‘NCIS’: Mark Harmon Reveals He’s Still Surprised By This 1 Thing

Mark Harmon is in his 17th season of NCIS. The husband, father, and successful entertainer also has his hand in directing producing and, of course, acting. Of all the things he’s done, there’s one thing he still finds surprising.

Mark Harmon’s work ethic comes from the way he was raised

Mark Harmon and Stephen Colbert
‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’ and guest Mark Harmon | Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images

As the child of a Football Hall of Famer, Mark Harmon’s always had high standards to live up to. He previously reminisced with Parade about spending weekends with his father, Tom.

“I usually handled the broom and the sweep-up, but I watched him, and then once in a while, I got to do something,” he said. It may seem like a misnomer, but it’s that relationship that may have helped shape who Harmon is today.

Things like NCIS didn’t come right away for the star. Harmon followed lightly in his father’s footsteps, playing football — where he was good enough to get recruited out of college — but also baseball and rugby throughout high school.

“I probably remember more about the losses than the victories,” he said. “I don’t play it back easy.”

That sums up the way Harmon feels about most of his experience in entertainment, as proven by his work ethic.

 “Sometimes it’s not a popular position—you know, leadership often isn’t,” he said. “But I don’t find failure in being wrong. I learn from being wrong. Even a backward step can be a forward step because that’s where you learn the most.”

“You know, my dad used to say, ‘I’d sure like another shot at Minnesota,’ because he played ’em twice and lost to ’em twice. And I could say the same thing about USC because we lost to them twice too. But I’m not real good at looking back,” he says. “I’m better pushing forward.”

The star proved as much when he decided to take a big step back. But then, things changed.

Harmon intended to ‘scale back’ but made another choice instead

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Nearly 20 years later, Harmon realized his work ethic had gotten the best of him. He’d already appeared in many hit films like Wyatt Earp and Freaky Friday while taking on other hit TV shows.

He and wife of over three decades, Pam Dawber, raised two boys all while Harmon continued producing, directing, and acting. Then it all became too much.

“I work hard. [But] it’s where I come from,” he said, crediting his family’s work ethic. “I was directing a lot, I was doing a movie here or there and we had this young family that was growing up, and I was missing a lot of [family time],” which “just was not OK.”

Harmon took a break but that’s when the universe put something different in his path: the script for NCIS. Harmon’s concern, however, weren’t as much about how much work the show would entail, and more about the minor details.

“For a moment, when I started getting interested in doing it, the name changed to Bob Nelson or something, and I just said, ‘Eh…please, can you put the name back?’”

With 17 seasons under his belt and two successful spin-offs, Harmon found his groove. He confessed there’s still something he finds surprising in all these years of work.

What 1 thing that still catches Harmon by surprise?

As if acting in NCIS wasn’t enough, Harmon is also an executive producer. He co-developed and executive-produces its spin-ff, NCIS: New Orleans. The 2014-current run has paid off but Harmon said he didn’t expect it to, considering how long it took for NCIS to get going.

“We didn’t find [NCIS] until year seven or six. And we’ve been there ever since. That’s because of the fans.” And for that, he offers “a big thank-you. I don’t ever take it for granted.”

You never know what will work out in Hollywood, but the NOLA series seems to have resonated with fans almost as much as the original, NCIS. We don’t expect Harmon to take a break anytime soon (neither would Gibbs).