If you asked most people who Mark Harmon is, they’d more than likely tell you that they recognize him as Leroy Jethro Gibbs, the intrepid agent from the CBS hit series NCIS. But while that project is his latest claim to fame, the iconic actor has been in his fair share of other memorable roles, in films and TV shows alike.
Even the most seasoned Harmon fans might have forgotten the fact that he’s appeared in some of the films and shows we’re about to list below. Some are deep cuts, while others are regular gigs that Mark Harmon participated in for some time.
But each one of the roles below are fine examples of just what Harmon has achieved in his career as a respected character actor, who then went on to become one of the most stable fixtures of modern TV.
Let’s start out with an interesting bit of trivia very much relevant to NCIS, which is the fact that the 16-seasons-strong law enforcement drama has outrun the show that gave it its start by a good six seasons. Before Leroy Jethro Gibbs was running around with his team of agents throughout anywhere the job took him, Gibbs was investigating one Commander Harmon Rabb (David James Elliot.)
In the Season 8 two-parter “Ice Queen” and “Meltdown”, series creator Donald Bellisario used the JAG finale for that season as a backdoor pilot to launch NCIS back in 2003. With only Special Agent DiNozzo and NCIS director Morrow making the jump to the series proper, which debuted mere months after these episode aired. It was a small start, but it was enough to kick off a huge franchise for CBS – one that might circle back to its origins, if fans’ hopes are acknowledged.
JAG isn’t the only TV show outside of NCIS, and its various spinoffs, that can boast an appearance of Gibbs in its fictional universe. In the Season 10 episode of Family Guy, entitled “Tom Tucker: The Man and His Dream”, when Tom Tucker (Seth MacFarlane) goes back to his dream job as an actor in Hollywood, he plays a bit part as a suspect on NCIS. Sure enough, Mark Harmon was on hand to provide the voice for Gibbs, as he interviewed Tucker’s minor character about a suspect on a random case.
If there’s anything to thank for this bit of TV history, it’s probably the fact that Peter Griffin thinks Mark Harmon is the epitome of cool. Kind of hard to argue against that fact, as Harmon was a good enough sport to bring Gibbs to life in animated form.
The West Wing
Between his guest starring spot on JAG, his entire run on NCIS, and a four-episode guest arc on NBC’s The West Wing, Mark Harmon has had almost 20 years of consistent experience as a fictional law enforcement agent. Though his beginnings were a bit rocky, as Harmon’s role as Secret Service agent Simon Donovan was a rather short lived one.
Originally assigned to protect Bartlet Administration figure C.J. Cragg (Alison Janney), Simon and his protective detail start to flirt and fall in love. Sadly, this relationship wouldn’t last, as the ever brave Agent Donovan was killed, trying to prevent a robbery in a New York City bodega. Though, if you want to get creative, maybe this was just Gibbs doing some undercover work, with his presumed death letting him go back to business as usual.
It’s not all deathly serious when it comes to the world of Mark Harmon’s career, as the man had made a name for himself in some interesting roles off the beaten path in the 1980s. Perhaps the most offbeat, and most relaxed form of Harmon the world has ever seen is in his role as slacker Summer School teacher Freddy Schoop. Mark Harmon is pretty much the anti-Gibbs in this movie, as he’s a fun-loving gym teacher who is kinda forced into teaching summer school to a ragtag group of students as motivated as he is.
Wearing Hawaiian shirts, hitting on Kirstie Alley as a history teacher, and letting his more charming easygoing nature shine, Harmon is the furthest he could be from the role he currently embodies. Though, interestingly enough, one of his students in this film is none other than JAG star Patrick Labyorteaux; also playing against type as a typical ‘80s football jock.
Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths
To NCIS fans, Leroy Jethro Gibbs basically is Superman. So the fact that Mark Harmon actually voiced the famed DC Comics hero in the animated film Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths pretty much makes the inclusion of this role a slam dunk. As the last son of Krypton, Harmon’s Man of Steel has an interesting scenario to overcome.
With an alternative universe villain by the name of Owlman (James Woods) intending to destroy Earth Prime, so that no other alternative universes will be created due to its existence, Superman and his Justice League pals have to fight a battle across worlds to save us all. In the years between Brandon Routh’s portrayal in Superman Returns and Henry Cavill’s tenure in the role beginning with Man of Steel, it was good to have Mark Harmon’s familiar voice of wisdom keeping the DC Comics universe in order.
