Mark Harmon has exited NCIS after 18 years of playing Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs.
The show’s October 11th episode was Harmon’s final installment as the lead of the long-running CBS police procedural. In the said episode, titled Great Wide Open, Gibbs and Special Agent Timothy McGee (Sean Murray) solved the case of a wealthy CEO hiring a contract killer to murder those who were opposed to opening a copper mine in Alaska. By the end of the installment, Gibbs decided to stay in Alaska indefinitely, opting not to return to his job in NCIS. “I’m not going back, Tim,” Gibbs told McGee. “I’m not going back home.”
Although Gibbs’ decision might feel sudden to some fans, the writers managed to connect the character’s departure to his personal mythology and history on the series. At the end of the episode, Gibbs revealed to McGee that he felt a sense of peace in the Alaskan wilderness that he had not felt since the death of his wife and daughter. Admitting that he wanted to cherish that feeling, Gibbs decided to stay in Alaska. When bidding farewell, Gibbs told McGee that he couldn’t have asked for anyone better to watch his back for all these years than him.
Rumors around Harmon’s departure from NCIS started to swirl as early as last June. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Harmon, who is now 70 years old, initially wanted to leave the show at the end of season 18. But after learning that CBS would likely cancel the series if he did so, Harmon ended up signing a deal to appear in season 19, but only for a few episodes.
While the exact reason behind Harmon’s NCIS exit is not clear, one this is for sure: the actor was not fired from the show. In fact, executive producer and showrunner Steve Binder pointed out in a statement that Harmon remains a fundamental part of the series and may actually return in a guest capacity in future seasons of the show.
“As an executive producer and dear friend, Mark continues to be an integral part of the fabric of the show,” Binder said. “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.”
Binder’s statement is a reiteration of what CBS Entertainment President Kelly Kahl told Deadline last month when asked about Harmon’s then-impending exit. “Mark’s always been part of the show, Mark’s always going to be part of the show,” Kahl said at the time. “In terms of his on-air appearances, we’re just going to have to see how it plays out going forward.”
Harmon made his debut appearance as Gibbs on the CBS legal drama JAG back in 2003. Harmon appeared in season 8, episodes 20 and 21 of JAG, which introduced the concept and the characters of NCIS.
NCIS airs every Monday at 9 p.m. ET on CBS.