‘NCIS:’ The Only Way the Show Could Survive Without Mark Harmon

Mark Harmon is the dashingly handsome and charming man behind the famous Agent Gibbs on NCIS. As the star and executive producer behind the most-watched scripted series on television, Mark Harmon is the face of NCIS, the figurehead so to speak.

Without Mark Harmon, what is NCIS? Harmon not only has say regarding his character’s narrative arc and dialogue, but he is also one of the most humble celebrities gracing the streets of Sunset Boulevard. Harmon has been on NCIS since the start. Now approaching its seventeenth season, many former NCIS stars have exited the set (a safe-haven of sorts preceding the risky “jump” into movies or a new series), but Harmon remains committed to and grateful for the show.

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

Harmon has seen his fair share of failures and successes; thus, he understands that another NCIS may not be in his cards. However, if the actor were to leave the series, for any number of reasons – to spend more time with his wife and kids, or merely to retire – would the show be able to withstand his departure? Probably not; however, there would be one possible way to give the series its best shot at outliving Mark Harmon’s stay.

Why the ‘NCIS’ demographic holds the answer to the show’s success

According to Statista.com, NCIS’s largest viewing population is aged 55 and over. While 29% of individuals above 55 watch NCIS weekly, only 14% of viewers aged 18-34, as well as 35-54, watch the show every week. Meaning, the show’s target audience is above 55.

Recent data, according to MarketingCharts.com, also indicates that, in terms of traditional television viewership, individuals above 50 are watching the most TV. This is not to say that individuals above 50 watch more TV overall; rather, unlike millennials and generation X-ers – who are watching and streaming TV on connected devices – those above 50 consume the most network TV, as the episodes air, by turning on the appropriate channel.

Given this data, it should come as no surprise that NCIS is the most-watched scripted TV series on the air:  its lead actor targets the demographic most likely to watch TV in a traditional manner.

Mark Harmon is the show’s main force, and at 67 years old, he reflects the demographic tuning in on a weekly basis. Everyone wants to see someone who looks like them on screen, and in a lead role. When it comes to NCIS, the creators – whether knowingly or not – cast a man who would come to represent the most important segment of the population concerning network TV ratings.

So, what does this imply for the show’s success following Mark Harmon? These demographics may imply that replacing Mark Harmon, with the perfect candidate, could be the answer; however, it would have to be done the right way.

‘NCIS’ could succeed without Mark Harmon if the “who” and the “how” concerning his replacement are perfect

What do we mean by the “how” concerning Harmon’s replacement? No one will accept a Mark Harmon replacement unless Agent Gibbs gives his blessing. Before we even prophecize possible replacements for Mark Harmon (in the distant, unforeseeable future), we must accept one truth: Gibbs must pass the baton upon exiting his role. If Gibbs passes the baton, the audience will accept the selection, or, at the least, be more willing to accept the selection.

Mark Harmon was an utter 80s (and 90s) heartthrob; he was People Magazine’s second sexiest man alive, and quite the well-known TV actor preceding NCIS. Remember Chicago Hope and St. Elsewhere? Meaning, his replacement would theoretically have to fill that same niche to satisfy audiences or, at the least, pique their interest.

If the selection is “good enough” for viewers to watch that first episode following Harmon’s departure, the show will have a chance at success. So, who could fill Harmon’s very large shoes?

Bill Pullman, Jeff Daniels, Christopher Meloni, and Harrison Ford seem like the best candidates. Bill Pullman is 65 years old and currently starring in The Sinner with Jessica Biel; he plays a detective. Christopher Meloni is 58 and will always be remembered as the face of Law and Order: SVU, yet fans of SVU would love to see him don a similar, yet different suit. Meloni would be a “nostalgic new,” if that’s even a possible sensation to feel.

While it would be hard to snag Harrison Ford, no one can deny that he would be an amazing replacement, for he would up the show’s caliber and definitely pique interest. As for Jeff Daniels, he could succeed in the role, but may be too tied to comedic characters to thrive.