‘NCIS’ EP Discusses How the Show ‘Pays Homage’ to Earlier Stars Like Mark Harmon

by Caitlin Berard

The majority of TV shows can produce around five seasons of quality content. After the fifth season, a show typically reaches triple digits in episodes and suffers a noticeable decline in the strength of its storylines, viewership, or both.

Every now and then, however, a show will stand the test of time, defying the laws of television to enjoy multiple successful decades of consistent episodes. The iconic police procedural NCIS rests firmly in this category.

In September, the drama will begin its 20th season, making the JAG spin-off one of the longest-running scripted primetime TV series on American television.

The Many Changes Throughout the Series’ History

The series now has more than 400 episodes in its catalog, producing around two dozen episodes every year since 2003. As such, it’s no surprise that NCIS has undergone a large number of cast changes in that time. The police procedural has shifted so many times, in fact, that the current cast is almost entirely different from the original!

Season 1 of NCIS featured five main characters: SSA Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon), Agents Caitlin Todd (Sasha Alexander) and Anthony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly), Forensic Specialist Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette), and Medical Examiner Donald “Ducky” Mallard (David McCallum).

Of those five characters, only Ducky is still featured at all, and he isn’t among the series’ main characters. As David McCallum is now 88 years old, he has a much more limited role with the show than he did in previous years.

Even Mark Harmon, who acted as the heart and soul of NCIS from the very beginning, finally made his departure in Season 19. And though fans adore many of the characters in the new lineup as well, nothing can compare to the magic of the early seasons.

‘NCIS’ Has New Characters But Maintains the ‘Family’ Atmosphere

Mark Harmon’s Leroy Jethro Gibbs was replaced by Alden Parker (Gary Cole), a likable yet far less fatherly character. And as Katrina Law, the actress behind agent Jessica Knight explained, it was a difficult but rewarding transition.

After describing the Season 19 scene in which Alden Parker puts himself at risk for his team for the first time, Law said that the moment proved that, even without Gibbs, the fictional NCIS squad remains a family.

“I think that was a huge moment for the show going forward,” the actress said in the “Cast of Characters” bonus content on the Season 19 DVD set, as reported by Parade. “Because it showed, ‘Yes, we are a team. We care about each other and, eventually, we are all going to love each other as a dysfunctional little family.'”

Executive Producer Scott Williams couldn’t agree more, sharing that no matter how many changes the series goes through, there’s always an effort to maintain the original spirit of the show.

“It’s fun for our audience to feel that the old family is still very much in the room,” Williams explained. “We can tell new stories and still pay homage and respect to those who came before.”