When Gibbs swam away from his boat in the 18th season of NCIS, viewers thought that was the final curtain. Of course, it wasn’t, but he didn’t stick around for much longer after that. Why did Mark Harmon leave the show in such a dramatic fashion, though? And what was going on behind the scenes to cause his exit?
There had been rumors about a potential departure during season 18, and fans could have been forgiven for thinking that Harmon would be leaving when his boat blew up. But Gibbs turned up again for the first few episodes of the 19th season before rapidly leaving again. This was definitely an unusual way to treat a fan-favorite character who'd been around for almost 20 years. So you can see why people thought there could have been more to the situation than met the eye.
Something fishy seemed to be going on. Hollywood gossip circulated for a good while that Harmon would be leaving the show. In some ways, NCIS also seemed to be setting up a new chapter. When Cote de Pablo came back — and we started to see a bit more of Ziva David — the idea got loose that she would fill Gibbs’ boots. Harmon had made no secret of his desire to spend more time on his ranch in Montana.
So, perhaps it wasn’t entirely a surprise that producers wrote Gibbs out of the show. In the fateful episode, he finally finishes his business with Paul Lemere and disappears from view on his boat. And the opening episodes of the following season certainly made Gibbs’ exit seem almost inevitable. Harmon once said, "I have to be challenged. The busier I am, the better I like it." Could it be that the crime procedural was no longer fulfilling his creative ambitions?
Harmon has been involved with NCIS since it first aired in 2003. If you can believe it, he’s appeared as Gibbs in more than 400 episodes! And it’s fair to say that he has been central to the show’s success. Only Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has aired for longer than NCIS. But will it survive the departure of Gibbs? Rumor has it that there’s a lot of angst on set, so maybe more people will follow in Harmon’s footsteps...