‘NCIS’ Producers Recall Thinking Mark Harmon’s Exit in 2021 Was ‘the Death Knell’ for the Series

Manufacturers NCIS look back at Mark Harmon’s exit from the CBS series.

Executive producer Charles Floyd Johnson said The Hollywood Reporter that he believed Harmon’s departure in 2021 would be the “death knell” for the procedural after playing Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs for nearly two decades.

“To come in at 6:30 in the morning, five days a week, and be the main character that was the backbone — that’s pretty tough, and he’s done it for 18 seasons,” he said of Harmon, 72. with whom he was approaching the age of 70 and with whom he wanted to spend time [wife] Pam [Dawber] and his children.”

He continued: “So he pushed for it. It probably started [with him dropping hints] around the 15th or 16th season. But he was so loyal to that team and so supportive of the series. He was very proud of it and stayed longer than he had intended.”

Mark Harmon on ‘NCIS’. Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty Mark Harmon wanted to ‘keep it fresh’ before ‘NCIS’ departure — but teases Gibbs that he’s ‘not retired’

Director James Whitmore Jr. he recalled wondering how the show would move forward without Harmon, telling the news outlet, “When Harmon talked about leaving, and there was a chance he might not come back, I said, ‘How is this guy going to replace him?’ And they brought in the only guy who could do it, and that was Gary Cole.”

Johnson admits that the show was “golden” when Cole joined NCIS in Season 19 to play Special Agent Alden Park.

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“There were a lot of names being talked about,” he recalled. “When everyone finally decided we were going to make an offer to Gary Cole, we didn’t say it to him like, ‘He’s going to be the new Gibbs.’ We told him he was going to come in and we weren’t sure if he was going to stay with the team, so he doesn’t have to feel like he’s stepped into the shoes of someone who’s been there for 18 seasons.”

Gary Cole NCIS

Gary Cole on ‘NCIS’.

CBS

Mark Harmon describes what the end of ‘NCIS’ will mean — and how long he will stay on the show

Executive producer Mark Horowitz reflected on how the introduction of Cole’s character changed the dynamic of the show, explaining, “When Gibbs was in charge, he was the leader, and everyone was pretty much under him. When Gary Cole’s character came in, it loosened up a bit and allowed McGee (Sean Murray) to become a senior agent, and they have a bit more authority. So that opened up space for other possibilities.”

Back in August 2022, Harmon said goodbye to the procedural in the fourth episode of season 19 when his character Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs decided to stay in Alaska indefinitely after solving the case.

“What I’ve always been drawn to here is the character that I play and to keep it fresh and challenging,” Harmon said in a special feature on the Season 19 DVD release, per Party tonight. “Plot-wise, this character took the path he took. I thought that was fair and OK.”

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Harmon — who has starred on the show since it premiered in 2003 — also said he believes his beloved character is “not retired,” adding, “The character lives in Alaska as far as I know.”

Mark Harmon

Mark Harmon and Pauley Perrette in ‘NCIS’. Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images ‘NCIS’ flops! The long-running CBS franchise will debut its first international edition with ‘NCIS: Sydney’

After the episode, executive producer Steve Binder opened up about Harmon’s departure from the long-running series.

“As an executive producer and a dear friend, Mark continues to be an integral part of the fabric of the show. Our North Star has always been true to our characters, and that truth has always guided the stories we tell and where those characters go,” he told PEOPLE in a statement. So as for Gibbs’ future, as longtime fans of the show may have noted over the years…never count Leroy Jethro Gibbs out.”

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“Mark has always been a part of the show, Mark will always be a part of the show,” CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl told Deadline in September 2021. “As far as his on-air appearances, we’ll just have to see what he looks like going forward.”

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