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The Weird Character Change That Still Bothers NCIS Fans

Procedurals are built on lovable characters and familiarity. Shows like NCIS and its forebears in CSI and Law & Order have remained successful for an insane number of seasons because they offer known characters solving a weekly problem in a way that's true to their established core. Not messing with the formula is so integral that the name of the genre is taken from doing things by the book. 

NCIS fans reward that consistency and unshakeable core with their viewership, and the series has maintained relatively high ratings even as it approaches 400 episodes. That incredible fan energy has a downside, however. What happens when a character acts, well, out of character and does something many might argue goes against their true nature? And what happens when a character physically isn't the way they used to be? Even minor variations in character stick in the NCIS audience's craw for years afterward after the fact. 

But there's one NCIS change that's far more noticeable than all the rest — and still likely to cause debate among fans nearly a decade after it happened: Timothy McGee's voice. 

Though actor Sean Murray has portrayed McGee (who is now a Senior Field Agent in the NCIS Major Case Response Team) since the beginning of the series, the actor switched to a raspy growl around the series' eighth season. The resident geek among the investigators went from a soft-spoken computer expert to a gruff and hard-nosed investigator who occasionally nods toward his own nerdiness. The change is entirely unexplained in-universe or out, leading fans to have it out over the issue as the show heads into its 18th season.

Some NCIS fans think healthy living is the culprit for Timothy McGee's change in voice

The change in Timothy McGee's voice came around the same time that the actor playing him made some positive changes in his life. Sean Murray lost a considerable amount of weight in between seasons, and his sister, Hailey, apparently even chimed in on Twitter to say that he had quit smoking. (A fan tweeted in response to both Hailey and Sean Murray that "it's hard to quit smoking but worth it once you do.") Taken together, it's entirely possible that the change in Murray's voice for McGee came as a result of weight loss and better living. 

In late September 2010, about a week after NCIS season 8 premiered, Murray shared on social media how he lost the weight. "To those who have asked what I did to lose the 25 lbs: 14 months of no alcohol and almost no sugar. ate strictly organic," he wrote on Twitter

Some fans have taken this as a plausible reason behind the shift in his voice. "Losing all that weight and quitting smoking can affect a person's voice," wrote one Reddit user, speculating about the change. "This is also around the time he got super skinny. Maybe that has something to do with it," mused another.

As it happens, there's science to back this up. There have been a number of studies conducted to examine the effects obesity has on the voice as well as what significant weight loss does to one's voice. According to Dr. Reena Gupta, the Director of the Division of Voice and Laryngology at the Osborne Head & Neck Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in California, excess weight can actually lighten a man's voice. "Excess weight results in an increased production and storage of female hormones, and, to a lesser extent, male hormones. In men, there is a relatively higher level of female hormones and they respond to this. This can result in a slight lightening of the voice," wrote Gupta. "In women, the slightly higher level of testosterone results in a masculinization of the voice. Specifically, the pitch gets slightly lower."

While Murray was in no way obese based on his height and presumed weight, the extra 25 pounds he was carrying around could have had an impact on the sound of this voice. 

Other NCIS fans think it's a character choice

All that said, another contingent of the NCIS fandom believes McGee's raspy voice is part of a concerted effort to separate him from his earlier nerd characterization and turn him into a more grizzled and cool detective. Most fans are in agreement that the change in McGee's voice came along with his newly svelte look, but some hold out that the gruff voice is a part of a larger attempt to make McGee cool. 

"[The voice is] part of his new 'cool' image," wrote one Reddit user on a post about his voice. "They made him boring."

Another poster cast doubt on the validity of the weight loss theory, saying that the change is simply too stark to be anything but intentional. "Weight loss may change the voice but definitely not to that extreme," they wrote

Regardless, the controversy is clearly not enough to derail the NCIS fandom. With both the flagship and its New Orleans-based spin-off secured for further seasons, it looks like McGee and his old-new voice are sticking around for the foreseeable future.