Warning: This article contains spoilers for NCIS Season 21 Episode 2 “The Stories We Leave Behind”.

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

Last night, NCIS delivered one of its most emotionally charged episodes to date – a heartfelt tribute to long-time cast member David McCallum and his beloved character, Dr. Mallard. While McCallum’s passing in September 2023 was no surprise, there was one minor detail that caught viewers off guard, and it wasn’t the surprise cameo at the end of the episode. Let’s dive deeper into this unforgettable episode.

The episode begins with Dr. Jimmy Palmer, played by Brian Dietzen, who also co-wrote the episode, paying a visit to Dr. Mallard at his home, with a cup of coffee in hand. However, upon his arrival, Palmer discovers the devastating news that Ducky has passed away peacefully in his sleep.

Instead of abruptly transitioning to the NCIS opening sequence, the show cleverly fades into the opening with a slower rendition of the theme song, a tune we’ve come to know and love over the past two decades.

The decision to slow down the opening credits wasn’t an easy one for the show’s creators, but it was a deliberate choice that added depth to the episode’s tone. Brain Dietzen, in an interview with TV Insider, admitted: “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… It felt like tonally it wasn’t right for this episode.”

As a dedicated viewer of NCIS, I must say that slowing down the intro was a beautiful way to commence such an emotionally charged episode. The tribute to David McCallum and his character, Ducky, was impeccably executed. It brought tears to my eyes and left me reflecting on the impact McCallum had on the show. If you agree, please share your thoughts.