NCIS Not Boxed In 2005

TV Guide January 2006

Review of NCIS in The Age Newspaper, Melbourne, Australia.

By David Campbell
March 17, 2005

Two passionately entwined teenagers are rudely interrupted when a marine parachutist crashes through the roof of their car. A deer hunter stumbles upon a mummified naval officer in a metal tomb in a forest. A body clad in a naval uniform is found at the bottom of the sea, clutching a ceremonial sword. A severed leg decorated with a marine tattoo turns up in a rubbish bin.

What? How on earth?

And, of course, that's exactly how we are supposed to react. It's what keeps us glued to the screen, stops us from heading off for that drink or reaching for the remote. Lots of US TV shows, including Channel Ten's Law & Order series and Channel Nine's CSI franchise, rely heavily for their popularity on those first few seconds of each episode.

That's when we're hooked, dragged instantly into the rapid-action narratives that characterise these plot-driven dramas.

The above attention-grabbing opening scenes are all taken from the first series of another of Channel Ten's success stories last year, the exploits of the special agents from NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service). And they're effective - NCIS is rating among the top 20 shows across Australia.

But a spectacular opening is no guarantee of ratings success. It needs to be backed up by some interesting characters. That's where NCIS delivers. Its great strength is the slick ensemble work of the cleverly designed cast of main characters.

I started watching mainly to catch a glimpse of the marvellous David McCallum, fondly remembered by all baby boomers as Illya Kuryakin from that entertaining smash-hit of the 1960s, The Man From UNCLE. Back then, McCallum was a young, fresh-faced, fair-haired secret agent. The passage of time has transformed him into the weathered Dr Donald "Ducky" Mallard, the medical examiner who has seen and done it all and who never hesitates to expound that history (when allowed) in entertainingly exhaustive detail. Mallard is fastidious, quirkily humorous and endlessly fascinated by the grisly nature of the deaths he is required to investigate. He has an endearing habit of treating the bodies as old friends whose nooks and crannies have to be fussily probed for clues.

In a clever piece of casting, Mallard is teamed with the young, goth- inspired forensic specialist Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette). Perrette has a ball as the super-smart, wise- cracking techno-whiz who rattles off one-liners while juggling test-tubes and conjuring visual magic from an array of computers. Abby is totally cool, sleeps in a coffin, ever cracks under pressure, and has a cheerful grin for everyone, even her perpetually grumpy, coffee-drinking abrupt boss, Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon).

Gibbs and Mallard are old friends but where Duck is talkative, Gibbs is curt. He doesn't suffer fools gladly. He has been through several divorces but is regularly seen at the end of an episode being whisked away by an unidentified female. A man of mystery is Gibbs and the only real glimpse we catch of his private life is the occasional moment he spends in his cellar working on the construction of a large wooden boat.

Gibbs knows all and sees all, much to the consternation of the two young guns in the team, both obviously planted for their sex appeal. Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) is the resident hunk but, in a neat twist, he is also an insecure, skirt-chasing male chauvinist who constantly meets his match in the sexy, smart, no- nonsense Agent Kate Todd (Sasha Alexander).

The constant repartee between the two, usually resulting in a devastating put-down by Todd, is often funny and only serves to heighten the sexual tension that forms an undercurrent to the relationship. Then at times they are allies, united in their common awe of the omniscient but wryly humorous, Gibbs.

In the second series, which began this year, we are seeing more of another player who was gradually introduced through a small part in series one. Sean Murray is Agent Tim McGee, a nerdy computer genius who has been promoted to field-agent and much is made of his wide- eyed introduction to the big time.

McGee provokes jokes and rivalry from DiNozzo, who is paranoid about his place on the promotion totem pole, and support from Todd, who relishes DiNozzo's discomfort. And, in a most unlikely liaison, the bumbling rookie finds romance with Abby, who is captivated by his ability to talk geek.

NCIS manages that rare combination of entertaining characters, smart dialogue and intricate plots that deliver their fair share of tension. It's one of the current crop of science-based shows in which the on-screen chemistry works.

NCIS screens on Sundays at 10.30pm on Channel Ten. 9/14/03

Title: Tuesday's Star to Watch: David McCallum

The role: Pathologist Theodore (Ducky) Mallard, who comes to life whenever a pretty girl enters the room, on "Navy NCIS."

Where you've seen him before: As one of the Men from U.N.C.L.E.

