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The Real Reason Lauren Holly Left NCIS

Lauren Holly's NCIS character Jennifer Shepard spent her whole career working her way up to becoming Director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, only to be gunned down some three years into the top job.

The last fans saw of Shepard on NCIS was in an abandoned diner, getting sentimental with fellow NCIS Agent Mike Franks (Muse Watson). Her death happens off screen, signified by a storm of gunshots and a mostly obscured shot of her body. But we know she didn't go quietly: Replacement Director Leon Vance (Rocky Carroll) said that the forensics from the scene indicated that Shepard "put up one hell of a fight."

Holly, on the other hand, wasn't fighting against her character's death and departure from the show. She joined NCIS at the start of season 3, with her character replacing former NCIS Director Thomas Morrow (Alan Dale), and appeared on a total of 48 episodes up to the season 5 finale. Sometimes, learning the real reason NCIS actors left raises more questions over the show's backstage drama, but unlike some of her former co-stars, it seems like Holly left on her own terms. 

Here's the real reason Lauren Holly left NCIS — and it's more relatable than you think.

Lauren Holly was only supposed to appear on six episodes of NCIS

Three seasons on a show that's into its second decade doesn't seem like a long time in the grand scheme of things. but Holly never expected to last even that long on NCIS. In a now-deleted post on her personal website, she wrote that she initially found her way to NCIS through her former Chicago Hope co-star Mark Harmon — who, of course, is best known today as fearless NCIS leader Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

Excited at the chance to again work with Harmon and with legendary creator Don Bellisario, Holly originally went up for the part that went to Sasha Alexander (Alexander left NCIS after season 2). But two years later, Holly was invited to join the show with the understanding that she would be part of a six-episode story arc as the new Director of NCIS. Holly was living in Chicago at the time, and she started commuting back and forth to L.A. for the show. When the creators offered to extend the part into future seasons, Holly and her family moved to California.

Lauren Holly got bored playing Jenny Shepard after two years

One of the NCIS secrets no one will ever tell you is that not every departure from the show has been smooth sailing. Sometimes the writers struggled with certain characters (which is part of the real reason Duane Henry left NCIS) and sometimes there was tension on the set.

Holly, however, apparently didn't have any hard feelings towards NCIS. She wrote, "I enjoyed being on the show, and began some wonderful friendships." But two years in, Holly was happy to bow out of the series, saying that after playing the same character day in and day out for such a long time, she was bored and wanted a new challenge. 

Ultimately, she was happy with how Shepard met her demise. After Holly let the showrunners know that she wanted out, "the decision was made to kill me, and boy did they. About five different ways!" (Shepard had been diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor before she was taken out by assassins.)

NCIS continued on without Holly's Jennifer Shepard, and the actress hopes the series extends its long run even further for the sake of the cast and crew. "A lot of people depend on it for their families. For that, I hope it continues forever," she wrote. "It probably will. I think of them all often."

What Lauren Holly has been doing since leaving NCIS

While some actors face the unfortunate fate of a quickly dimming career after leaving a hit series, that couldn't be further from the truth for Lauren Holly. She's continued to flourish in both the television and film realms post-NCIS, which should come as no surprise considering how many screen credits she'd racked up prior to joining the show.

Since exiting NCIS, Holly has appeared on series like Leverage, Covert Affairs, Rookie Blue, Lucifer, and Good Witch. She's also lent her voice to the computer-animated television show The Adventures of Chuck and Friends, playing Haulie, an anthropomorphic forklift who's the mother of the titular Chuck. Holly's biggest television gig after NCIS came in 2013, when she began starring in a central role on the Canadian police procedural series Motive. The actress played lead medical examiner Dr. Betty Rogers on the show, which ran for four seasons before wrapping in August 2016. Most recently, Holly has held a recurring role as Lynn Harper on the political drama-thriller Designated Survivor

On the film side of things, fans likely best remember seeing Holly in as Linda in 2015's The Blackcoat's Daughter (a hidden horror gem you can watch on Netflix). Written and directed by Osgood Perkins, the film centers around two students, the awkward Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Linda's daughter Rose (Lucy Boynton), who are left behind at their boarding school during winter break. It's rumored that the school's nuns worship Satan — talk that turns out to be a lot less terrifying than the truth of the situation.

NCIS was inarguably a bright spot in Holly's professional career — even if she did get bored of the gig after a while — but it's clear that her future is even brighter.