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NCIS has been going strong for nearly two decades at this point with Mark Harmon still playing the now-iconic character that he originated on JAG back in 2003. Now, it's looking like Mark Harmon might be giving up the role of Gibbs at the end of Season 18, and this news comes with NCIS not yet securing a renewal for Season 19.
Mark Harmon's current NCIS contract expires at the end of Season 18, and THR states that the show could be heading toward a conclusion without the longtime leading man who is the face of the series. That said, Harmon is reportedly in talks with the CBS Studios production company and the CBS network to come back for "a handful of episodes" rather than let the show be cancelled due to his departure.
NCIS has not yet been officially renewed for Season 19, but CBS also has not announced that the shortened Season 18 will be the long-running series' last. That said, the NCIS franchise may be expanding even further in the not-too-distant future, regardless of NCIS' status. Another spinoff is reportedly in the works to take the action to Hawaii and approaching a straight-to-series order, which would make it the fourth NCIS series and the first spinoff not to launch via backdoor pilot.
Both NCIS: Los Angeles and NCIS: New Orleans have their origins in NCIS two-parters, while the scrapped spinoff got a backdoor pilot of its own. Does the news that NCIS: Hawaii would launch without a backdoor pilot point toward CBS actively planning for a future without NCIS? It seems a lot may depend on Mark Harmon, although there is no confirmation about the future of NCIS or Harmon as Gibbs either way at the time of writing.
Reports of Mark Harmon's willingness to return for some but not all episodes of Season 19 do raise the question of how the show could write him out of the day-to-day operations of the NCIS office. It's possible that Gibbs could simply move elsewhere within NCIS, opening the door for him to occasionally drop in on the NCIS team whenever there's a case that requires his expertise while focusing his attention elsewhere (off-screen) most of the time.
He could also retire from NCIS, which I would say he has definitely earned by this point, although that raises the question of what could bring him into the mix. Maybe giving advice to the agents who are still active in the agency? At least talks of Gibbs returning from time to time presumably means that NCIS wouldn't do the unthinkable and kill Gibbs off.
After all, the show managed to say open-ended goodbyes to other huge characters without killing them, and even brought Ziva back for a full arc last season despite seemingly killing her off years before. Sure, there's the occasional death, but I'd consider Gibbs running off to the Caribbean with Jack before I'd expect NCIS to kill the longtime star of the flagship franchise series off.
For now, we can only wait and watch new episodes of NCIS still starring Gibbs. NCIS is saying goodbye to a major character sooner rather than later, so be sure to tune in when the show returns from its current winter break. Season 18 is nearly half over already, with NCIS as one of the CBS series to have its usual episode count cut for the 2020-2021 TV season due to pandemic protocols, among other changes.