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Fans mourn as NCIS Star Mark Harmon Exits Series After 18 Years

NCIS fans express same concern after main cast member bids farewell

Mark harmon quits NCIS

For nearly 20 years, Mark Harmon has been the face of NCIS, the long-running CBS procedural series. Last night, to the astonishment of many viewers, Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs decided it was time to say goodbye to his friends and colleagues. In the episode titled “Great Wide Open,” Gibbs and Special Agent Timothy McGee (Sean Murray) were sent to Alaska to do what they have done hundreds of times before: solve a case, catch a killer. However, at the end of the episode, Gibbs decided it was time for a change of scenery and informed the team that he would be staying in Alaska forever.

Harmon had opted for a reduced role this year, and fans who follow entertainment news particularly closely guessed that he was preparing to leave the show. The when and how of it, though, remained somewhat shocking.

“As an executive producer and dear friend, Mark continues to be an integral part of the fabric of the show,” said showrunner Steven D. Binder in a statement circulated to the trades. In the statement, he also hinted that a return is possible, if Harmon wants to do it. “Our north star has always been staying true to our characters, and that truth has always guided the stories we tell and where those characters go. So, regarding the future of Gibbs, as long-time fans of the show may have noticed over the years…never count Leroy Jethro Gibbs out.”

At the conclusion of his final episode, Gibbs was offered his badge back by Leon Vance but declined ( Image: CBS via Getty Images)

While the change may feel a bit abrupt to some, the writers did their best to tie it into the character’s personal mythology and history on the show. Gibbs told McGee that he had not felt this peaceful in the Alaskan wilderness since the death of his wife and daughter. He admitted that he wasn’t ready to let go of that feeling, and told his partner that he couldn’t have asked for anyone better to watch his back for all these years.

Originally a spin-off of the military legal drama JAG, NCIS has evolved into a brand of its own, with three spin-offs to date. One of them, NCIS: New Orleans, ended earlier this year and was almost immediately replaced by NCIS: Hawaii, which premiered last month. As with any long-running series, NCIS has always had cast changes, but Harmon’s Gibbs has always been the rock that viewers could count on to keep the show’s tone and direction steady.

Last season, there were signs that Gibbs’ time on the show may be coming to an end. At one point he was suspended for using excessive force on a particularly repulsive suspect, and then there was an explosion in the season finale that nearly killed the character.

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Mark Harmon exits ‘NCIS’ after 18 years on the show, will remain a producer