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NCIS Would Have Been Scrapped If David McCallum Wasn't Cast

David McCallum had an acting career that spanned decades. But for many, he'll always be remembered for his work on "NCIS" as medical examiner Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard. He played an integral role throughout 20 seasons of the series, even outlasting Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon), who left the show in Season 19. It's safe to say that most fans would claim "NCIS" wouldn't be the same without Ducky, and that's more literal than they might think. 

The Hollywood Reporter posted an oral history of "NCIS" with select quotes from numerous people who have worked on the show over the years. James Whitmore Jr., a director for "NCIS," revealed how they didn't want to go forward with the show if they couldn't cast McCallum as Ducky. He stated, "When they cast David McCallum as Ducky, the studio said, 'No way, we're not casting this old character actor in the role.' And Don [Bellisario] said, 'If you don't, we're not doing the show.' He was that serious about it. The studio went with it, and of course, David McCallum is gold."

It's a bit odd, considering McCallum was an established actor at that point. Still, Peter Golden, former head of casting at CBS, revealed the obtuse reasoning, "I think it was because David McCallum was British. The feeling was, 'Can you do that?' This was such an American show."

The team still had plans for David McCallum going into NCIS Season 21

The timing of The Hollywood Reporter's oral history couldn't have been more bittersweet. It was published on September 25, 2023, the same day David McCallum passed away. Naturally, the interview was done before people knew about McCallum's death, and they continue to speak about him as though he'll continue popping up on the show, albeit in a more limited capacity.

In February 2023, it was announced "NCIS" would come back for Season 21. Filming couldn't begin right away due to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, but it appears the team believed McCallum would return for another season. "NCIS" executive producer Charles Floyd Johnson explained how they planned on utilizing the actor going forward, "David McCallum doesn't do that much in the series anymore. David [just turned 90], and he lives in New York. He may come back and do four or five episodes. It's much too hard on him now, and I think he's ready to retire. But he was amazing from the day he came on."

It's a good thing the creatives behind the scenes championed McCallum's casting so strongly. After 20 years, it's hard to imagine anyone else playing Ducky, and as one of the main cast members, there's a chance the show wouldn't have gotten this far without him truly embodying the character. Viewers should expect a touching tribute to the actor when "NCIS" Season 21 finally does come around.