‘NCIS’: Why Isn’t Mark Harmon a Bigger Celebrity?

Not all actors in Hollywood push themselves to the brink just to become a part of the A-list. While you can say a good majority do, a rare few realize what’s really important in life and stick with what they know works. Mark Harmon has become one of those unique actors with NCIS while still being considered a major success.

What “success” entails for one celebrity may look overly conservative or boring to another. Some want to go all the way in becoming major movie stars, travel the world, and win major awards. For Harmon, he’s become the true king of TV success, based merely on wanting to be close to home with his family.

Take a look at how Harmon has changed what being Hollywood A-list really means.

Many Harmon fans still wonder why he didn’t become a bigger acting name

Mark Harmon
Mark Harmon on NCIS | Erik Voake/CBS via Getty Images

Anyone who’s lived a while will know Mark Harmon has been in TV and movies going back 45 years. While a large part of his acting credits come from television, his movie credits are almost as long. He didn’t start acting in films until 1978 when he had a minor role in Comes a Horseman.

His most popular time as a movie actor was during the mid to late ’80s when he managed to star in his own vehicles like Summer School. These films only performed modestly at the box office, but he was finding more success on TV as a very familiar face. St. Elsewhere finally ensconced him as a true TV star.

In 1986, it even led to him playing one of the most controversial serial killers of all time: Ted Bundy. You still find people who think Harmon’s performance in The Deliberate Stranger was better than Zac Efron’s current portrayal.

Despite all of this, fans on Reddit still field out questions asking why bigger things didn’t happen for Harmon after this point.

Starting in the ’90s, Harmon stuck close to home with TV projects

Even though Harmon did make periodic theatrical movies up until 2010, TV became his true calling. He did several TV series during this period, more than a decade before starting JAG and NCIS.

One cop drama called Reasonable Doubts was a moderate hit on NBC from 1991-93 and co-starred Marlee Matlin. You can say this show convinced Harmon playing a cop on TV was probably his best niche. Twelve years earlier, he’d also done the same in the brief 1979-80 series 240-Robert.

Not that playing a doctor wouldn’t intervene based on his four-year stint as Dr. Jack McNeil on Chicago Hope.

Maybe some wondered at the time why he huddled so close to TV when he was apparently hiding the fact he simply wanted to be close to his wife and kids year-round.

Being A-list shouldn’t mean sacrificing time with loved ones

The sacrifices many A-list actors have made in the name of winning awards and other industry recognition has a haunting track record. How many great actors have we seen give up everything else in life just to win Oscars and make a huge mint?

Harmon managed to figure out it’s possible to still garner respect and make a lot of money. Once NCIS started, he eventually became one of the executive producers (contentiously), making him a fortune over the last 16 years.

Sticking with the show has also enabled him to be close to his family in L.A. No wonder he and wife Pam Dawber have been married successfully for 32 years. Time with his kids has likely been more meaningful rather than off filming a movie in a foreign country for months on end.

We have to wonder if other actors have seen what’s possible with Harmon’s example. Perhaps we’ll see a new Hollywood philosophy develop where being hellbent on winning Oscars becomes a more backburner activity to stay sane.