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NCIS Producers Thought Mark Harmon’s Exit Would Kill Show

Photo from NCIS on CBS’ Instagram

NCIS Producers Thought Mark Harmon’s Exit Would Kill Show

By Movieguide® Contributor

When Mark Harmon exited NCIS in 2021, the show lost its most iconic character; two years later, the crime drama is still going strong, but at the time, some believed the show would end.

“We though [Harmon leaving] was the death knell. Coming in at 6:30 a.m., five days a week, and being the major character that was the linchpin—that’s pretty tough, and he did it for 18 seasons,” producer Charles Floyd Johnson told The Hollywood Reporter. “He had just gotten to the place where he was getting close to turning 70, and he wanted to spend time with [his wife] and his kids. So he was leading up to it.”

“It started probably around the 15th or 16th season,” Johnson continued. “But he was so loyal to that crew and so supportive of the show. He was very proud of it, and he stayed on longer than he even intended.”

Replacing Harmon’s character, Gibbs, was difficult because he was so iconic. After 18 seasons, Gibbs was the only major character who had been with the show since the beginning.

“In the end, we hit gold with Gary Cole,” Johnson said. “There were a lot of names bandied about. When everybody finally decided we’d make an offer to Gary Cole, we didn’t pitch it to him as, ‘He was going to become the new Gibbs.’ We pitched it to him that he was going to come in and wasn’t sure he was going to stay with the team, so that he didn’t have to feel like he was stepping into the shoes of someone who had been there for 18 seasons.”

In the end, this approach worked, and Gibb’s departure allowed other characters freedom that they otherwise would not have had.

“When Gibbs was in charge, he was the leader, and everybody was pretty much under him. When the Gary Cole character came in, it loosened up a little bit and allowed McGee (Sean Murray) to become a senior agent, and they have a little bit more authority. So it gave room for other possibilities,” producer Mark Horowitz explained.

Harmon’s potential return, if only for an episode or two, made Cole’s addition to NCIS easier. Harmon has teased his return frequently since his departure.

However, his focus has shifted to his book, “Ghosts of Honolulu: A Japanese American Spy Hunter, and the Untold Story of Pearl Harbor,” which tells a true story from the Office of Naval Intelligence. Since starting the book, Harmon has been less interested in returning to the show.

However, as the book releases in November, he may return when he has more time.

Movieguide® previously reported:

Mark Harmon can’t make up his mind about returning to NCIS.

“Mark’s been teasing a return to the show, and everyone wanted him back,” an inside source shared with Yahoo. 

However, before any plans could be solidified, the actor shifted his focus to his new book, “Ghosts of Honolulu: A Japanese Spy, A Japanese American Spy Hunter, and the Untold Story of Pearl Harbor.” The book is inspired by a true story from the Office of Naval Intelligence. 

“Even through all of the fascinating storylines of NCIS over the last 20 years, Mark Harmon always knew that the most amazing stories in naval intelligence were the true accounts in decades past,” Matt Baugher, publisher of Harper Select, said in a statement about the book.


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