‘NCIS’ Season 20: Fans Debate Gary Cole vs. Sean Murray to Replace Mark Harmon in the Credits, and it Should be Cole

NCIS Season 20 kicks off in the fall of 2022, and we will see major changes to the cast. Mark Harmon starred in the show from the beginning, but he left in season 19. His Agent Gibbs character will still be part of the show’s storylines in absentia, but the actor won’t appear. We know Harmon won’t be the top-billed actor in the credits, and fans have thoughts on whether Sean Murray or Gary Cole will replace him as the No. 1 actor on the show.

Sean Murray (left) as Special Agent Timothy McGee and Gary Cole (middle) as FBI Special Agent Alden Parker on 'NCIS.' Fans want to know if Cole or Murray will take top honors on the 'NCIS' credits, but it should be the newcomer Cole over Murray.
Sean Murray (left) as and Gary Cole (middle) on ‘NCIS’ | Sonja Flemming/CBS

We have seen changes to the ‘NCIS’ cast before

Harmon’s exit presents a massive shake-up for NCIS. We have seen cast members regularly leave the show (Michael Weatherly, Pauley Perrette, Cote de Pablo, Emily Wickersham, and Maria Bello for example), but Harmon remained to anchor things.

Harmon contemplated leaving NCIS before season 19, but the episode “Great Wide Open” finally saw Gibbs leave his team behind. Agent McGee (Sean Murray) tracked down Gibbs in Alaska, hoping to bring him back to the office. Instead, Gibbs, saying he finally felt at peace, gave a heartwarming and tearful goodbye. 

Murray’s McGee remains a part of the team, and cast newcomer Gary Cole (Alden Parker) took over as the team’s leader. NCIS fans are speculating over which of the two actors will take top billing in the credits — Cole or Murray?

Fans have thoughts about Gary Cole and Sean Murray being No. 1 on the credits

RELATED: ‘NCIS’ Stars Gary Cole and Katrina Law Open Up About Moving on Without Mark Harmon 

With Harmon stepping away from his role as Gibbs, the top slot in the NCIS credits is wide open. That leaves Murray as the longest-tenured regular cast member (David McCallum’s Ducky Mallard now appears sporadically). Murray has been there longer, but Cole’s character essentially took over the team. So who grabs the top spot? Fans have some theories, and most of them responding to a Reddit thread believe Cole will earn top billing.

“Definitely Gary Cole!” one user replied. “Hate to say it, but they brought Cole on to save the show from cancellation.”

“I suspect that it will be a completely new front-end credits start to finish,” another person wrote. “What I think they will do is have Sean and Gary together, then Wilmer and Katrina, then Brian and Diona, like as split screen, and finish with ‘Also Starring Rocky Carroll.’”

Another fan who replied to the thread looked at NCIS’ history to back up Cole being No. 1 on the credits.

“It’s gonna be Gary Cole. Watching season 5, and Jenny came before Ducky in the opening despite the fact that Ducky was on the show way before she was,” the person replied.

Gary Cole should receive top billing on the ‘NCIS’ Season 20 credits

RELATED: ‘NCIS’: Gary Cole on What It Takes to Play ‘NCIS’ Boss Alden Parker 

When he joined the NCIS cast, Cole made it clear to fans he wasn’t trying to replace Harmon’s Gibbs. But he might end up doing so anyway.

Harmon took the top spot in the credits because he was the biggest name and his character was the central figure that tied the others together. Cole the actor and his Alden Parker character do both. 

Murray has been an NCIS mainstay since 2003, but he doesn’t have any other major roles to his name in that time. Cole, meanwhile, might be able to draw in new viewers who remember him from Office Space, Talladega Nights, Pineapple Express, and Veep

The Cole vs. Murray battle for the No. 1 spot in the NCIS credits should go to Cole. He established himself as the star in season 19, and he has a longer and more high-profile career that might appeal to viewers that aren’t already NCIS die-hards.

Or, as one Reddit user wrote, “I’m betting it’s Cole. While I like McGee / Sean Murray, he’s not ‘top-billed cast’ material, and, sorry to say, he would not be able to carry the show as the lead, and I’m guessing CBS knows that, or they wouldn’t have brought in Cole.”

We won’t have to wait long to see who earns the top spot. NCIS Season 20 kicks off with a must-see event on Sept. 19.

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RELATED: How Mark Harmon Is Still a Part of ‘NCIS’ Even After Leroy Jethro Gibb’s Exit