‘NCIS’ Ratings Hit an All-Time Low as the Chances of a Mark Harmon Return Grow Slim

NCIS returned to CBS last week for season 20 via a two-hour crossover episode with NCIS: Hawai’i. The premiere was the start of a new era for the long-running procedural, as it was the first without series stalwart Mark Harmon (Leroy Jethro Gibbs). According to the ratings, though, many fans are already missing Harmon and some prefer not to watch NCIS without him.

NCIS star Mark Harmon as Agent Leroy Gibbs in an episode from 2009
Mark Harmon | Cliff Lipson/CBS via Getty Images

‘NCIS’ ratings hit an all-time low

NCIS premiered back in 2003 as a spinoff of the series JAG. It immediately became a hit for CBS. And by season 6, the drama was consistently in the top five list of most-watched shows. For many seasons, NCIS was the most-watched drama on television — pulling in an average of 18 to 20 million viewers per episode.

But in the new era of streaming, those numbers started to fall around seasons 15 and 16. And the show has been losing viewers ever since. In the pandemic era, the numbers have gotten even worse. The season 18 premiere in 2020 pulled in just 10 million viewers. And last season, those numbers fell to 8.5 million viewers.

The season 20 numbers, though, are at an all-time low. According to TV Insider, NCIS scored its lowest same-day audience in the show’s history. Down a whopping 31 percent from the season 19 premiere, the season 20 premiere drew an audience of 5.82 million overall. And, just a 0.42 rating in the 18-49 demographic — another series low.

The chances of Mark Harmon’s return grow slim

Harmon officially exited NCIS in Season 19, Episode 4 “Great Wide Open.” However, he remained in the opening credits for the entire season, which led some fans to believe that Harmon would be back at some point — but that didn’t happen.

CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl told TV Line that Harmon remained in the opening credits because season 19 was a “transition year.” When the show was renewed for season 20, Kahl said that removing Harmon from the opening was “something we might look at going forward.” And, that’s exactly what happened.

Harmon was removed from the opening credits for season 20. Now, they open with Sean Murray as Tim McGee, who’s been with the show since season 1. The credits close with the new team leader — Gary Cole as agent Alden Parker.

“After 20(!) seasons, seeing the #NCIS opening credits without Mark Harmon in it is a bittersweet feeling. But I love that Sean Murray has top billing. I love McGee and seeing how Murray has evolved his character is amazing to see,” one fan wrote on Twitter.

“Real sad not seeing Mark Harmon anymore in the opening credits,” another fan wrote along with a string of crying face emojis.

There could be another explanation for the low ‘NCIS’ premiere numbers

Losing the 70-year-old Harmon was definitely a blow for NCIS. But those low premiere numbers could have another explanation. It’s quite possible those ratings will increase when you add in DVR and streaming because the NCIS premiere went up against some pretty serious live competition.

The NCIS season 20 premiere faced off against a double bill of Monday Night Football — which had a game on both ESPN and ABC. The show also had to deal with the premiere of the Quantum Leap reboot on NBC.

Considering that the NCIS ratings didn’t tank after Harmon left in episode 4 last season, it’s possible that those low numbers will perk back up as the season progresses. Only time will tell.

NCIS and NCIS: Hawai’i air Monday nights on CBS.

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