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The Real Reason Jennifer Esposito Left NCIS After Only One Season

Joining the main cast of a beloved show in its 14th season is a daunting challenge. It's even more daunting when the show is as popular as NCIS, CBS's crime drama-but-make-it-Naval, which has been topping Most Watched Drama lists for years. Tough as the undertaking may have been, Jennifer Esposito managed to win over NCIS fans almost from her first appearance as Special Agent Alex Quinn on the series' season 14 premiere in 2016.

Smart, brave, and flirtatious, Esposito's Alex Quinn carried some pretty intense storylines, including the death of the character's former partner — which Quinn blamed herself for and which led her to quit NCIS field work for a while — and her mother's worsening Alzheimer's. But fans also appreciated that mixed in with her heavy backstory, Quinn had a sense of humor and an easy rapport with her fellow agents. So when it was announced in June 2017 — three months before NCIS season 15 aired — that Esposito wouldn't be returning, fans were confused and disappointed.

Despite its longevity, NCIS has seen many cast members and even its original creator exit abruptly, sometimes under a cloud of suspicion. (Those are just some of the NCIS secrets no one will ever tell you.) But what about Jeniffer Esposito? Here's the real reason she left NCIS after only one season.

Jennifer Esposito said Alex Quinn was only supposed to stay for a short time

Of course, when the news of Esposito's departure first broke, NCIS fans immediately wanted to know why a character that had proved so popular had only lasted for one season. Knowing the real reasons some NCIS actors left the show over the years only made things more curious — but Esposito was quick to put the brakes on any wild rumors. Deadline's original report of Esposito's NCIS exit included part of a statement from the actress herself, in which she said that working on NCIS had been "a great experience" and that she "could not have asked for a better opportunity."

The same day, June 9, 2017, Esposito took to Twitter to nip in the bud any unsavory whispers about the real reason for her swift departure. She clarified that it wasn't because of illness — more on that in a second — and added, "Was not meant to be there long but happy I was. Met some great new friends!" While other former NCIS actors have pointed to the grueling schedule, boring nature of doing a long-running series, and even sexual harassment from co-stars as reasons for leaving the show, the official party line when it comes to Esposito is that Quinn was only ever supposed to last for one season.

This marked a turn from the last time Esposito unexpectedly left a show. In 2012, she claimed that CBS put her on unpaid leave from Blue Bloods and refused to let her work anywhere else after she'd collapsed on set and was diagnosed with Celiac disease. So it seems that she's not afraid to call out networks when something is going on behind the scenes — or maybe once was enough.

Did the new NCIS showrunners just not like Quinn?

Despite Esposito's best efforts to prevent rumors from swirling, there's an alternative theory surrounding her departure from NCIS: some believe that the decision was related to the sudden death of showrunner Gary Glasberg on September 28, 2016 (the day after the second episode of season 14 aired). In November of that year, NCIS promoted two of the series' longtime writers, Frank Cardea and George Schenck — who'd been with the show since the first season — to fill Glasberg's impressive shoes. It's been speculated that the new showrunners weren't keen on Quinn, who was created by Glasberg to help fill the gap left by the departure of Special Agent Anthony "Tony" DiNozzo actor Michael Weatherly.

According to actor Brian Dietzen, who plays Dr. Jimmy Palmer on the show, Glasberg had left a map of where he wanted the season to go before he died. It seems that he had an arc in mind for Quinn that was meant to extend beyond season 14: on the last episode, we saw her take two mysterious phone calls, implying that her mother's Alzheimer's had gotten worse. 

Cardea and Schenck were coy when asked about those hints in an interview between seasons 14 and 15. Cardea said that Quinn's mother "is going to consume a little of her time" and that part of NCIS's appeal is that "we'll drop a little nugget, maybe not get back to it for a dozen episodes or so, then you'll find out why we did that." But in Quinn's case, the show never directly explained where the character went. This implies that contrary to Esposito's statements, Cardea and Schenck had planned to include her in future seasons but something didn't pan out. This is seemingly just another untold truth of NCIS. Fortunately, NCIS fans like mysteries.