When Gibbs swam away from his boat in the 18th season of NCIS, viewers thought that was the final curtain. Of course, it wasn’t, but he didn’t stick around for much longer after that. Why did Mark Harmon leave the show in such a dramatic fashion, though? And what was going on behind the scenes to cause his exit?
There had been rumors about a departure during season 18, and fans could have been forgiven for thinking that Harmon would be leaving when his boat blew up. But Gibbs turned up again for the first few episodes of the 19th season before rapidly leaving again.
So you can see why fans thought there could have been more to the situation than met the eye.
Rumors circulated for a good while that Harmon would be leaving the show. When Cote de Pablo came back — and we started to see a bit more of Ziva David — the idea got loose that she would fill Gibbs’ boots.
Harmon had made no secret of his desire to spend more time on his ranch in Montana.
So, perhaps it wasn’t entirely a surprise that producers wrote Gibbs out of the show. In the fateful episode, he finally finishes his business with Paul Lemere and disappears from view on his boat.
And the opening episodes of the season certainly make Gibbs’ exit seem almost inevitable.
Harmon has been involved with NCIS since it first aired in 2003. He’s appeared as Gibbs in more than 400 episodes!
And it’s fair to say that he has been central to the show’s success. Only Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has aired for longer than NCIS. But will it survive the departure of Gibbs? Rumor has it that there’s a lot of angst on set, so maybe more people will follow in Harmon’s footsteps...
Too old for drama
Harmon turned 70 in September 2021. Maybe he felt he was too long in the tooth to deal with work drama.
Perhaps it was time for him to take up some new hobbies or do more of what he used to love. When Harmon was younger, for instance, he was great at football — just like his dad. He was even good enough to pursue a career in it, but his good looks got him noticed elsewhere. Hollywood was calling!
The fledgling actor also caught the eye of actress Pam Dawber. The two got hitched back in 1987, but it was no Hollywood wedding; only a handful of guests were invited.
It’s fair to say they make a great couple, though. The pair are still together all these years later, and they’ve since had two boys to round out their family.
You may remember Dawber, mainly if you were a fan of comedy back in the 1980s. Yes, she’s Mindy from Mork & Mindy.
And as she also popped up in four episodes of NCIS in 2021, she would also have a glimpse at what it was like behind the scenes. So did Dawber have anything to do with Harmon’s departure?
Given that they’re superstars, you’d think the couple must constantly be spread across the gossip pages, right? But, nope.
They like to keep things private, and that began from day one. Dawber told People back when they were engaged, “We’re not trying to keep something secret, but if you don’t want it totally exploited by the press, you have to.”
Dawber herself has kept a low profile, living mainly as a stay-at-home mom. She explained why to ET in 2016, saying, “I don’t think two people can work all the time in show business and stay married… I did everything you could do in this business.
And then I had children, and it’s like, ‘I’m not going to chase this fame thing.’”
Instead, Dawber found satisfaction in more day-to-day jobs. For example, she said, “I wanted to drive my kids to school.
I wanted to be there for their birthdays and bring cupcakes and donuts and do the school festivals and all that, and I did. I got to teach in their art class... It was a different life then, and I was very happy to do it.”
Mind you; the pair haven’t always had it their way. Just after marrying, they went through some legal problems.
Harmon was fighting his sister Kristin for custody of his teenage nephew. Kristin was accused of being a drug user, and Harmon wanted to give the kid a stable home. It all turned a bit nasty, though, when Dawber faced questioning about her alleged substance use.
The whole affair did cause some troubles in Harmon and Dawber’s marriage. But Harmon and Kristin managed to patch up their relationship and were friendly enough until she passed away in 2018.
An insider told OK! Why he’d been willing to make up with her, saying, “[Harmon is] a tough guy, but he’s loyal and doesn’t hold grudges.”
Still, the couple’s togetherness may suffer now that Harmon is out of the show. He was reported to be keen on “finally kicking back with his wife,” but Dawber has other ideas.
The insider noted, “[She] feels [appearing on NCIS] could be her big shot to get back out there. [Dawber would] like to have [Harmon’s] support, but friends think she’ll follow her heart on this one.”
Perhaps Harmon’s tales of on-set drama will put her off the idea. For one, when he was on the show, the actor seemed to have a fraught relationship with Pauley Perrette.
The two fell out after Harmon’s dog reportedly snapped at a person working behind the scenes. That individual had to have stitches as a result.
