‘NCIS’: Mark Harmon Recalls the Process of Writing Gibbs Out of the Show

by Taylor Cunningham

Mark Harmon enjoyed a long and successful career on NCIS as the fan-favorite character Leroy Gibbs. But after nearly two decades, the job wore thin, and he realized he needed to move on. However, writing the legendary character out of the show wasn’t an easy task.

Harmon’s NCIS run ended on October 21, 2021. In an episode titled Great Wide Open, he and the team traveled to Alaska to catch the notorious serial killer, Paul Lemere. As always, the agents tracked Lemere down, thanks to their endless sage advice from Gibbs. But as everyone prepared to go home, Gibbs shared some news, he wasn’t going with them.

When it came time to write Gibbs out of the script, both Harmon and the NCIS crew knew they had to give him a special and appropriate send-off. Because the character meant so much to the audience and his on-screen friends, ending his reign the wrong way could have killed the series.

‘NCIS’ EP ‘Left Open Any Possibility’ For Agent Gibbs

In a new CBS DVD special titled Being Gibbs, Harmon admitted that he personally believes that they imagined the perfect life for Gibbs. And he’s happy that the series was “honest” about how he walked away from his team. But the plan did not come from his own mind. Even though he put himself into Gibbs’ mind for 19 years, even he didn’t know how to do the exit justice.

“What has always drawn me here [to NCIS, not Alaska] is the character I play and to keep it fresh and to keep it challenging,” he said in the special. “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.”

The person who did decide to leave the agent in the Last Frontier was executive producer Steven B. Binder. He had to conceptualize a world where the ever-devoted team lead would quit. He worked through various scenarios, and in the end, he decided that his story needed to be left to fans’ imaginations, and it needed to follow the path of his wise and pensive backstory.

“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,” Binder shared. “It just didn’t seem right to put him actually anywhere, so we ended up putting him nowhere. 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.”