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Is Mark Harmon’s Exit the Beginning of the End for ‘NCIS’?

After more than 18 seasons and 400 episodes, Mark Harmon’s Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs left ‘NCIS’ in the season 19 episode ‘Great Wide Open.’ Since his exit, fans have struggled to accept his replacement, Gary Cole. So, did ‘NCIS’ handle Mark Harmon’s departure? And, could this be the beginning of the end?


  • Mark Harmon left NCIS after more than 400 episodes and 18 seasons.
  • Gary Cole promises fans that his character is “not trying to be Gibbs.”
  • Can America’s most-watched drama survive without Harmon?
Mark Harmon as NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, Gary Cole as FBI Special Agent Alden Parker
Mark Harmon and Gary Cole on ‘NCIS’ | Michael Yarish/CBS via Getty Images

Mark Harmon’s Leroy Jethro Gibbs shocked fans when he left NCIS in the season 19 episode “Great Wide Open.” After more than 18 seasons and 400+ episodes, Harmon said goodbye to his iconic character when he finally found peace in Naktok Bay, Alaska, following the death of his wife and daughter. How did NCIS handle Harmon’s departure? And, could this be the beginning of the end for TV’s most-watched drama?

How did ‘NCIS’ handle Mark Harmon’s exit?

Heading into season 19, rumors were swirling that Harmon would have a reduced role. But no one was expecting his character to leave the series completely. However, that appears to be exactly what happened. At the end of episode 4, Gibbs told McGee (Sean Murray) that he would be staying in Alaska.

“I could not have hoped for anyone better to watch my back for the past 18 years than you, Tim,” Gibbs told McGee before they shared a hug and each one told the other that he loved him.

The last shot of Gibbs that fans saw was him fly fishing in his waders and casting his line with a smile on his face.

Gary Cole’s Agent Alden Parker joined the team in ‘Face the Strange’

One of the first questions fans had when Gibbs left NCIS was — who would take his place? In the following episode “Face the Strange,” the job ultimately went to former FBI Agent Alden Parker, played by Gary Cole.

Even though McGee seemed poised to take over for his mentor, he turned down the job. When asked for a reason, he said, “I am not Gibbs.”

Is Mark Harmon’s exit from ‘NCIS’ the beginning of the end?

The fan reaction to this major change has been mixed. Some felt that NCIS wouldn’t be the same without Harmon, and didn’t think the show could continue. While others welcomed the addition of Cole as Harmon’s replacement.

“How can @NCIS_CBS be #NCIS when there’s only one original character left??” one fan wondered. “I’m happy for Mark Harmon but the show is a totally different show now—they should’ve canceled it and started a new show. You can’t slap a new, old white guy on an old show and call it the same.”

Another wrote: “I have to admit I was a sceptic about Gary Cole taking over Mark Harmon’s job… but he’s a perfect fit and I so look forward to seeing more episodes. I honestly haven’t laughed and enjoyed this show so much since Abby left. Welcome to NCIS family Agent Park!”

Gary Cole says his character is ‘not trying to be Gibbs’

Cole is a veteran actor who has experience with “dropping into shows.” Coming in as the new lead on a series that’s been on the air for nearly two decades is definitely something new. But, Cole says he can handle it.

“I’ve done a lot of dropping into shows, [usually] as a recurring character,” Cole told TV Line. “Part of my job description is to get comfortable, whatever that takes. I’m not trying to be [Gibbs]. The writers made that distinction.”

Can ‘NCIS’ survive without Mark Harmon?

Now that Gibbs has been gone for a few episodes, fans are starting to see what NCIS will look like without him. If the series continues to embrace the future instead of dwelling on the loss of such a popular character, it appears that NCIS could get a season 20 and beyond. This means Cole’s Agent Parker could be leading the team for a few more seasons.


‘NCIS’ Fans Are Not Happy With Mark Harmon’s Replacement — ‘OK, CBS, You Flat Out Lied to Us’

“Parker isn’t overly chatty, but he is more verbal. He’s not as old school; he tries to get his hands on new tech gadgets and impress everybody. He’s trying to fit in with the rest of the team. Although he may be reluctant to voice it, he admires that Gibbs breaks rules. Parker bends them. We’ll see if it gets to the point of breaking,” Cole says.

New episodes of NCIS air Monday nights on CBS.