But what supposedly ruffled Perrette’s feathers, even more was that after this, Harmon kept bringing Dave the dog to work with him. She confronted him about it, feeling it wasn’t very considerate.
And while some allegedly felt Perrette was only saying what others were thinking, it didn’t go well with Harmon.
According to The Wrap, the two stars stopped working together simultaneously. Their parts were even written, so they didn’t end up next to each other on set.
A source told the website in 2018, “She did her scenes on one day, and he did his work on other days, and they still produced a great show. So it was simply scheduled that they did not work the same days.”
But Perrette was not content to let sleeping dogs lie after she left the show. Instead, she got on Twitter and let the world know she was unhappy.
Followers learned that she felt the media was telling untruths about her. Then Perrette dropped the bombshell that “he” had done something terrible. And people reading didn’t seem to need two guesses who “he” was.
Perrette even claimed that Harmon had given her “nightmares.” But what’s amazing is that the accused actor kept mum about the whole affair.
And when an insider shared what his views were, they weren’t what you could call fiery. That person told OK!, “He says he had nothing to do with it, and he wishes her the best.”
The network also chimed in, claiming that the dog incident wasn’t why Perrette left. A spokesperson said in a statement, “Pauley Perrette had a terrific run on NCIS, and we are all going to miss her.
However, over a year ago, [she] came to us with a workplace concern. We took the matter seriously and worked with her to find a resolution. We are committed to a safe work environment on all our shows.”
And, of course, Harmon’s departure was also steeped in drama. First, Gibbs resolves his last case — and the cliffhanger that ends season 18.
Then he turns in his badge and sails off on a boat. Regular viewers of NCIS will recognize the boat as the one Gibbs had been working on in his cellar.
After the last case is resolved in Alaska, Gibbs tells Timothy McGee, “I’m not going back home.” Resolving the matter had, he says, given him a “sense of peace.”
And there may not have been a dry eye among the folk watching at home as Gibbs tells McGee how much he means to him.
That ending hadn’t come as a complete surprise. There had been whispers about Harmon wanting to go long before the season began.
The Hollywood Reporter even ran a story about how he was set to leave at the end of season 18. But Harmon signed up for another year — albeit in a restricted way.
Speaking to People in 2019, Harmon explained when he’d know the time was right to leave. The star said, “I’ve always thought if there’s ever a time where the writers are walking into the room and going, ‘I don’t know what to do,’ then I think we all have to look at each other and call it a day.
But we’re not there yet.” It doesn’t look like they’d got to this point when Harmon did leave, though. So what happened?
The actor even said you shouldn’t expect to see him in a similar role when he quit. Harmon explained, “I’ve been around long enough to know what this is.
That commitment is part of what I signed up for. So I know when this show ends, that’s it. There won’t be anything else like this for me.”
In 2019, an inside source told OK! that Harmon had been “saying for a long time that he needs more time off to spend with his family and that he wants a smaller workload.”
That all came to a head at the end of season 18 when Harmon told the producers he wanted out. Why did the actor stay on, then? There was a fear that the show would be axed altogether if he left.
Maybe Harmon felt he should stay long enough to bed in a replacement. And that’s not Cote de Pablo, after all.
It’s not even Sean Murray. Instead, it's Gary Cole became a series regular in season 19. When his character Alden Parker was introduced, the network insisted that he was there to help — not take over from — Gibbs.
But as the new season progressed, it became obvious that Parker was in fact replacing Gibbs. Harmon’s leaving became all the more inevitable.
And the network, it seemed, had not been quite straight with the fans.
Some fans were really annoyed when they realized what was going on. For one hardcore supporter of the show, it was too much to bear.
They said CBS had “flat out” lied to the fans. And one thing in particular seemed to upset them.
It wasn’t that Cole had gotten the gig. After all, he’s a veteran actor who seems to be up to the gargantuan task of replacing Harmon.
No, it was that McGee is not stepping up to become the central character. He’s been around since the first season, after all, and fans thought that he was being groomed for the job.
Sore about Gibbs
The fury was tangible as one fan tweeted, “You said Parker was not a replacement for Gibbs. That is exactly what you were planning.”
And the anger didn’t stop there. “Second beef: Gibbs would have never recommended Parker over McGee for leader. The job should have been McGee’s!” they wrote.
Showrunner Steven D. Binder had an answer to the fan’s ire.
