NCIS debuted its milestone 20th season last night, and the episode surprisingly ended with lackluster ratings.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the hit CBS procedural only drew in 5.82 million viewers on Sept. 19. The number is down 31 percent from last year’s opener. It also only earned a 0.42 rating in the 18-49 demographic. In all, NCIS has its smallest one-day audience in series history.
There are a few factors that may have caused so few people to tune in to the season premiere, however. The episode competed with Monday Night Football as well as games on ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2. In fact, nearly every series that aired against the NFL matchups came in with lower-than-expected ratings.
‘NCIS’ Season 20 Was the First Season to Open Without Mark Harmon
This year was also the first premiere that did not include OG star, Mark Harmon. The actor had been with the series since its pilot and had become the obvious fan-favorite star. But he and his character, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, both decided it was time to retire in 2021.
When Harmon exited with the episode titled Great Wide Open, Gary Cole’s Alden Parker stepped in to take the lead. And throughout Season 19, he appeared to be a suitable replacement for fans. However, people held out hope that Harmon would return for cameos since he remained in the opening credits as the top-billed actor.
Unfortunately, Season 19 closed with no further Harmon appearances. And what’s worse is that this season began with new opening credits. On Monday, Timothy McGee’s Sean Murray took Harmon’s place.
Fans had been chattering about the meaning of the actor’s place in the credits ever since his exit, and they’d been wondering if he would continue being recognized as the series moved forward. So the changeup likely left many people disappointed.
Mark Harmon is sticking with NCIS as an executive producer. In fact, he had a part in this year’s premiere. However, he’s been ready to give up his place on the screen for a few years. The actor reportedly came close to exiting after Season 18. But CBS threatened to cancel the series if he made the move. So Harmon agreed to return the following year in a limited capacity to help ease Cole into his role as the new team lead.
Harmon ended up starring in four episodes that season and left Gibbs’ exit to the writers.
“I’ve always trusted the writers here,” he told Entertainment Tonight. “The character continues to evolve. He’s getting older, and that’s some of what I’m dealing with as an actor as well as playing the character.”
The series has left the door open for a return in the future, however. And since Mark Harmon still works behind the scenes, it would be an easy jump to make a cameo. So there’s still a chance that heartbroken fans will get their encore.