He'll remind you of: Benny Hill

Why we love him: Bringing back the 1960s spy icon is a much sounder idea than a big-screen version of "I Spy."

Bet you didn't know: He divorced Jill Ireland, who later married Charles Bronson.

On his latest role: "My wife is a little upset because I always bring my work home. And she says, 'You're now playing a pathologist. And you keep bringing these books home. I'm scared to open whatever comes in from'"

Miami Herald Posted on Mon, Sep. 15, 2003

McCallum Back in CBS' 'Navy NCIS'
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - The mop of hair. The iconoclastic turtleneck. A beguiling foreign accent.

It worked for the Beatles in the 1960s and for actor David McCallum, who went from sidekick to sex symbol playing a hip secret agent in "The Man From U.N.C.L.E."

Nearly 40 years later, McCallum is back in a TV series with CBS' new military crime drama "Navy NCIS." He's still got the longish hair (a bit less blond, a bit more gray) and, as he turns 70, the same zeal for acting.

Whether he steals the show from star Mark Harmon, as he did from Robert Vaughn in "U.N.C.L.E.," remains to be seen. But McCallum's eccentric and roguish character in "Navy NCIS" clearly has potential.

He's Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard, a medical examiner who assists the Navy Criminal Investigative Service, led by Harmon's Special Agent Gibbs, in tackling crimes connected to Navy or Marine Corps personnel.

As played by the youthful McCallum, Ducky is a middle-aged lecher but endearing nonetheless.

"If you have someone who likes to chat up young girls and you cast somebody who's really elderly looking, it could go tacky," he observed. "Somehow, I can get away with it, which I think is a great compliment."

Sasha Alexander, Michael Weatherly and Pauley Perrette co-star in the series, debuting 8 p.m. EDT Tuesday, Sept. 23, on CBS.

From "JAG" producer Donald P. Bellisario, "Navy NCIS" slices together the military flavor of "JAG" with the forensics flash made popular by another CBS hit, "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."

McCallum is glad to be part of the alphabet soup, even though it meant moving from his family and home in Manhattan and setting up a West Coast apartment. He also makes the roughly 70-mile roundtrip drive to the studio north of Los Angeles where Bellisario films his series.

"I don't believe in anything negative," McCallum said, recalling how he invited a colleague annoyed over a long day of shooting to consider thosewho would long for their jobs.

"Puh-leeze," McCallum said, heavy on the sarcasm.

He's enjoyed a steady career, one that began with a decision not to follow his parents into music. David McCallum Sr. was first violinist for the London Philharmonic; Dorothy Dorman was a cellist.

Born Sept. 19, 1933, in Glasgow, Scotland, McCallum studied music (the oboe, which he still plays) but fell for the actor's life. His appeared in films including 1958's "A Night to Remember," about the doomed Titanic, and 1962's "Billy Budd."

In 1964-68, he set teenage hearts racing as cool, Russian-born Illya Kuryakin, fighting the evil crime syndicate THRUSH with partner Napoleon Solo (Vaughn) under the direction of Mr. Waverly, played by veteran film actor Leo G. Carroll.

(A short-lived spinoff, 1966-67's "The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.," starred Stefanie Powers and Noel Harrison, son of actor Rex Harrison). Has he put his one-time burst of TV stardom into perspective? "It's gone into its own perspective," he said. "It was great, and I'm very affectionate toward the whole thing."

He recalled an article which speculated that, were it not for "U.N.C.L.E.," McCallum probably would have made his career in England and ended up Sir David and a National Theatre stalwart.

"You can start going off on ridiculous conjectures about what might have happened, but you can do that if you cross one road or don't cross," the actor said.

Instead, he's worked in both Britain and the United States, appearing on stage ("Amadeus," "Julius Caesar," "Communicating Doors"), in smaller films and on TV (including parts on "Law & Order" and "Sex and the City" and in the British series "Colditz" and "Sapphire and Steel.")

Interviewed over a diet soda at a British-style pub in Santa Monica, McCallum mentions that he's a longtime U.S. citizen. "I have always loved

the freedom of this country and everything it stands for. And I live here, and I like to vote here."

He's been married since 1967 to interior designer Katherine Carpenter - part of the venerable McMillen Inc. design firm, he says proudly - with whom he has two children. H's looking forward to becoming a grandfather for the second time, with their daughter due to deliver later this month. (McCallum and his first wife, the late actress Jill Ireland, had three sons, one of whom died from a drug overdose.)