He tweeted, “I, personally, would not presume to think Gibbs recommended Parker over McGee. I would like to think Gibbs and McGee had plenty of time to talk about the future and what McGee told Torres on the stake-out… Gibbs already knew…”
But if Binder hoped that this would end the beef, he had another thing coming. Another fan tweeted, “Not cool, passing over McGee — inconsistent writing.
After training and depending on McGee, Gibbs would have picked him.” And while McGee eventually makes it clear that he doesn’t want the job, fans didn’t buy that, either.
One person wrote in defense of their favorite, “McGee deserves the job — not Parker. Boot Parker, give him his own team if necessary, but this team is McGee’s.”
Another expressed their own angst at the decision, writing, “Really can’t believe that Vance offers Gibbs’ job to Parker! Slap in the face to McGee.”
So, Gibbs is out, and Parker is in. And that’s it resolved, right?
Well, not quite. Harmon is expected to return at some point as a guest. Given his importance to the show, it’s not really surprising. The actor will also remain involved in NCIS as an executive producer, so it’s not a completely clean break. The drama he experienced with Perrette wasn’t enough to keep him away for good.
For now, Harmon’s just chilling. OK!’s source said, “Mark may be worth well over $100 million, but he’s never been a big spender.”
The actor even likes to do his own home repairs. “[Harmon] spends afternoons doing carpentry, working on his cars, or cooking with Pam [Dawber]. Those are the moments he cherishes,” the insider added.
Warming to the subject, the source continued, “[Harmon has] changed over the years. He’s mellowed with age, and he’s not as buttoned-up as he seems.
He might come off as standoffish, but people will be shocked to know he has a great sense of humor and is actually a pretty easygoing guy.”
But Binder didn’t expect that Harmon would leave the world of NCIS altogether. He said in a statement, “Our north star has always been staying true to our characters, and that truth has always guided the stories we tell and where those characters go.
So, regarding the future of Gibbs, as long-time fans of the show may have noticed over the years… never count Leroy Jethro Gibbs out.” But what about the other characters who have left? Why did they leave — and, more importantly, will they be back?
Before she starred as medical examiner Maura Isles on seven seasons of TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles, Sasha Alexander was one of the original stars of NCIS. In fact, the latter show’s 2003 pilot episode was based around Alexander’s character Caitlin Todd joining the NCIS team.
But in a move that shocked fans, she walked away from the show after only two seasons.
Both Alexander and show co-creator Donald Bellisario were honest about the reason for her departure. Bellisario told The Chicago Tribune in 2005, “I had already started writing the last episode of the season and was getting ready to go to Australia to take a little break.
[Alexander] came in two days before I was [due] to leave, and with tears in her eyes, she said, ‘I just can’t work this hard.’”
The grueling schedule of a network TV show was simply too much for Alexander, and she decided to get out. The star told TV Guide in 2012, “People don’t realize that on a network show you make 24 episodes a year – that’s ten and a half months a year, 17 hours a day.
A special case
Bellisario understood Alexander’s predicament, as NCIS is a difficult show to make and a huge commitment for its actors. To his credit, even though she was under contract to CBS, he went to the higher ups and encouraged them to release her.
Bellisario told the Chicago Tribune, “You don’t want to force someone to work when she says this is not what she expected it to be.”
Adam Jamal Craig
The life of an actor on a TV show – especially one like NCIS – can be fraught with anxiety. After all, the possibility of your character being killed off or written out of the show is always there in the background.
Star Daniela Ruah told TVGuide.com in 2010 that “you never know who’s going to stay and who’s going to go.” She added, “For [the cast], it can be a little scary here and there.”
Gone too soon
Unfortunately for actor Adam Jamal Craig, this is exactly what happened to him during the first season of spinoff NCIS: Los Angeles. His character – rookie agent Dominic Vail – first went missing in action when he was mysteriously kidnapped.
When his team came to the rescue, an ensuing battle left him dead in a hail of gunfire. All told, he only appeared in 13 episodes of the show.
“No one’s safe”
Executive producer Shane Brennan told Entertainment Weekly in 2010 that it was purely a creative decision designed to keep the audience on their toes. He said, “I’m a great believer in playing with the audience’s expectations.”
Brennan went on, “I want them to know that nothing is sacred. And the cast is aware that this is the game I play. No one’s safe.”
Taking it in his stride
Craig took the decision well, which is admirable considering he was losing his job. The actor told Entertainment Weekly in an email, “I had big hopes for Agent Vail, so, naturally, it took me by surprise.
