‘NCIS:’ Mark Harmon Is Teaching an Ageist Hollywood a Lesson

Mark Harmon is every mother’s dream man – with a charming smile and a masculine disposition – he bleeds confidence without ever seeming pompous or self-assured. In interviews, Mark Harmon has discussed the value of hard work, and what it means to be lucky in a world where you “earn luck.”

Mark Harmon
Mark Harmon | (Photo by Hannes Magerstaedt/Getty Images

Harmon stars as Agent Gibbs in the most-watched show on television. With an unrivaled international fan following and viewers who keep on coming back for more, the show will be approaching its seventeenth season with higher ratings than ever before. And, while the screenwriters and other cast members play a role in the show’s success, no one will deny that many are tuning in specifically to watch Mark Harmon.

While Cote de Pablo, Michael Weatherly, and Pauley Perrette have all left the show, the man portraying the title character is in it for the long haul. And he has managed to, almost singlehandedly, maintain the fanbase as the other admired stars depart one by one. If Mark Harmon left, the show would undoubtedly fail. Harmon is NCIS. And, that fact alone, implies a revolutionary transition on Hollywood’s horizon.

Mark Harmon, at 67 years old, is here to tell an ageist Hollywood, one where actresses are relegated to supporting roles by 40 and actors frequently by 50, that fans will tune in to watch a salt and pepper lead take the reigns.

NCIS soars beyond shows featuring much younger leading men

From Criminal Minds and Law and Order to Luther and You, there’s a tendency to feature stereotypically “sexy” men and women in leading roles on crime shows. Whether playing the attractive “bad guy” as seen in You (portrayed by a 32 -year-old actor) or the devilishly handsome and debonair detective in Luther (represented by a 46-year-old Idris Elba), there’s a tendency to rely on actors who are much younger than Mark Harmon.

Mark Harmon was already 52 years old when he started on NCIS; meaning, those behind the production knew full-well that he would age into his sixties if the series was a success. As it continues to bring in more viewers with each season, NCIS is an important reminder to network television, and Hollywood at large, that there is a huge audience interested in older leading characters and the stories that come with such individuals.

While NCIS may not feature lengthy dialogue or multiple narratives focusing on Mark Harmon’s age, the show allows him to thrive, unencumbered by it, which may mean more, for as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words, and Mark Harmon is still succeeding in a physically demanding role.

It is time for Hollywood to stop shackling older actors in supporting roles, and allow them to lead the way. Mark Harmon’s success on NCIS should show producers and directors that stories centering on individuals above 50 are fascinating and under-represented.

Mark Harmon’s role on NCIS should be seen as an example to inspire change

Actresses in Hollywood have it even worse than actors. While some movies and TV shows focusing on older women, do exist, try to think of five actresses above 65 who are still landing leading roles. Did you get past Meryl Streep? Who followed her?

While it’s a bit easier to brainstorm older, successful males in entertainment, thinking of older women who are thriving in Hollywood presents a greater challenge. If Mark Harmon is here to show Tinseltown that older males deserve more roles, as they can still handle the spotlight and deliver on audience expectations, it’s time for a major network to produce a show proving that older women can do the same.

It’s not 1950, and it’s no longer okay for Hollywood to be a false representation of society. The film industry is an art designed to reflect contemporary culture and social values; what does it say if we tell the world people over 50 don’t have space in film? Then, where is their place in society? If art reflects life, it’s time for a whole portion of the lifespan, an age range that has been previously neglected, to receive a bit more screen time!