‘NCIS’ Showrunner Explains Why the Show Gave Parker an Ex-Wife

by Caitlin Berard

After a staggering 18 seasons with the hit police procedural NCIS, Mark Harmon, who played the series’ main character, Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, made the shocking decision to retire from the character. NCIS creators then turned to comedy legend Gary Cole, who would fill the incredibly large shoes left vacant by Mark Harmon as the new unit supervisor, Alden Parker.

The only question left was how to introduce him, both to the audience and his fellow characters. Starting with a blank slate is tough no matter the situation. But when dealing with a character as prominent as Agent Parker, writers took special care to develop his backstory.

Rather than have him share it himself, they introduced an ex-wife, Vivian (Teri Polo), who would organically provide stories about Parker’s life before joining NCIS.

In an interview with TV Insider, NCIS executive producer Steven D. Binder gave some insight into their decision to give Parker a single ex-wife rather than a long history of wives like Gibbs, or a deceased wife like Palmer.

“As you may remember, Gibbs had a lot of ex-wives,” he explained. “And on one level, someone Parker’s age has either never been married, is still married, widowed, or divorced. We did not want to give him a current wife for lots of reasons.”

“So that left him as a divorcee or a widower,” Binder continued. “And widower’s a little dark and Jimmy Palmer’s in that space. So we went for an ex-wife. Since we had a character who we played a multitude of ex-wives, we wanted to take this one in a slightly different direction.”

‘NCIS’ Star Gary Cole Opens Up About Taking Over for Mark Harmon

Replacing Mark Harmon on NCIS was a difficult, borderline impossible task. The actor was with the crime drama so long he predated the show! Mark Harmon’s character, Jethro Gibbs, actually made his first appearance in JAG, the classic TV series of which NCIS is a spin-off.

In an interview with Cinema Blend, Gary Cole talked about what it was like to “drop in” to NCIS as Parker, Gibbs’ replacement. “I’ve done a lot of dropping into shows,” he explained. “Usually as a recurring character. Part of my job description is to get comfortable, whatever that takes. I’m not trying to be [Gibbs]. The writers made that distinction.”

Thankfully, the writers of NCIS have a great deal of experience with the existing characters and knew exactly how to bring Parker in without creating too many unwanted waves.

The writers were very smart when they had [Parker] arrive during a conflict among the other characters,” Cole explained to TV Insider. “They were chasing a serial killer and Parker was chasing the same one. They collided in the middle of a case so there was immediate conflict and animosity [between them]. which was good.”