A year before Mark Harmon started his stint on NCIS, he played a sexy and smart Secret Service agent on The West Wing.
Harmon was so good in his four-episode arc, he earned his second career Emmy nomination, which came 25 years after his first. And he was so terrific on The West Wing, the NCIS show creator decided to cast him on a guest-starring role on JAG. That represented the back door pilot for NCIS.
As good as Mark Harmon is at playing Leroy Jethro Gibbs for 18 seasons, he’s never garnered an Emmy nomination for NCIS. But he was brilliant as Simon Donovan on West Wing.
This was back in 2002. At the time, Harmon had been out of network TV for two years. And Harmon told the Chicago Tribune that West Wing producers faxed a scene to him on a Wednesday and he was at work, Thursday morning. He obviously was eager to work on a quality show. His last TV role was as a doctor on Chicago Hope.
The West Wing, which starred Martin Sheen as President Jed Bartlet, was one of the most decorated dramas in TV history. It won 26 Emmys with 95 nominations. Harmon was one of the 95, drawing a nod for outstanding guest actor.
“I appreciate that I’m in very rare air here,” the NCIS star said about The West Wing. “So often the formula (of a series) gets changed by outside pressures, but they’ve been able (to create an atmosphere) where it’s all about the work. This train called `The West Wing’ is moving fast, and you’re expected to keep up.”
Performance on West Wing Caught Eye on NCIS Creator
On The West Wing, Harmon played Simon Donovan, a Secret Service agent who was assigned to protect press secretary C.J. Cregg, who was played by Allison Janney. Someone was stalking C.J. in the season three finale called ”Posse Comitatus,” the chemistry between Cregg and Donovan was obvious. And the two were allowed to finally show their feelings.
Simon told C.J. her stalker was in custody. They shared a celebratory kiss. Would strong, independent C.J. finally find love? West Wing fans know what happened. Donovan bravely foiled a convenience store robbery. But he was shot and killed. Fans were gutted.
The West Wing, which was written by Aaron Sorkin, was known for its snappy, quick dialogue. So Harmon had to get used to that. And, his character needed to be on his toes to keep up, intellectually, with C.J. The future NCIS star was up to the task.
Harmon said the two characters were “two very smart people who are used to doing things their own way.”
He acknowledged the chemistry during the Chicago Tribune interview. “Part of that is from the writing, and part of it is just the pleasure of playing opposite Allison. She’s a gifted actress, and it’s just fun to bat it back and forth.”
Harmon was one of three guest stars on The West Wing who earned an Emmy nomination. However, the winner was Charles S. Dutton from The Practice.
After he finished with The West Wing, Harmon’s next job was on JAG, then NCIS. We know the rest of the story.