NCIS has been on TV for two decades, so naturally there’s been lots of cast turnover and instances of characters being written out. It’s par for the course for actors to decide that they want to move on, and the revolving door approach to who is and isn’t on the titular team helps to keep the show fresh.
There are two kinds of character exits: the ones that were telegraphed ahead of time, and set up so the viewers knew it was coming, and the ones that came out of absolutely nowhere and left everybody watching in shock. The former is notable, but the latter is what we want to focus on. