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The Real Reason Michael Weatherly Left NCIS After 13 Seasons

In April 2020, the long-running CBS crime drama NCIS wrapped up its 17th season. Although the cast is still headed by Mark Harmon as Special Agent Gibbs, and the latest season saw appearances from classic characters like Ziva David (Cote de Pablo) and Jimmy Palmer (Brian Dietzen), the squad is these days mostly made up of relatively new faces. For better or worse, the original NCIS team fans met way back in 2003 has changed quite a bit over the years. In fact, other than Agent Gibbs, the only character who still regularly appears on the show who has been around since the very beginning is Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum).

Of the original agents who have made their exits, few are as missed as Michael Weatherly's Tony DiNozzo. Viewres first met Tony way back on NCIS' backdoor pilot on JAG. In the subsequent years, during which he was a regular cast member, audiences watched Tony grow from a flirtatious clown to a loving partner to Ziva — and, eventually, into a devoted father. Although the conclusion to his character arc was satisfying, fans were still disappointed when he departed the show at the end of season 13.

Tony's exit left us with two burning questions: Why did Michael Weatherly decide to hang up his badge after 13 seasons, and will we ever see Tony DiNozzo on NCIS again?

How Tony DiNozzo's storyline ended on NCIS

Tony's end on the show was a spectacular culmination of his narrative and character development. On the season 13 finale, we see him mourn the (alleged) death of Ziva, with whom he had a deeply complicated, but loving, relationship. As if that wasn't enough of an emotional burden, it's revealed to Tony after the farm where Ziva had been hiding out was blown up that the former Mossad agent had given birth to their child. It's a secret she'd kept from him to avoid complicating both of their lives.

Although Tony is shocked by the announcement, he takes to the idea of fatherhood quickly. By the end of the episode, Ziva's (alleged) killer has been taken down by the team, and Tony has made a decision: He is going to step away from NCIS to focus on raising his daughter and rebuilding his life after the (alleged) death of his great love. Of course, everyone is devastated by his departure, but understanding of his situation. It's one of the most emotional send-offs in the history of the series and, considering how many NCIS agents leave the show in body bags, it's a touching farewell for audiences who have come to love Tony.

Even though Tony's storyline wrapped up nicely, had Michael Weatherly wanted to continue playing the character, it's unlikely that Tony would have left the show at the end of season 13. So why, exactly, did Weatherly decide to step away from NCIS after such a long run?

Why Michael Weatherly actually left NCIS after 13 seasons

Ultimately, Weatherly ended up leaving NCIS for the same reason many people leave their jobs: After 13 years, he felt he was ready to move on. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he admitted to being burned out by the taxing schedule that comes with being one of the stars of a network drama that films 22 episodes a season. Of the way his time on the show came to an end, Weatherly said, "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 clearly left the series on good terms, as he quickly landed a role on another CBS series. As he was preparing his departure from NCIS, it was announced that he would be the lead of a new primetime drama, Bull. The show was inspired by the early career of Dr. Phil, and sees Weatherly playing a psychologist, Dr. Jason Bull, who is the head of a jury consulting firm. It made headlines in 2019 when actress Eliza Dushku alleged that Weatherly made harassing comments to her on set, which resulted in her stepping away from her role on the show and taking a $9.5 million settlement from CBS (via IndieWire).

At the time of writing, Bull is still on the air after four seasons. The question remains, though, whether the fullness of Weatherly's plate means fans won't ever see Tony on NCIS again.

Is there a chance Tony DiNozzo will make another appearance on NCIS?

There have been theories that Tony would one day return to NCIS since the moment he left. This speculation went into hyperdrive during the show's 16th season, when it was revealed that Ziva was alive. When Cote de Pablo made a return appearance on the show, fans were sure that it was only a matter of time before Weatherly joined her to reprise his role as Tony.

Even before de Pablo's return to the show, Weatherly hinted on his Twitter account that he was game to return: "Yes I believe Ziva is alive and I will always be ready to play DiNozzo when the time is right..."

There was heavy speculation that Tony, Ziva, and Tali, their daughter, would all be making an appearance on the season 17 midseason finale (via Newsweek). When the episode aired, however, it was only Ziva who appeared, despite Tony and Tali being referenced. Even though that theory didn't come to fruition, given everything we know, there is still a good chance that we'll be seeing Tony DiNozzo on NCIS again some time in the future.