‘NCIS’ 17: Are the Writers Setting up Mark Harmon’s Exit?

Mark Harmon is the lead actor in NCIS and the executive producer behind the series; thus, he is the silver-foxed face of the crime drama and the network procedural’s linchpin on all fronts. Though other actors have come and gone — Cote de Pablo, Michael Weatherly, and Pauley Perrette — Mark Harmon has been with the series since its early days as a mere Jag spin-off.

NCIS actor Mark Harmon
‘NCIS’ actor Mark Harmon | Photo by Vera Anderson/WireImage

The series, approaching its seventeenth season, remains the most-watched scripted drama on the air, and – just like its leading man — keeps on kicking, showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Though Mark Harmon has stated that he plans to stay with NCIS for the long haul (until the writers come up dry), he has mentioned his retirement plans. 

According to a source close to Mark Harmon, the NCIS star and his wife, Pam Dawber, do plan to travel together before settling down someplace not in Los Angeles (to live a quieter life). While Mark Harmon has not stated that NCIS season 17 will be his last, he has yet to sign on for any seasons beyond the upcoming one, and many fans believe that the writers are gearing up for his departure.  Two arguments surface most frequently: Ziva is back with a vital purpose, and McGee is becoming a leader.

Argument 1: Cote de Pablo’s Return as Ziva

Most fans cite two arguments when claiming that Mark Harmon may be ready to exit his role as Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs: Ziva’s reappearance and McGee’s increased leadership qualities. Let’s start with Ziva. 

Cote de Pablo, after citing personal reasons for her NCIS exit, later credited a lack of respect on her character’s behalf. She went on to explain that something really “fantastic” would have to be penned to warrant her return. This has led many to believe that she’s destined for more than a brief cameo in the season premiere. 

Because Cote de Pablo has decided to return to the series, following some harsh words, many believe that her narrative arc will be integral to the entire season, if not one of the primary focuses. Thus, she may grow to become Mark Harmon’s co-lead or take on a more impactful role by the end of the season. Such a storyline could present a perfect opportunity for Mark Harmon’s exit. One NCIS enthusiast noted:

Gibbs is old now, I stand by that the only way this show can continue is if Ziva takes his place as team lead, oh how wonderful that would be. They could just write that for her child’s protection Tony is taking care of her in hiding, I wouldn’t be mad at all, anything to have her back.

Reddit User

Not to mention, Cote de Pablo’s return is likely a ploy by CBS to lure back some since departed viewers. Meaning, the network could be trying to compensate for the loss of viewers bound to occur if and when Mark Harmon leaves. If Cote de Pablo fills Mark Harmon’s shoes, could the show survive?

Argument 2: McGee is becoming a leader in ‘NCIS’

Aside from Cote de Pablo’s return, Sean Murray’s McGee has been gradually transformed into a great leader. He is no more the timid probie he used to be back when DiNozzo picked on him. He’s a dedicated number two with a great degree of foresight and potential.

McGee’s level-headed nature and understanding of consequences, paired with his newfound confidence and strength (conveyed in most recent seasons) would make him an ideal replacement for Gibbs. Maybe, the writers over at NCIS are working on a story with Ziva and McGee at the center and preparing to send Gibbs on his way.  Since NCIS recently proved itself quite capable of keeping secrets, we will likely have to wait an entire season before finding out whether these presumptions are correct.