‘NCIS’: Here’s Why Tony DiNozzo Actor Michael Weatherly Left Show in 2016

by Suzanne Halliburton

Michael Weatherly as Tony DiNozzo on NCIS had the ability to be both silly and serious.

He played the former college athlete turned police detective turned NCIS special agent to perfection. But like many actors on the long-running procedural crime drama, he grew tired of the grind. Weatherly played DiNozzo on the show from 2003-16 and was one of the most popular characters on any CBS show.

“I was burnt out by NCIS and I was ready for a new challenge,” Weatherly told reporters at the 2016 Television Critics Association’s summer press tour. “Sometimes change is as good as a rest.”

“It really felt like a circle that had gone all the way around. And I really felt happy with the resolution of character and my time on the show,” Weatherly said.

Weatherly appeared on NCIS for the first 13 seasons. The DiNozzo back story explained that Tony was a former basketball player for Ohio State. He came from a wealthy family. And he started out his professional career as a policeman. He and Gibbs met when Gibbs was doing undercover work in Baltimore. DiNozzo found out his partner was a dirty cop. So he decided to come work with Gibbs at NCIS.

NCIS Fans Hated to See Tony Go

NCIS fans were devastated when Weatherly left. In 2021, you can still find posts on fan sites pining for Tony. The writers explained Tony’s departure by saying he was going to care for his young daughter he shared with former agent Ziva David. Everyone assumed Ziva died in an explosion. The little girl, named Tali, survived the blast. So she went to live with DiNozzo.

Weatherly joked with reporters: “I have to say it’s also a relief not to have wear a gun everyday.”

CBS let Weatherly leave, but they kept him on the network. Mark Harmon was the undisputed star on NCIS. As Leroy Jethro Gibbs, he recruited DiNozzo to NCIS. But CBS gave the charismatic Weatherly the opportunity to star in his own show. That’s how Bull came to be.

Weatherly’s New Show is About Trial Consultants

The show Bull is based on the early career of Dr. Phil McGraw. You know him from the talk show Dr. Phil. Early in his career, McGraw ran a trial consulting business to help out defense lawyers. And Weatherly, in Jason Bull, plays a character loosely based on McGraw.

“I think CBS was really eager to keep Michael for the obvious reasons,” Bull executive producer Paul Attanasio told the Hollywood Reporter. “There is nothing in entertainment like a star in a star part.”

Weatherly said there were similarities between his NCIS character and Jason Bull, if you studied the gray areas.

“DiNozzo was a guy who (needed) validation and approval and was very hungry for that,” Weatherly said. “And Bull is not hungry for that. He doesn’t need that, but both characters are fascinated by human behavior.”

Bull isn’t as popular as NCIS. But viewers still like it. For the 2020-21 TV season, the show ranked 18th among total viewers, with an average of 8.64 million. NCIS finished third, but was the top-rated scripted show on TV. The show averaged 12.7 million viewers. NFL games on Sunday and Thursday nights were the only programming to beat it.