With "Navy NCIS," he's not expecting the kind of frenzied fandom he inspired during his "U.N.C.L.E." days. But McCallum likes to think his work still can have an impact.

"I hope I get letters from pathologists," he said.

News Service review in the Vancouver Sun:

Navy agents get off to a bland start
Mark Harmon's underplaying and David McCallum's droll wit stand out in the inoffensive Navy NCIS

Alex Strachan
Canwest News Services



Debuts Sept. 23 on CH, CBS

Rating 2 1/2

Navy NCIS is an ensemble drama about a team of special agents -- NCIS stands for Naval Criminal Investigative Service -- whose mission is to investigate any crime connected to U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. personnel, regardless of rank or position.

Navy NCIS was inspired by JAG and hails from JAG's creator and executive producer, onetime Magnum P.I. and Rockford Files head writer
Donald Bellisario.

"Inspired by" is not the same as a spinoff, Bellisario insists: NCIS is an entirely separate entity, whereas a spinoff implies use of the same characters and similar stories.

Features Mark Harmon, David McCallum, Michael Weatherly, Sasha Alexander and Pauley Perrette.


"If you want to look at it in the Law & Order mode, NCIS is law, JAG is order. NCIS is about military investigative officers operating in a proactive way. JAG is about investigative officers operating in a reactive way."

-- Donald Bellisario

The inside skinny:

Mark Harmon has one of those faces that was made for the small screen. He has a way of looking pensive and thoughtful, even when saying lineslike, "Yes, sir," and, "No, sir," and "You get your head around this murder case or you pull your tailored suit out of mothballs and you march your butt right back to the J. Edgar Hoover building. Am I clear, Agent Blackadder?"

Harmon has a natural talent for underplaying, which serves him in good stead in something as innocuous as Navy NCIS. Canadian David James Elliott has made himself a tidy little career underplaying the lead role of a military lawyer on JAG for going on seven years now (proving that you can't keep a good Canadian down, even when the U.S. military is involved), and TV is full of performers who take it the other way, gesturing wildly and barreling over the top.

David McCallum, the onetime Man from U.NC.L.E., plays NCIS' resident ham like the old pro he is, playing a lecherous forensic pathologist named "Ducky" with a droll wit that is too good for the material.

That material is precisely what's wrong with NCIS. Based on a two-hour special episode of JAG about a murdered naval officer that introduced viewers to the NCIS cast last season, and an opening hour that sounds suspiciously like the movie Air Force One, the new version feels like more of the same old same old: Bland, inoffensive and not very interesting, despite the strong cast.

The big picture:

CBS has shrewdly placed NCIS in JAG's old time period and moved JAG to Fridays, which means more than a few JAG fans are liable to tune in and wonder how David James Elliott's hair turned grey all of a sudden. You may not watch JAG, but a lot of people do. My guess is they'll take to Harmon in NCIS as easily as they took to Elliott in JAG.

From 9/23/03 TVGuide online (

(8 pm/ET, CBS)
Navy NCIS, as in Navy Naval Criminal Investigative Service - the show that's so good they named it twice! It would make a clever ad. I guess it had to be done because CIS would have viewers confusing it with CSI.

Actually, they still will because to some degree the series share more than similar names. CSI's fingerprints and fibers can be found on many crime dramas, and it's easy to see its influence on Navy NCIS.

The series features Mark Harmon as the leader of a team that investigates Navy and Marine-related crimes. It incorporates CSI's high-tech process and its revelation of subtle details that often hold the key to solving a crime. But it is, above all else, a traditional crime drama, where heart and hunches are a sleuth's most important gifts. The show is a bridge between the two styles. The bridge isn't flashy or a new kind of bridge, but it's smooth and sturdy enough to take you where you need to go, assuming that place is an hour of satisfying drama filled with intriguing mystery and likeable characters.

You can't get more likeable than Harmon, who plays Special Agent Leroy Gibbs. Even with so many starched uniforms around, he has the comfortable, easy-going style of Magnum's Hawaiian shirts. The agents are in the military, but separate from its rules. And Gibbs strikes a nice balance between a respect for military protocol and a healthy rebelliousness that helps him get the job done.

His team is filled out by Sasha Alexander, Michael Weatherly, Pauley Perrette and David McCallum (who goes from one of TV's coolest names, Illya Kuryakin, in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., to its goofiest - Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard).

