Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Real Reason Mark Harmon Left NCIS

"NCIS" has stood head and shoulders above most of its police procedural peers for years, thanks to its lovable cast of eclectic characters and almost uncanny longevity. The CBS show has been running since 2003, and the ongoing Season 19 finds the series as strong as usual. However, it's clear that the show's arguably most massive change yet is on the not-too-distant horizon, and it's been looking that way for a while. For 18 years, the stalwart leader of the titular investigation team in "NCIS" has been Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon), who was the backbone of the show throughout its first 18 seasons. 

There's a reason the previous sentence is in the past tense. Season 19 of "NCIS" has revealed that new developments — along with 18 seasons of hard-hitting investigations weighing down on his broad shoulders — have caused Gibbs to decide that he's done with his NCIS job, and that he's planning to carve a new life for himself in Alaska. It's an understandable development for the character for anyone who watched the Season 18 finale. 

The episode showed Gibbs boarding a boat that wasn't destined to last long. As it sailed out to sea, it unexpectedly blew up. Fortunately, fans saw Gibbs's body not long afterward with him soon swimming to shore. It let everyone know Gibbs would return for Season 19, but it definitely gave the impression he wasn't going to be around much longer. But what, exactly, caused the character to decide so — or rather, what prompted Mark Harmon to join the many actors who have left "NCIS?" 

Mark Harmon has a new, limited-episode deal

The Hollywood Reporter reports Mark Harmon's exit from the show as a pretty final one — at least, in his starring capacity. After all, the star has only signed for a limited amount of episodes for Season 19, and Gibbs' decision to remain in Alaska pretty much removes him from the fabric of the show for the foreseeable future. What's more, the ongoing season features some brand new star power in the form of Katrina Law and rumored Harmon replacement Gary Cole.

Harmon's limited-episode deal means that Gibbs has effectively left his active role in the show behind, but showrunner Steven D. Binder is quick to note that the actor will maintain a behind-the-scenes role, and there's always a chance for an on-screen comeback, as well. "As an executive producer and dear friend, Mark continues to be an integral part of the fabric of the show," Binder stated. "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."

That means viewers may not have shed their last tears over Gibbs just yet. If we were into betting, we'd be willing to put down money on Mark Harmon returning for the series finale ... whenever that occurs.

Fans bid farewell to Leroy Jethro Gibbs

It's hard to say goodbye to a beloved TV character, especially one who's been on the air for nearly two decades. Leroy Jethro Gibbs starred in hundreds of "NCIS" episodes and has earned a special place in people's hearts. The show just won't be the same without him, and fans have already taken to social media to let their thoughts known on the emotional departure.

It's entirely possible his final scene of fishing on a lake in the great unknown will be the last time audiences see Gibbs, but at least he received the send-off he so richly deserved. Fans were quick to chime in with their thoughts, like @octsy_ writing, "I am sad Gibbs [is] leaving NCIS.. But [got to] respect and applaud Mark Harmon [for] his performance thru 18 years as Gibbs."

@starkeraries echoed those sentiments: "I just learned Mark Harmon is leaving NCIS and I'm in complete shock. I grew up with NCIS and especially with agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs but he did his time and I'm really proud. He had such an amazing journey." Gibbs has certainly come a long way ever since he first graced people's screens on the episode "Ice Queen" on "JAG." He'd only appear on one more "JAG" episode before spinning off into "NCIS," where he's been ever since. Harmon walked away when the time was right, just like the great Gibbs so famously said, "When the job is done, walk away."