‘NCIS’: Why Did Lauren Holly Leave the Show in Season 5?

by Caitlin Berard

When a series runs for as many seasons as NCIS, characters come and go with regularity – and it’s expected! Producers can’t ask actors to make a lifetime commitment to their show and fans, as much as they might wish for their favorites to stay, understand that the constant question of characters’ departures is part of the fun.

For some actors, it takes decades for restlessness to set in. Mark Harmon, for example, stayed with NCIS for an astounding 18 years, plus a couple of JAG episodes, the series of which NCIS is a spinoff. For others, boredom occurs much quicker.

This was the case for Lauren Holly, who played Jenny Shepard, the director of the NCIS team. To make her character more interesting, a romantic relationship with Jethro Gibbs was often referenced, though it occurred before she became director.

When Lauren Holly was invited to join the cast of NCIS in Season 3, she was told it would be a guest-starring role, not a permanent position. Holly, who was living in a Chicago suburb raising her three children at the time, was promised around six episodes as NCIS Director. The character was a hit, however, and her role in NCIS stretched to 48 episodes rather than a simple six.

Lauren Holly Blamed the ‘Work Bug’ for Her ‘NCIS’ Departure

By the time NCIS Season 5 rolled around, Lauren Holly was simply tired of playing Jenny Shepard. Her time away from the set made her forget how much she loved to work. Once she reignited her taste for acting, however, she was anxious to move on to new challenges.

“To be honest, now that the work bug had bitten me again, I got bored with my part of the ‘Director,'” Holly wrote on her website. “Then the decision was made to kill me, and boy did they. About five different ways!”

Rather than leave the door open for future appearances, such as NCIS did with Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon), Jenny Shepard was written off the show permanently. The NCIS director was suffering from a mysterious illness, but that wasn’t what killed her. Instead, she was murdered by the fiancé of a Russian crime boss who she was sent to kill years prior.

Though it was a brutal end, a dramatic death isn’t an unusual way to write off a character. And Lauren Holly held no ill feelings toward NCIS for the ending to her story. “I wish them all success,” Holly said. “A lot of people depend on it for their families. For that, I hope it continues forever. It probably will. I think of them all often.”

Lauren Holly wasn’t wrong when she guessed that NCIS would continue forever. The 19th season of NCIS just ended with a 20th on the way. Despite the recent departure of Mark Harmon, the police procedural remains incredibly popular to this day.