In the opener, a Marine aboard Air Force One drops dead after having lunch with President Bush, played with amazing accuracy by Steve Bridges. Here's where forensics and technology take over. There's a lot of "bagging and tagging" of lunchtime leftovers, and "Ducky" shows off his skills by contradicting the Air Force One physician's report on the time of death.

All of this information is filtered through Gibbs and his instincts. When he's not working, he spends his time building a boat with simple tools. No electricity. No technology. It's telling, because he's a man who still clings to the old, time-worn detective tools of gut intuition, sweat and tenacity.

Why? Because Navy NCIS is a Donald P. Bellisario production, and the creator of the TV hits Magnum, P.I. and JAG (which spun off the series) has given the series the common-man touch that is the hallmark of his best shows. Bellisario was born in Pennsylvania and raised among coal miners. His series connect with regular people because he cares about them. Bellisario says he tells his writers "I want them [viewers] to care about someone in every episode."

Well, I've read several upcoming scripts and I care. And I'm sure I won't be alone. - William John Ecklund

TV REVIEW | 'NAVY NCIS' NY Times 9/23/03
More Forensic Science in the Service of America

Now is the time for fans of "JAG," who are known for keeping the show second only to country in their hearts, to open their homes to another well-plotted show by Donald P. Bellisario that involves patriotism and forensics. It is "Navy NCIS," and it will have its premiere tonight on CBS. When "JAG" is not on, "Navy NCIS" works very well for a fix of martial badinage, wholly justified gunplay and women in epaulets.

Mark Harmon plays Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, a laconic boat builder and renegade criminal investigator. Any crime that concerns personnel from the Navy or the Marines, even tangentially, is his business. In the pilot a battle over jurisdiction briefly threatens to stand in for real action, but the episode rights itself as officers keep dropping dead from an esoteric poison. (Bless those experts; to the untrained eye the foam at the mouth looks like dishwashing detergent.) Tracing what he imagines to be Harrison Ford's footsteps on Air Force One in the movie "Air Force One," Mr. Harmon does come to seem as if he might be television's answer to Mr. Ford — a sober-minded maverick with a grin. The first episode of "Navy NCIS" certainly invites the comparison.

A gifted George W. Bush mimic appears only in shadowy partial profiles, but he successfully installs Potus in the action. When one of his guardians drops dead, things fall apart and are illegally reconstructed by Gibbs, acting in concert with the gorgeous Caitlin Todd (Sasha Alexander), Gibbs's special friend and another special agent.

A small but breathtaking bit of stagecraft enlivens what could be just another love-hate relationship: Gibbs, at one point, rips a high- end laptop computer from Todd's hands and hurls it aside. This act is cliché busting, and the jolt it produces calls attention to a pocket assumption: that the laptop is a brilliant but defenseless creature, vulnerable even to a moderate smack in the face and deserving of succor. Do those machines know we care so much?

The supporting cast includes David McCallum as Dr. Donald Mallard, called Ducky — he's fun — and Pauley Perrette as a Goth girl who works in a lab.


CBS, tonight at 8, Eastern and Pacific times; 7, Central time

Created, directed and written by Donald P. Bellisario. Produced by Belisarius Productions in association with Paramount Network Television.
WITH: Mark Harmon (Leroy Jethro Gibbs), Sasha Alexander (Caitlin Todd), Michael Weatherly (Anthony DiNozzo), Pauley Perrette (Abby Sciuto) and David McCallum (Dr. Donald Mallard). - Marc Berman Programming Insider 7/23/03

-He's Cooler Than Ever:
After receiving an e-mail from a reader asking if upcoming Naval NCIS (and former The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) star David McCallum is still "cool," I asked him that very question when I ran into him at the hotel yesterday. "Tell that person I'm not cool, I'm super cool." Based on this writer's assessment, I have to agree.


Navy NCIS - Tuesday 8:00 p.m.

Viewers looking for "JAG" (which moves to Friday) may find this spinoff, airing in its parent series' time period with former "St. Elsewhere" star Mark Harmon, an even more appealing option. Although the return of FOX's "American Idol" in midseason looms on the horizon, don't count out this team of special agents whose mission is to investigate any crime that has evidence connected to Navy and Marine Corps personnel. Anything David McCallum ("The Man From U.N.C.L.E.") appears in has to be considered "cool."