Being the romantic interest in a rom-com can be hard, but it’s even harder when the person you’re chasing after just switched bodies with their daughter. 2003’s Freaky Friday remake saw that very scenario take place, as Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan swapped bodies, just as Curtis’ character, Tess, is about to marry Mark Harmon’s character, Jake.
The film’s drama is predicated on Lindsay Lohan’s Anna not approving of this would-be suitor, despite the fact that Harmon’s romantic co-lead is a pretty decent guy. Proving himself to be not only a great boyfriend to Tess, but a supportive future step-father to Anna, Jake gets his time to shine at just the right moment. An opportunity that only further reinforces the charm and easygoing nature Mark Harmon can play into when he lets loose.
This entry is going to be quite a ride, as Mark Harmon’s earlier TV career not only cast him twice as a doctor, but in the case of David E. Kelley’s Chicago Hope, it’d be a gig that would put Harmon in touch with some fellow future NCIS players. Also, in the role of orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jack McNeil, the actor would make network history as well. Throughout his four seasons on the medical drama, Mark Harmon served as long as NCIS cast member Rocky Carroll, better known to you series fans as Director Leon Vance.
But in another interesting twist, Harmon was also on the show when Director Jenny Shepard herself, Lauren Holly, came on board in the final season, as a plastic surgeon. Oh, and that bit about network history? Well, as it turns out, the 1999 episode “The Other Cheek” saw Dr. Jack McNeil becoming the first person to say, “Shit happens”, on a network drama that was in the pre-watershed timeslot of 9 PM. But you South Park fans probably already knew that.
Laverne And Shirley
As a journeyman actor through various decades of television history, Mark Harmon has played quite a few odd roles here and there. But if you were to call out any of his various roles as an atypical example of his career overall, his small stint on hit sitcom Laverne and Shirley would surely be one of them. Playing the bit part of Victor in the episode “Dating Slump”, Harmon’s unlucky bachelor is summoned to the apartment of this classic duo.
In the hopes that she’ll help end Shirley’s (Cindy Williams) dating slump, Laverne (Penny Marshall) is inspired put an ad in the paper selling a non-existent Jeep. Even heeding the extra note to bring flowers, Victor comes a’callin’, showing off Mark Harmon as the comedic straight-man we’d come to expect from the man who plays Gibbs on NCIS. Though short and sweet, it’s a fantastic moment of sitcom history.
2004 was a tough election year. This was not only because we had to choose between Mandy Moore and Katie Holmes as the free-spirited first daughter to get behind, we also had to choose between Mark Harmon and Michael Keaton as our fictional presidents/their well-meaning, but ever watchful dads.
In the case of Chasing Liberty, the Moore/Harmon ticket was the one to watch, as President James Foster (Harmon) hires a Secret Service agent (Matthew Goode) to look after his daughter during an “adventure” in Europe. While the fictional election between Mark Harmon and Michael Keaton would be a hard contest to pick a side in, it’s not hard to see that there’s a case to be made for ending NCIS with a season where Leroy Jethro Gibbs becomes president by a landslide. Though, good luck trying to keep him in the White House for long.
We end our Mark Harmon retrospective with a role that might have taken him in a similar, but extremely different direction, if fate had panned out the way it was intended. During the initial phase of his acting career, Harmon had a guest starring role as Officer Dave Gordon on the television drama Emergency!
But besides giving him the chance to play an officer of the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Control in the episode “905-Wild”, it was yet another backdoor pilot that was poised to give Mark Harmon a break. And this time, it would have been with animal action on a weekly basis! Alas, that opportunity didn’t pan out, though lucky for us, Harmon would find himself on a trajectory so great, it gave us his most iconic character to date.
So while you may still mostly know him as Leroy Jethro Gibbs of the NCIS, there’s a lot more you can claim to know Mark Harmon from thanks to this helpful list. In a career that’s made him a law enforcement officer, a superhero, plus a president and a Secret Service agent, there’s no telling what the future would bring, were he ever to find Agent Gibbs retired from TV.
Thankfully, we won’t have to worry about that too much, as NCIS, and its spinoffs, are very much alive and airing on CBS, with plenty of stories to tell to keep the series busy for some time.