The NCIS fandom is continuing to mourn following the death of David McCallum. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. actor portrayed Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard on the long-running CBS procedural. He first appeared in the two-episode backdoor pilot on JAG, and then he continued to appear throughout 20 seasons. However, in the most recent seasons, Ducky didn’t appear too often, only occasionally popping up and sometimes virtually. Before McCallum’s death, executive producer Charles Floyd Johnson opened up about the reasoning.
The Hollywood Reporter published an NCIS oral history in honor of the show’s 20th anniversary, and they got together executives and directors from the series and CBS. When the story brought up much of the original cast leaving, Johnson admitted that the reason why David McCallum hadn’t been in many episodes in recent seasons was because it was too hard on him:
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 makes sense David McCallum couldn’t appear in more episodes, but the fact that he was still occasionally making an appearance shows how much he cared and still wanted to be on the CBS mainstay. Ducky officially retired as Chief Medical Examiner at NCIS in 2019, but then the team wanted to keep him on, so they decided to make him a part-time NCIS Historian. It was a perfect fit. He was still able to help the team from time to time while also taking a much-needed break, both on-screen and off.
With NCIS renewed for a 21st season, it sounds like there were plans to have McCallum appear in a few episodes. Now, the writers will likely be coming up with a tribute that will sum up not only McCallum but Ducky as well. Much of the NCIS cast have paid tribute to their co-star, both past and present. Wilmer Valderrama shared a sweet message for McCallum, while Michael Weatherly, Mark Harmon, and Pauley Perrette looked back at their time with the late actor with sweet statements.
Due to the WGA writers’ strike and SAG-AFTRA actors’ strike, NCIS is among many shows whose productions have been on pause. However, now that the writers' strike is over, they can finally go back to work, and they’ll be able to come up with a tribute for McCallum without having to scramble and change storylines. Either way, though, it’s going to be hard to no longer see Ducky helping out the team.
David McCallum’s legacy will continue for as long as NCIS continues and beyond. No matter how many episodes he has or hasn’t been in. Fans can always go back and rewatch his best moments with a Paramount+ subscription. It may not be the same, but it’s like a piece of McCallum will always be with us, even if he’s not as NCIS continues to air.