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NCIS Star Mark Harmon Finally Speaks Out About Gibbs’ Exit In Season 19

Sean Murray's McGee speaking with Mark Harmon's Gibbs in the NCIS episode "Great Wide Open"
(Image credit: CBS)

Like many procedurals, NCIS has gone through a number of cast changes over its nearly 20 years on the air, but up until Season 19, Mark Harmon’s Leroy Jethro Gibbs had been one of the show’s few constants since the beginning. However, in Season 19’s fourth episode, “Great Wide Open,” Harmon exited the popular TV show, although he continued to be shown in the NCIS opening credits for the remainder of the season. 10 months after that episode aired, Harmon has finally spoken out about the big Gibbs farewell.

NCIS Season 19 aired its season finale on May 23, and we’re a little over a month away from Season 20 kicking off with an NCIS: Hawai’i crossover. In the meantime, the DVD collection of NCIS Season 19 is dropping on Tuesday, August 16, and ET was looped in on a special featurette where Mark Harmon spoke about about where we left off with Gibbs, saying:

What has always drawn me here is the character I play and to keep it fresh and to keep it challenging. Plot-wise, this character has taken the path that it did. I thought it was honest and OK with.

The groundwork for Mark Harmon’s departure from NCIS began forming in the latter half of Season 18, shortly after the show said goodbye to Maria Bello’s Jacqueline Sloane. Leroy Jethro Gibbs was suspended from NCIS for assaulting a suspect who was abusing dogs, and it became clear that he wasn’t interested in getting his badge back. Gibbs then started forming a bond with reporter Marcie Warren (played by Harmon’s real-life wife Pam Dawber), and the two teamed up to investigate a series of mysterious murders. The two came to the conclusion that a serial killer was responsible, but their investigation hit a snag when Gibbs’ new boat was blown up in the final minutes of the Season 18 finale as he was driving it.

Fortunately, Gibbs survived the attempt on his life, and over the course of his four Season 19 episodes, he uncovered the truth behind why these killings happened. This ultimately took him and Sean Murray’s Timothy McGee to Nekton Bay, Alaska, where the two of them and Gary Cole’s Alden Parker ended this threat once and for all. With Cole deciding to let Gibbs go rather than bring him into custody like he’d been told to do by his FBI superiors, Mark Harmon’s character decided to stay in Alaska rather than come back to Washington D.C. with Cole and McGee because he’d found a “sense of peace.” 

As Mark Harmon said in this NCIS Season 19 featurette, he thought that Gibbs’ journey for these final episodes made sense in terms of shaking things up for the character, as it felt like the kind of path Gibbs would take. Harmon also provided the below statement of assurance on how Gibbs is doing these days:

I'm not retired... The character is living in Alaska as far as I know.

With Leroy Jethro Gibbs opting not to return to NCIS, Alden Parker, who was fired by the FBI, was hired to take over as team leader for McGee, Wilmer Valderrama’s Nick Torres and Katrina Law’s Jessica Knight. And while he was no longer present on the show, Gibbs was frequently mentioned throughout the remainder of NCIS Season 19, including when it was revealed he’d set up a college scholarship club. As for whether Mark Harmon could return to the CBS show someday, Sean Murray said shortly before the Season 19 finale that he believes that “there’s a possibility of that happening,” and CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl said the day after the finale  aired that “the door is open if he ever wants to pop in for an episode, or multiple episodes.”

You can count on CinemaBlend to share if it’s officially announced that Mark Harmon is coming back to NCIS, whether it’s as a series regular again or in a guest role. For now, fans of the show can look forward to Season 20 premiering on September 19, and our 2022 TV schedule covers the other programming coming out for the rest of the year.

Adam Holmes
Senior Content Producer

Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.