NCIS is currently in production for season 20 — its first season without Mark Harmon (Leroy Jethro Gibbs). Harmon exited the series in Season 19, Episode 4 “Great Wide Open” after he asked to be written out of the show. But does that mean his character is retired and gone for good? According to showrunner Steven D. Binder, there’s always a possibility Gibbs will come back.
Mark Harmon’s departure from ‘NCIS’ was put in motion in season 18
Even though Gibbs was written out of NCIS four episodes into season 19, the plan for his departure was actually put in motion in season 18. That’s when Harmon asked to be written out, so the writers started putting the storylines in motion.
But instead of killing off the character or forcing him into retirement to work on his boat in his basement, Gibbs ended his run on NCIS in Alaska when his final case was solved. He sent Agent McGee (Sean Murray) back to Washington DC without him because he had found “peace.”
“What has always drawn me here is the character I play and to keep it fresh and to keep it challenging,” Harmon says in the “Being Gibbs” special feature on the NCIS Season 19 DVD.
“Plot-wise, this character has taken the path that it did. I thought it was honest and OK with, ‘I’m not retired.’ The character is living in Alaska as far as I know.”
Showrunner Steven D. Binder says Gibbs can come back
Even though he is no longer the face of NCIS on camera, Harmon has remained connected to the series as an executive producer. He’s also made it clear that he hasn’t retired from acting. Instead, Harmon wanted to do some different things after playing Gibbs for nearly two decades.
According to Binder, the door is always open for Harmon to return. This is why the writers put the character “nowhere” and didn’t give any specifics.
“It just didn’t feel right to see him retired and shopping at the grocery store, working in his basement, and playing checkers in the park … It just didn’t seem right to put him actually anywhere, so we ended up putting him nowhere,” Binder explained.
“He went off into the wilderness, into the wild. And that left open any possibility. It didn’t leave the audience with any specific thing. It allowed the audience to imagine what happened to Gibbs. He can come back. He’s safe. He’s happy.”
Harmon left Gibbs’ exit up to the writers’ room, and they decided to base his final episode on Gibb’s Rule 91: When you decide to walk away, never look back. It was co-written by executive producers David J. North and Brendan Fehily, and they say writing that script wasn’t easy.
“I cried writing it and then I cried shooting it. To see Sean in that river at the end and really get emotional… If you turned the camera around on a lot of the crew, there were tears in their eyes,” Fehily shared.
“It’s one thing to write it, another to see it in front of your face coming to fruition, everything that we wrote. I was as pleased as I had been for any single episode I wrote or been a part of.”
NCIS: The Nineteenth Season DVD — including all 21 episodes and 45 minutes of exclusive special features and behind-the-scenes moments — is now in stores. NCIS Season 20 premieres Monday, September 19 on CBS.