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How Mark Harmon Made TV History Before Even Joining NCIS

When people think of "NCIS," one name immediately comes to mind: Mark Harmon. But there was once a time when Harmon was famous for a completely different reason, and a rather historic one, too.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Harmon's rise to stardom included stints on "Flamingo Road" and "St. Elsewhere" before he eventually landed on the hit drama series "Chicago Hope" as Dr. Jack McNeil. People's Sexiest Man Alive of 1986 played Dr. McNeil from 1996 to 2000, making it his most prominent role not related to "NCIS." While on the show, Harmon did something that would change the course of television forever.

The episode was called "Vigilance and Care." The air date was October 14, 1999 — and it was the very last season of "Chicago Hope." Harmon was on his way out, and the producers wanted his character to leave a lasting impression. With two little words, Dr. McNeil did just that ...

Mark Harmon uttered the first uncensored 's***' on network TV

That's right, folks. Mark Harmon's biggest contribution to the history of television, other than "NCIS," is his infamous uttering of the phrase "s*** happens" during the aforementioned episode of "Chicago Hope." The show's executive producer, Michael Pressman, told reporters at the time that the first-of-its-kind uncensored use of "s***" on network television — which comes while Dr. McNeil is being grilled by a superior over a botched operation — was completely necessary. 

"It's a painful story that ends up with [Harmon] being unable to make his point clear," Pressman said, speaking to the New York Post about the episode's premise and ultimate goal. "It's a full embodiment of what the episode is about, and there really wasn't a better way to say it." CBS reiterated Pressman's sentiment with a statement of its own, saying, "The producers felt strongly that the line was important for artistic truthfulness. We wanted to support their creative vision."

At the time of the episode's airing, many TV shows and characters were delving deeper and deeper into risqué ways of expressing themselves. "It appears that all of the standards that used to be maintained and respected have now given way to almost a total lack of standards," the Parents Television Council said in a statement, as quoted by The A.V. Club

Harmon is still appearing on TV to this day, though in a limited capacity now on "NCIS." His character, Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, made his final appearance as a series regular on October 12, per Yahoo News.