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It's hard enough for a show to get picked up to series, let alone air for many years, but NCIS is still going strong after 15 seasons. The procedural about the Naval Criminal Investigative Service remains one of CBS's flagship shows, though with a decade and a half of airtime, there have certainly been plenty of changes during that time, from actors departing and new people taking their place to the main team's bullpen even being altered. But NCIS's changes haven't just been limited to what's in front of the camera. In fact, Brian Dietzen, who plays Jimmy Palmer, told me that the biggest way the show has changed over the years has been how the cast and crew have streamlined the process for churning out episodes. Dietzen explains:
Our days have gotten shorter. You may have heard stories of our early days, but man, there were a lot of times we were pulling 18 hour days, and the script changes until the last second. We'd start an episode with two acts and wouldn't even know who the killer was. As you do things over and over and over again, you get better at it. Your writers get better, your crew gets better, your actors feel the flow, they get better. And I feel as though we've gotten more efficient with our storytelling, and I think that there's a lot of good stories to tell. I'm still happily surprised when I get new scripts and I think, 'Oh wow, we haven't seen this before. We still haven't done this before.' I feel as though our work process has been better, but we still get to tell great stories.
Brian Dietzen has been playing Jimmy Palmer on NCIS since the Season 1 episode "Split Decision," so he's especially qualified to talk about how NCIS has changed during its run. As the actor told me in a recent interview, in those early years, time on set could stretch to nearly a full day, and the scripts wouldn't be 100% complete until the very last minute. But no TV show is a well-tuned machine from the get-go; it can take a long time to hone the process, and Dietzen believes that the people working on NCIS have done a tremendous job of doing that. And as Dietzen also noted, even with 15 seasons under its belt, there are still plenty of stories for NCIS to tell, some of which surprise even him.
Head to the next page to see what Brian Dietzen told me about how Jimmy Palmer has changed over the years on NCIS.
Jimmy Palmer has also evolved quite a bit over NCIS's run. He was introduced in Season 1 as the assistant medical examiner replacing Donald "Ducky" Mallard's previous assistant, Gerard Jackson, and along with marrying and having a child in the following years, Season 15 saw him becoming the Chief Medical Examiner when Ducky took a sabbatical. In Dietzen's opinion, Jimmy's biggest changes have been primarily related to his career, while the character's optimistic personality has remained intact. As the actor put it:
The way he has changed has essentially been career-wise. It has been his knowledge base, his confidence in operating within the team and the friendships that he's built. The thing that I love about this character that has not changed, and it's interesting that that's one of the things I latch onto with this character, is what eternally remains with him, is that he's eternally the optimist, and he's always looking for the good in each situation. He's looking for the good in the victim, sometimes he's looking for the good in the suspect even. He's a guy who stares death in the face every single day since Day 1, has always come to work with a smile on his face and he's felt fortunate to be there and happy to be part of the team. And I think that's something that a lot of viewers have appreciated too, so I love being able to put on some Jimmy positivity when I go to work each day. Can you imagine going to work for 16 years and having to play a character who was miserable?
Having to examine bodies on a regular basis could definitely wear on someone's soul after a while, especially when you're working in a field where the corpses that come your way rarely die of natural causes. But even though Jimmy Palmer has dealt with his share of struggles and challenges on NCIS, Brian Dietzen is thankful that the character is still able to see the bright sides of life, not just because it makes Jimmy unique, but because it would be a drag to play someone consistently depressed for so long.