‘NCIS:’ The Roles That Prepared Mark Harmon to Play Gibbs

TV, TV on the wall, who’s the best special agent of them all? While there are multiple shows on television with narratives weaved around cops and killers, lawyers and criminals, investigators and scientists, not one of them is as successful as the hit show NCIS.

Mark Harmon
Mark Harmon | Photo by Mathew Imaging/FilmMagic for Academy of Television Arts and Sciences

Going onto its seventeenth season, NCIS is the most watched show on TV and boasts an unrivaled international fan base. While fans keep coming back for more, as the stories keep building suspense and delving further into the various character dynamics, one man lives as the face of the series, and even the subsequent spin-offs it has inspired. That man is none other than Mark Harmon.

Mark Harmon leads the cast as Special Agent Jethro Gibbs. The U.S Marine Corps Scout Sniper turned Special Agent for the Naval Criminal Investigate Service, Mark Harmon brings humor, heart, determination, and will to the character we have all come to know and love. However, surprisingly or not, he had many roles akin to this one that may have helped mold him into a perfect Gibbs.

Before JAG, which led to NCIS, Mark Harmon had played many a tough guy, many a crime-stopper. So, let’s dig into his previous work to see just how ready he was to take on the beloved Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

Mark Harmon in ‘The Presidio’ (1988)

The Presidio was a 1980s crime thriller starring Mark Harmon as ex-military policeman-turned-detective Jay Austin. When Austin’s former partner is killed at a military base, he jumps on the case.

To Austin’s dismay, he soon realizes that discovering the guilty will require help from an old rival. Austin falls in love with his old rival’s daughter, and he and his former rival find mutual respect as they work to uncover the mystery behind the crime.

In terms of a close match, both Gibbs and Austin are ex-military men turned investigators (one is a special agent, while the other is a detective). Furthermore, the story, similar to NCIS, is filled with equal parts action and heart. How much closer to NCIS can you get?

Mark Harmon in ‘240-Robert’ (1979-1981)

While only lasting three seasons, 240-Robert was an ABC crime drama focusing on a specialized unit of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (utilizing four-wheel drive vehicles and a helicopter to carry out missions).

The series was based on real-life cases that the LASD’s Emergency Services Detail often encountered. Mark Harmon played one of the deputies on the show named Dwayne Thibideaux, Thib for short. Looks like Harmon likes his shortened nicknames, doesn’t he?

While Harmon left the show after his contract expired at the end of season one, you can’t exclude this role given all the obvious parallels to Gibbs. Though less of a success, Harmon definitely flexed his police-oriented muscles a bit before landing the gig of a lifetime.

Mark Harmon in ‘Reasonable Doubts’ (1991-1993)

Reasonable Doubts focused on the relationship between district Attorney Tess Kaufman and the hard-charging detective Dicky Cobb. The latter, portrayed by Mark Harmon, was set in his ways, determined to “bust the bad guys,” while the former was a bit new-wave and more sensitive to the rights of the accused. Dicky Cobb knew sign language and Tess (as well as the actress behind the character) was deaf, so they were paired.

In the end, Mark Harmon played several detectives before signing onto NCIS. However, many of the previous roles opened to negative critical reviews or simply didn’t stand the test of time. However, the actor made the right move in sticking to the police-oriented dramas, as now he’s one of the highest paid actors on TV.