‘NCIS’: Is Mark Harmon the Best Thing to Ever Happen to the Show?

The social media chatter about NCIS has been heating up this summer, arguably the first time in years. Ironically, Twitter and Facebook didn’t even exist when the show first went on the air in 2003. Now it’s one of the most consistently popular CBS shows going into a 17th season, mostly thanks to Cote de Pablo returning as Ziva.

Ringmastering all of this is Mark Harmon who’s been the show’s paternal figure. He’s not only a producer of the show but also stars as Leroy Gibbs since the beginning thanks to Donald P. Bellisario knowing his worth. Harmon’s character began in two episodes of the old series JAG, forming the longest-running spinoff in history.

Since then, Harmon has created a much-respected character, though it’s debatable whether he’s the best thing to happen to NCIS.

More respectful lead characters are more popular now

Mark Harmon
Mark Harmon | Cliff Lipson/CBS via Getty Images

In an era where more antiheroes are becoming the norm on TV, CBS has been sticking with a more traditional structure of heroic lead male characters who do the best they can to bring ethical resolutions to problems. Harmon’s Gibbs falls into this category, as does Tom Selleck’s Frank Reagan on Blue Bloods.

We even see that with female characters on CBS shows, including Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) in The Good Fight.

Harmon gets credit for carving a more traditional hero associated with a respected military past and becoming a trusted lead investigator in the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. It’s a role we could have seen on TV during the more patriotic 1980s, or even the 1950s for that matter.

We all know Harmon summons an era of America many people miss where we could count on real heroes without them failing us. There is some haunting counterpoint here since Harmon has had some accusations against him from one of the show’s lead actresses.

How Mark Harmon has helped ‘NCIS’

One thing you can definitively say is that NCIS has a specific formula fans have loved since the show started. Harmon seems to make sure this stays intact, including always providing a few surprises along the way.

Then again, you can also argue the show has coasted a bit since de Pablo left the show abruptly in 2013. Ratings were still good, which you can probably give Harmon credit for maintaining.

However, with de Pablo coming back, the show’s rise in social media buzz brings some debates about who’s really responsible for it. Should de Pablo receive the credit due to her negotiating to bring Ziva back after feeling the character was disrespected? Or should Harmon receive the credit based on him maybe making the final decision on her returning?

Keep in mind there isn’t any definitive evidence he was the ultimate decision-maker on her re-entering the show.

Is Mark Harmon to blame for female cast members leaving?

When NCIS finally ends someday, we hope Harmon’s reputation as being one of the nicest guys in Hollywood can remain so his (and Gibbs’) reputations stay pristine. Harmon has been under some scrutiny recently, though, after Pauley Perrette said he’d been abusive to her in the past when she was on the show.

Part of this was behind her reasoning for leaving, giving everyone pause on whether all the other women leaving encountered the same thing. The idea NCIS could have been a toxic environment for the women there obviously leaves numerous questions in a time when said behavior isn’t being tolerated any longer in workplaces.

Since there isn’t any definitive evidence to back up these accusations — maybe due to a “machine” Perrette said kept her from saying anything — Harmon’s respect may be maintained into his retirement.

If NCIS has a huge renaissance yet again next season, hopefully, we’ll see Harmon openly give credit to Cote de Pablo for at least putting her foot forward to take the show to the new and improved territory.