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Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima........

A question people have been asking me for years: Do you ever write anything you completely regret later?

Answer: Sure. Not all that often, thank heaven, but I almost instantly regretted something I wrote in my TV column last Friday about how good the cast of "NCIS" was (a column, by the way, about which I received a fair-sized share of congratulatory e-mails and nods of agreement — and from some surprising people too.)

The paragraph I wrote that I hated just hours after I wrote it compared the show's Michael Weatherly to an actor who might have been named "Rock" or "Tab" in the '50s rather than the horndog named DiNozzo that he plays. It smacked of all the cheap, smarmy nastiness I've always deplored. I was trying to make a distinction between actor and a role I've never thought he was right for, but I went from A to C in too few words and left out all the crucial "B" stuff that mattered. As a result, I wound up implying things I never wanted to say and not saying what I DID want to say. I was being far too economical.

Weatherly himself wrote me an e-mail calling me on it (so did one of his fans) and they were both absolutely right.

My point is this: Weatherly is an actor of great verbal snap and charm, but he's really cast completely against type as the movie-quoting DiNozzo. The real actor grew up in Fairfield, Conn. and he's perfect for things like Whit Stillman's 1998 film "The Last Days of Disco" where upper-crust WASPS disport themselves in what seem to be asexual imitations of sex. Weatherly had a small part in the film. Stillman used to make some of the smartest independent films around, requiring a very special kind of actorly intelligence and delivery, but I've never been able to square that off with a lot of the swagger we're supposed to believe about the character of DiNozzo in "NCIS."

But whatever credibility gap there might be for some of us doesn't matter on the show because, to put it mildly, realism isn't the show's game. And Weatherly is so good and so charming at what he's asked to do — as well as so smoothly mixed in with his fellow cast members — that it doesn't matter anyway.

And that reinforces my point about the hugely popular show: it's a smartly engineered actor's triumph, not an investigative franchise that's repeatable ad infinitum with different casts. (As they seem to be trying to prove in the Fall with an L.A. spinoff.)

At least, I hope this gets from A to C without racing through B in smug shorthand.

There, I feel a lot better now. Hope it wasn't too boring.

--Jeff Simon

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