Almost a year after his departure as a series regular, longtime NCIS star Mark Harmon's name has been removed from the opening credits, marking the end of an era for the long-running CBS procedural. Sean Murray, who plays McGee, is now the first cast member featured in the opening montage, supplanting Harmon. For almost 20 years, Mark Harmon was the face of NCIS until last year. In a move that stunned many members of the audience, Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs decided it was time to bid a fond farewell to his friends and coworkers, and decided it was time for a change of scenery, informing the team that he would be staying behind in Alaska indefinitely.
Harmon had opted for a reduced role in season 19, rather than leaving at the end of 18, because he reportedly learned that CBS was unlikely to renew the series if he left. He remained on the cards up through the season 20 premiere.
The series remains one of the most-watched shows on TV, in spite of having lost Harmon (who starred for 18 years) just a year after Michael Weatherly left the series.
"As an executive producer and dear friend, Mark continues to be an integral part of the fabric of the show," said showrunner Steven D. Binder the day after Harmon's last episode. In the statement, he also hinted that a return is possible, if Harmon wants to do it. "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."
"Everyone is aware that the door is open if he ever wants to pop in for an episode, or multiple episodes," said CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl (via TVLine).
Originally a spinoff of the military legal drama JAG, NCIS has ballooned into a brand of its own, with three spinoffs so far. While one of them, NCIS: New Orleans, concluded earlier this year, it was replaced on the schedule almost immediately by NCIS: Hawaii, which debuted last month. As with any long-running series, NCIS has had its share of cast turnover, but Harmon's Gibbs has always been the rock audiences could depend on to keep the tone and direction of the show stable.