NCIS mothership says farewell to franchise’s ‘north star’ Mark Harmon…

Harmon, who played team leader Leroy Jethro Gibbs for nearly two decades, departed the hit show this week...

Adding some fuel to the fire that suggests this could be the last year for record-breaking, top-rated US drama NCIS, its most enduring star, Mark Harmon, aka Leroy Jethro Gibbs, bowed out of the show in  this week’s episode ‘Great Wide Open‘ after solving a final, personal case and deciding to stay on in Alaska (the location of much of the episode) where he’d ‘found peace’.

It’s been widely reported that Harmon was ready to hang up the role last year, but was told that CBS were unlikely to renew the show without him and that would mean the loss of a lot of associated jobs on the production. A compromise was reached with Harmon returning, but for a limited run of episodes in this nineteenth season. Many presumed these would be scattered through the season, but instead they played out over a more immediate story-arc that concluded the drama that had marked the end of the last run when Gibbs’ boat had exploded when he was being tracked by a serial killer. (He survived, naturally).

Harmon (previously known for his roles in St Elsewhere, The West Wing, The Presidio and as notorious serial-killer Ted Bundy) has been with the show since the very first episode in 2003 – in fact, even earlier with the backdoor pilot of the JAG series that originated the concept.  The show had a strong core cast that has fluctuated over the years (more quickly/dramatically in recent years) but always seen Gibbs as its rudder. The character out-lasted every other regular character, despite their long-service and the final episode saw the return of David McCallum’s ‘Ducky’ Mallard who has been on a recurring status for a number of seasons after the character hung up his coroner duties and also Pam Dawber (Harmon’s real-life wife) as Marcie, the investigating reporter who has been assisting him. The episode also solved a major ongoing mystery/joke about how Gibbs got the boats he made out of his basement (no spoilers here…)

Ratings/viewership has fluctuated across the years, but for a large percentage of its run, NCIS was officially the most popular primetime drama on American television, a hallmark of the Tuesday CBS schedule until its change to Mondays this season. It spawned NCIS: Los Angeles, NCIS: New Orleans and the latest entry NCIS: Hawai’i (the latter of which has just been given a full season order).

“As an executive producer and dear friend, Mark continues to be an integral part of the fabric of the show,” NCIS showrunner Steve Binder said in a statement. “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.”