sets the table and gets people’s energy up for, this is what we’re about to do, and there’s explosions, and there’s fighting, there’s gunshots and stuff. It felt like tonally it wasn’t right for this episode.”

I think slowing down the intro was a beautiful way to start such an emotional episode. There’s nothing I would have changed about the tribute to David McCallum and his character Ducky. It was so well done.

Please share if you agree.

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