But I have complete trust and respect in [Brennan’s] vision for the characters and the world he created.” Overall, it was a very classy response to the situation!
Lauren Holly was a series regular on NCIS for three seasons between 2005 and 2008. She played Jenny Shepherd: director of the eponymous agency.
According to Holly in a post on her website, the role was originally only intended to be a short six-episode stint. She was perfectly happy with this, as it meant the actress could still spend plenty of time with her family.
Changes to the team
Then, when the decision was made to keep her on the show as a regular, she moved her family from Chicago to L.A. Holly did this for two years, but eventually a few things conspired to sour her experience somewhat.
The star added that despite enjoying her time on the show and making some great friends, she was upset when there was a seismic shift in the creative team.
Holly wrote on her website, “I was saddened that Don Bellisario was forced out, and I missed him a lot.” This was a reference to behind-the-scenes turmoil on the show.
There were rumors that Bellisario and the show’s star Mark Harmon didn’t get along, and it reportedly led to a standoff that ended in the former’s resignation as a showrunner.
On top of this, Holly admitted that her role had left her feeling creatively uninspired.
She confessed, “To be honest, now that the work bug had bitten me again, I got bored with my part of the ‘Director.’” Therefore, when word came down that the character was to be killed off, Holly wasn’t exactly too broken up about it.
English actor Duane Henry was put on the map after being cast as Clayton Reeves in NCIS. When he started the role, the actor was so new to L.A.
that he couch surfed, as he had no place of his own to live. He revealed to TVLine that when co-star Pauley Perrette heard this, she stepped in and organized for him to stay in one of her houses!
It was therefore fitting that when Henry’s character was killed off after two seasons on the show, it was while sacrificing his life to save Perrette’s character Abby. The former told TVLine that “to be wrapping up with her was incredible, a dream come true for anyone.”
He was also extremely happy with the heroic exit that was written for Reeves.
A sad time
Overall, leaving the show was an emotional experience for Henry, even though it was something he’d had an inkling about for quite some time. You see, Reeves had been created by showrunner Gary Glasberg, but when he tragically died, the character fell into a state of limbo.
Henry explained that “when [he] passed, I was feeling a bit of panic in people’s faces.”
Prepared for the worst
Henry got the distinct impression that nobody really knew what was in store for the Reeves character. So, the young actor adjusted his thinking to prepare for the worst.
He admitted, “I kind of got my bearings together and thought, ‘What’s going to happen now with the character?’ I live in a world called ‘You Never Know,’ so I’m always prepared for everything.”
For seven seasons, veteran actor Miguel Ferrer played Assistant Director Owen Granger on NCIS: Los Angeles. The star continued playing the character until 2017 when he tragically died from throat cancer.
His illness was actually incorporated into the show, with Granger depicted as suffering from an unnamed disease brought on by his smoking.
Loved his job
The show’s executive producer R. Scott Gemmill was interviewed by CBS about Ferrer.
And the former was full of praise for the work ethic of a man who would attend script reads for episodes he didn’t even have any lines in. Gemmill said, “The most important thing to [Ferrer] was working. He loved the craft and he kept working all the time – even when we didn’t want him to work.”
Keeping going for the show
Star Chris O’Donnell told CBS that he believed the program was of vital importance to Ferrer in his final years. He said, “I think the show was kind of keeping him alive for a while there because it gave him something to look forward to.
But he was coming here, and it got to the point where he couldn’t even speak, and they were trying to work around that.”
Doing what he loved until the end
It was a cruel twist of fate for an actor known for the gravitas held in his voice, but Ferrer still fought to be able to act until his dying day. Producer Frank Military said, “One of the beautiful parts of his instrument was his voice.
And that’s what was affected.” He poignantly added, “[Ferrer] was an actor and that’s what he was going to do until the end. He was going to act.”
In January 2016 Michael Weatherly made a bombshell announcement on his Twitter page. He revealed that after 13 long years he was leaving NCIS and his character Tony DiNozzo behind.
The actor tweeted, “DiNozzo is a wonderful, quixotic character and I couldn’t have had more fun playing him over the past 13 seasons.”
Weatherly’s final episode aired in May of that year, and by August he was already on the promotional trail for Bull – his new CBS drama. During a panel at the Television Critics Association’s press tour, Weatherly unveiled why he felt it was the right time to leave.
With great honesty, he said, “I was burnt out by NCIS and I was ready for a new challenge.”
