By Kate O'Hare
It's Wednesday, May 3, and David McCallum, who plays pathologist Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard on "NCIS" (short for Naval Criminal Investigative Service), is on his way to work. "We have today to shoot," he says, "and then Thursday. We shoot the last scene of the last episode and then I go back to New York the next day."
After closing out its second season last May with the surprise murder of NCIS Special Agent Caitlin "Kate" Todd (Sasha Alexander), the hit CBS drama is looking to end its third season with an equally big bang -- and at least as big a secret.
"Much more so than last season," McCallum says. "They e-mailed the cast one version, which is not the final version. But I think I'm going to survive -- but somebody isn't. It's a spooky thing. Somebody will not be with NCIS.
"When Kate was shot in the head -- I find it very emotionally disturbing when fellow actors get shot. It's very traumatic. But we shall see what we shall see."
The two-part season finale, "Hiatus," written by series executive producer Don Bellisario ("JAG," "Quantum Leap," "Magnum, p.i."), airs on successive Tuesdays, May 9 and 16.
In the episode, a terrorist explosion lands the NCIS squad's leader, Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon), in the hospital. Agent Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) steps up into the role of senior agent, irritating some of his co-workers, who are also trying to cope with their feelings about Gibbs' injuries.
Meanwhile, as Gibbs lies in his hospital bed, he's flooded with memories about his past, including a secret that's no secret to Mossad Liaison Officer Ziva David (Cote de Pablo), who joined the NCIS team at the beginning of the season.
"We're all in peril," McCallum says. "I felt bad for poor old Mark as an actor, because it meant he had to lie in bed all week."
As for who will leave NCIS at the end of the season, McCallum says, "There was a poll taken this year in some newspaper, and I know I was 15 percent. Anyway, here we go, I'll learn Thursday what it's all about."
"NCIS" has improved its performance this season, which is unusual for a show in its third year, and that includes pulling in a more attractive demographic.
"We have a very loyal base," McCallum says. "My son, he's with an advertising agency. They buy into 'NCIS.' He tells me what they're talking about around the offices of the advertisers, and 'NCIS' is a hot show, because the demographics are increasing.
"At one point, we had the group from 'JAG,' which was more to the upper end of the scale, and then he said that all of a sudden, in the second year or the third, we took a big jump into the 18-34 demographic."
For McCallum, who first gained fame in America playing stylish spy Illya Kuryakin on "The Man From UNCLE" in the mid-'60s, "NCIS" has given him a whole new generation of fans.
"The other day in New York," he says, "I was walking along, and this kid, who came up to my waist, said, 'Oh, my God, aren't you Ducky?' Then I said, 'Yes, you have made my week.' It was so cool."
Asked if Ducky minds Tony taking Gibbs' place, McCallum says, "Well, with Gibbs in a hospital, it's automatic. We all step up one, except me. I don't think I do. I just keep chopping them up and figuring how they died."
Copyright © 2005 Tribune Media Services, Inc.