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The Real Reason Zoe McLellan Left NCIS: NOLA

When CBS launched its second spinoff of crime drama heavyweight NCIS, it quickly proved that the franchise was sturdy thanks to its commitment to strong characters that keep fans invested. Like NCIS: LA before it, NCIS: NOLA used the original series to introduce us to a fresh squad of agents in an exciting new locale. Fans were quickly taken with Dwayne Cassius Pride (Scott Bakula) and his crew. In no time, the show went from unsteady newcomer to having six seasons under its belt.

One of the agents on Pride's team who fans came to admire during the show's first two seasons was Meredith "Merri" Brody, played by actress Zoe McLellan. Brody was an ambitious agent who was transferred from the Chicago branch of NCIS to Pride's team in New Orleans. She brought intelligence, a black-belt in aikido, and baggage from the murder of her twin sister along with her to the Crescent City.

Brody was with the squad from the initial introduction to the NCIS: NOLA crew during the show's backdoor pilot, so it was a shock to fans when she left the team and the show at the end of the second season. At the time, rumors swirled around the reason for actress Zoe McLellan's departure, but now that it has been several years, we have a good idea of what the real reason why she left NCIS: NOLA might be.

Why Agent Brody left the NCIS: NOLA squad

By the final episode of the show's second season, Agent Brody was dating John Russo (Ivan Sergei), a Homeland Security agent who was allegedly in New Orleans setting up a new office for the agency. In the finale, aptly titled "Sleeping With the Enemy," however, Brody learned that her new beau wasn't exactly who he appeared to be. Russo was actually an anti-government mole using his position as in the DHS to facilitate illegal explosive smuggling operations.

Russo's plot was eventually uncovered by the NCIS squad. He was dispatched by Brody, herself, and even though she ended up taking out the enemy in the end, knowing that she let him get so close to her had a lasting traumatic effect. After expressing her anguish about letting Russo get too close without realizing he was a bad guy at the end of season 2, she made the shocking decision to leave the squad, altogether. This was revealed during the first episode of season 3.

By the time Pride received the phone call where he learned that Brody wouldn't be coming back, news about McLellan's departure from the show was already widely known. Exactly why did the show lose one of its original stars after just two seasons?

What was reported about Zoe McLellan's departure from NCIS: NOLA

The news of Brody's departure first broke via TVLine. When they announced that the character was leaving, they reported the development as a creative decision. The situation with Russo left Brody with too much baggage for her to remain on the team. The infiltration by Russo also opened the door for a new story arc on the show. After Brody quits, the FBI sends agent Tammy Gregorio (Vanessa Ferlito) to investigate the NCIS: NOLA team because of the situation with Russo. Presumably, the storyline was planned by producers, and unfortunately, it involved sacrificing one of the original cast members to make it happen.

Of course, there were other theories about why McLellan left the show. The actress landed a series regular role on the second and last season of the Kiefer Sutherland-starring political drama Designated Survivor shortly after departing. This led to speculation that she quit the show to pursue other opportunities.

A year after McLellan's exit, however, new reports emerged that provided a more specific, and more sinister, explanation.

The allegations at the heart of Zoe McLellan's exit from NCIS: NOLA

In 2017, Variety published an investigative report about CBS showrunner Brad Kern. Kern was a regular at CBS and had been brought on to run NCIS: NOLA during the show's second season. Multiple reports from the set of the show alleged that Kern regularly made sexist, racist, and harassing remarks that had led to an environment of toxicity that caused multiple writers and crew members to leave the show.

Among the specific allegations was that Kern made casting decisions based on extremely inappropriate crass, sexualized criteria. This extended to McLellan. According to the Variety report, multiple sources confirmed that, "Kern allegedly engineered the exit of Zoe McLellan, an original cast member who did not return for the third season, because, in his view, men didn't find her 'f***able.'"

McLellan didn't comment on the accusations. While the accusations were not corroborated by CBS' internal investigation into the matter, multiple people associated with the show confirmed the reports. If the allegations are true, it makes Zoe McLellan's exit from NCIS: NOLA a tragic and cruel case of workplace discrimination.