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Why NCIS Fans Are Still Speculating On Ziva's Exit From The Show

"NCIS" is now on its 19th season, establishing itself as one of the longest-running crime procedurals of all time alongside the "Law & Order" franchise. It has built a massive fanbase, like many great shows, because of compelling and complex characters — a cohesive main cast that audiences can empathize with. If you asked "NCIS" fans who they think of as part of the original cast of "NCIS," Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) would likely be listed first, followed by (in no particular order) Agent Anthony "Tony" DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly), Agent Timothy McGee (Sean Murray), and either Agent Caitlin "Kate" Todd (Sasha Alexander), although her time with the show was short, or of course, Agent Ziva David (Cote de Pablo).

Ziva's time with "NCIS" begins after the murder of Kate. As an Israeli Mossad officer, Ziva helps Gibbs and the rest of the NCIS Major Case Response Team track down and bring Kate's killer, Ziva's half-brother, to justice. Soon after, she resigns from Mossad and joins the NCIS team. De Pablo then spends seven straight seasons portraying Ziva until her sudden departure as a main character at the end of Season 10, only to make a surprise return for a few episodes in Season 17. At the time of her exit, a lot of speculation was thrown around as to why de Pablo decided to leave so suddenly. De Pablo herself noted that her decision was personal during an interview with TV Guide in 2013, but later she's cited creative differences. Even with these answers, fans still think there's more to de Pablo's departure.

Fans know Cote de Pablo didn't want a dropped Season 11 storyline

According to a thread on Reddit, fans noted that the main reason for de Pablo's departure as Ziva was likely due to a dropped Season 11 storyline, one which de Pablo herself alluded to in previous interviews but never fully detailed. User FrenchGuyDt initiated the conversation by asking exactly what was included in the scrapped storyline, and multiple fans came to answer. User HatTrkPatrk noted that they remembered an interview in which de Pablo noted that the storyline involved a sort of repetition as to how Ziva became a "NCIS" team member in the first place — she would head back to Israel and become captured, leaving Gibbs and the rest of the team to get her out of the situation.

It would make sense that this could be the storyline that de Pablo would be unhappy with, at least according to the comments she made during a 2016 Q&A (via Newsweek). De Pablo was quoted as saying, "I perceived that the character was not being treated with the respect that she deserved ... They were going to send her back to Israel and make her an unfortunate, miserable woman." De Pablo went on to say that she would refuse to come back unless someone came up with an appropriate storyline that didn't do a disservice to her character.

There was speculation over less pay compared to her costars

A couple of other fans noted that there was also some speculation about Cote de Pablo receiving less pay compared to her male costars, and that this, paired with the Israel return storyline, was the reason for her departure. User lizeb247 said, "It was because she was being paid significantly less than her male co-stars. Don't blame her, but damn the show went downhill after that." User Brandenburg3rd also noted a possibility of de Pablo simply wanting more money for her role as Ziva as well.

However, according to sources, it doesn't seem like money was much of an issue. CBS President and CEO at the time, Les Moonves, noted in 2013 that they offered de Pablo more money on two separate occasions and de Pablo still decided to leave (via Yahoo Entertainment). This refutes suggestions made by fans on Reddit, making it even more likely — due to the comments made by de Pablo herself — that there really was a Season 11 storyline that de Pablo didn't want for her character, therefore deciding that it was better that she leave.

Ziva's Season 17 return let de Pablo exit on her own terms

According to an interview with Entertainment Tonight alongside Mark Harmon on her return during Season 17, de Pablo noted that she had been waiting for a good reason to come back to the show after her noted disapproval of where "NCIS" would've originally taken her character. Before Ziva's return, she had seemingly died in Israel, which is why DiNozzo left in order to take care of their daughter. Ziva's shocking reappearance reveals that she previously faked her death to protect her family, leading to an emotional reunion with the entire team, and an exit that de Pablo noted as "a beautiful walk away," as Ziva's seen heading to Paris to reunite with DiNozzo and their child.

Although fans might still speculate that there was more to this departure than meets the eye, according to de Pablo and the rest of the "NCIS" cast, the exit was mainly due to creative differences over anything else. Fortunately, de Pablo was able to have a return and exit later on in which she felt her character was being honored. "NCIS" Season 19 is currently airing, and is available to watch on CBS and Paramount+.