Why Mark Harmon Stepped Away From Hollywood Before ‘NCIS’

NCIS fans have been clamoring for Cote de Pablo to return to the show, and she finally relented. The actress is returning to reprise her role of Ziva David this fall. But the same cannot be said of Mark Harmon fans who want to see him in movies again, as the actor does not plan to return to films anytime soon. Who needs it when you’re the head actor of a show that’s been on the air for 16 years and counting?

Before NCIS came along, Harmon had a solid career in both movies and TV, being particularly known for St. Elsewhere, Summer School, The Presidio and the Freaky Friday remake with Lindsay Lohan. Once he landed the role of Agent Gibbs; however, his movie career pretty much stopped. Here’s why he walked away.

What did Mark Harmon do before he was famous?

Mark Harmon
Mark Harmon | Photo by Erik Voake/CBS via Getty Images

Even before TV and movie audiences got to know him, Harmon had some notoriety as a college football player. He talked to Parade recently about his entire career, including his early days on the gridiron. His dad, Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon, scored 33 touchdowns playing football for the University of Michigan. 

“I was literally, like, 8 before I realized my dad ever got tackled, because on the (highlight)  reel, he scores every time he gets the ball!” Harmon said. 

Harmon picked up football himself when he was the quarterback for the Bruins at UCLA from 1972 to 1973. Once that was done, he considered a career in law, but the acting bug bit. Early gigs included appearances in Adam-12, Police Woman, and Emergency! He got his first Emmy nomination for the 1977 TV movie Eleanor and Franklin.

Why did Mark Harmon stop acting except for ‘NCIS?’

Harmon landed NCIS in 2003, and he appeared in a few movies and TV shows after that. But lately, NCIS has been his only acting role. His last movie was Weather Girl in 2009, and his last TV show outside of NCIS was an episode of Family Guy in 2012 — doing the voice of Gibbs, no less. So his last true non-NCIS TV role was really a movie called Captain Prey in 2011.

Harmon scaled back mostly because he wanted to devote more time to his family. He has two sons with his wife Pam Dawber of Mork and Mindy fame, who he married in 1987.

“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.,” he told Parade. 

To ‘NCIS’ and beyond

Harmon had already been working less when the NCIS pilot came along, but that was a role he couldn’t turn down — except that he wanted to show to stick with his character’s original name. 

“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?'” he said in Parade. 

Now Harmon is filming the new season of NCIS with fans obsessing over a photo that shows Harmon and de Pablo with blood on his head. They’re still wearing the same outfits they were in the last season finale, so it appears that Ziva’s warning to Gibbs arrived not a moment too soon. We’ll find out how it all plays out when NCIS returns on September 24.

In the meantime, Harmon remains grateful for NCIS. It took a while for the show to build its audience, so Harmon doesn’t take it for granted, even though they’re heading into season 17. 

“We didn’t find (our footing) until year seven or six. And we’ve been there ever since. That’s because of the fans,” he said.