“Change is as good as rest”
Weatherly also explained why he was able to immediately sign up to a new network show – despite feeling tired. The actor admitted, “Sometimes change is as good as rest.”
Overall, Weatherly was incredibly pleased with his tenure on NCIS and felt that the DiNozzo character had done everything he could possibly do.
Happy with his character
“It really felt like a circle that had gone all the way around and I really felt happy with the resolution of character and my time on the show,” Weatherly concluded. In the end, it was CBS’ desire to keep the star on the network that led it to offer him Bull.
As executive producer Paul Attanasio said, “There is nothing in entertainment like a star in a star part.”
In 2011 Zoe McLellan joined the cast of NCIS for season 11. Her character Meredith “Merri” Brody would then go on to become one of the leads of spinoff NCIS: New Orleans.
Unfortunately, in 2016 after two seasons McLellan left the show. But why? Well, TVLine reported that she’d departed due to a “creative decision.”
What’s the truth?
Over the coming years, it would become increasingly likely this was not the real reason McLellan parted ways with the show. In January 2019 former showrunner Jeffrey Lieber claimed to Vulture that he’d been put under huge pressure from people above him to fire McLellan.
The staffer added that he was confused about why the executives had wanted her gone.
“I thought [McLellan] was doing a good job and that the audience was connected to her, especially because testing bore that out,” Lieber said. To him, the reason for any bad feeling had to be a fault on his part; perhaps CBS weren’t happy with how her character was being portrayed?
Anyway, he wrote Brody a compelling backstory in several well-received episodes. But the pressure remained.
Lieber then alleged one higher-up confessed to him that CBS chairman Les Moonves didn’t find McLellan attractive, and that was why he wanted her fired. Lieber eventually left the show and was replaced by Brad Kern.
The senior staffer allegedly also said inappropriate things about the actress before writing her out of the show. Perhaps fittingly, Kern was himself fired a few years later for apparent misconduct toward various women who worked on the show.
Cote de Pablo
Cote de Pablo played Ziva David for eight seasons of NCIS but left under a cloud in 2013. Though fans were kept in the dark about the reason for her departure.
She told TV Guide that year, “As far as my decision to leave, that’s a personal thing, and I’d rather leave it at that.” The character wasn’t killed off, though, which meant fans always held out hope that she could return.
Leaving for her character
Yet the plot thickened in 2016 when de Pablo got candid during a Q&A. She said, “Look, I love this character.
I worked eight years crafting this character and loving her. And so, when I felt or I perceived that the character was not being treated with the respect that she deserved, no money in the world [would make me stay].”
Disliking the script
“They were going to send her back to Israel and make her an unfortunate, miserable woman,” de Pablo went on. “And I didn’t think it was fair.
So I said, ‘Unless someone can really write something fantastic for her, I won’t go back.’” Three years later, this came to pass, as de Pablo did return to the series for a short arc.
No option to stay
Strangely, though, de Pablo then argued to USA Today that her 2016 comments were taken out of context. She added, “...
I’m not ready to talk about that yet. I will someday. But I didn’t leave because I wanted to go or because I was ready or because I was tired. I didn’t really have an option.” In the end, the whole situation is about as clear as mud!
Lucas Black debuted as Agent Christopher LaSalle in NCIS before becoming one of the stars of NCIS: New Orleans. In total, he starred in 142 episodes of the franchise and firmly established himself as a fan favorite during that time.
Fans were clearly shocked and saddened, then, when the character died during season six. Though why was Black written out?
In a video posted to the show’s official Twitter page, Black revealed, “This show has been so good to me over the years – exceeding my expectations and goals. But this job isn’t easy for me, there are a lot of priorities in my life that get sacrificed for me to be here.
But it’s time for me to focus on those priorities in my life.”
Grateful to fans
In essence, Black wanted to spend more time with his wife and kids. On his own Twitter page, the actor explained in a video, “That’s all she wrote for Agent LaSalle.”
He also thanked the fans for their support over the years, before poignantly adding, “You were there to celebrate the victories and to pick me up when I needed it and I appreciate that.”
Interestingly though, Newsweek theorized that Black had left because he was returning to the Fast & Furious franchise in a big way. He’d starred in the third movie before returning for a cameo in the seventh.
After leaving the show, Black was confirmed to be in the ninth instalment, but he admitted on a podcast that his NCIS schedule had prevented him from appearing in the eighth movie.