Mark Harmon’s NCIS Exit Explained: What Happened To Gibbs?

Why did Gibbs left NCIS: Naval C***l Investigative Service in season 19? Mark Harmon has been the face of NCIS as Special Agent In Charge Leroy Jethro Gibbs since its inception in 2003, so his departure changed the show’s dynamic from that point on. While Harmon continued to serve as an Executive Producer on the series despite Gibbs’ absence from the show, his character remained out of the picture. NCIS currently holds the honor as CBS’ longest-running scripted primetime series, following the lives and adventures of the federal special agents responsible for investigating felony c****s, preventing terrorism, and protecting secrets for the Navy and Marine Corps.
Created by Don McGill and prolific creator-producer Donald P. Bellisario, the man behind Detroit Lions baseball cap-sporting Magnum P.I. — among many others — NCIS has featured many significant cast departures over its storied 18 years, but none as impactful as Harmon’s. CBS is no stranger to replacing leading faces on their series, but NCIS somehow survived without Agent Gibbs, although he is still missed. Harmon’s departure came early in that season, leaving CBS with plenty of time to see if the show could work without him.
How Gibbs’ Final NCIS Storyline Played Out

To answer why did Gibbs leave NCIS in storyline terms, his last case had been long in the making. In Harmon’s penultimate episode, the team discovered the murders they thought perpetrated by a serial k****r were actually at the hands of a hired hitman (Jason Wiles). After ditching FBI Agent Alden Parker (Gary Cole), Gibbs took the hitman where he wanted to go in exchange for information. The k***r blew himself up, but only after revealing he was responsible for destroying Gibbs’ boat, and not before telling Gibbs who hired him.
Gibbs traveled to Naktok, Alaska, where the investigation led him to Sonova Industries, whose pending copper mining project threatened to wreck the area. After learning Sonova’s CEO, Sonia Eberhart, hired the hitman to kill everyone who might disclose details of the environmental damage the mine would cause, Gibbs and the NCIS team closed in on evidence to put her away for the de**h of the journalist investigating it.
Why Gibbs Decides To Leave NCIS

The NCIS episode featured key moments between Gibbs and his team, including Nick Torres played by Wilmer Valderrama (who returned as Fez in That ’90s Show). The team moments were interspersed throughout the episode, clearly foreshadowing Gibbs’ departure. The fact he dumped the phone he’d carried for so long inside a coffee mug before leaving certainly indicated he knew he wouldn’t need it after this case.

However, Gibbs’ plan wasn’t to retire. After ditching the FBI and helping the hitman get to where he wanted to die, Gibbs had broken the law. He had every intention of serving time for his crime — he even told Parker right where to find him. That was not the way that Gibbs’s time on NCIS would end. He didn’t deserve that fate, so after Parker saw all the good Gibbs had done, he disobeyed orders to arrest him, which cost him his job. Gibbs decided to remain there because he had found peace. The first peace he’d felt since the deaths of his wife and daughter, and he wasn’t willing to let that feeling go.
Why Mark Harmon Left NCIS After 18 Seasons

As for why did Gibbs leave NCIS in real life, Harmon was ready to move on in NCIS season 18. He negotiated a limited appearance at the top of season 19 to make sure the series was renewed. As a producer and long-time veteran of the franchise, he’s invested in the series’ future. Vacating early at the top of a season instead of leaving at the end of another gave NCIS the best shot at being renewed. NCIS had time to prove it could keep an audience without Harmon. Since Agent Parker was fired for helping Gibbs, he found a job waiting for him at NCIS.
Could Gibbs Return To NCIS?

Why did Gibbs leave NCIS? He wanted to retire to the quiet life instead of dying in a heroic blaze of glory, so the door remains open for a possible future return. Showrunner Steve Binder said as much in a statement released the night of Harmon’s departure: “As an executive producer and dear friend, Mark continues to be an integral part of the fabric of the show.” Binder added, “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.”
NCIS Survived After Mark Harmon’s Exit

The answer whether NCIS can survive Mark Harmon’s exit hangs largely in the balance. After all, Gibbs is the show’s main character, and audiences have grown to know and love the protagonist over the many years that NCIS has been on the air. That being said, plenty of other shows have lost their main character and managed to fight on for a few more seasons. NCIS season 19’s ratings was a central factor in determining whether viewers could cope without Gibbs on the show.

This is a key reason why did Gibbs leave NCIS at the very beginning of the season: to test whether the series could function without him. The TV show has gotten rid of various fan-favorite characters in the past, so audiences are at least used to NCIS characters’ exits at this point. However, the loss of Gibbs was one of the biggest character losses that NCIS viewers will have to face. Luckily, Agent Parker helped fill the enormous hole that Mark Harmon’s exit from the show left behind.
Mark Harmon’s Thoughts On Leaving NCIS

A year after Gibbs left NCIS, Mark Harmon discussed the reasons for leaving and what he hoped to accomplish with the long-running show in his rearview mirror. The comments came on the DVD release of season 19 where Harmon talked about Gibbs’ legacy on both the show and the overall NCIS franchise. According to the actor, after 18 seasons of working almost exclusively as Jethro Leroy Gibbs, he wanted a chance to tackle “fresh” and “challenging” material, something he wasn’t able to take on with the NCIS schedule.

However, he also left the door open with some good news. Harmon said on the DVD feature that Gibbs is not “retired” as a character, which means that he can return to the show for special appearances f he chooses. “The character is living in Alaska as far as I know. Plot-wise, this character has taken the path that it did. I thought it was honest and OK with.” While Gibbs has not returned, he has also not been forgotten. He was mentioned in at least three episodes in season 20 so while Mark Harmon might not be on NCIS, the show is keeping Gibbs’ memory alive.

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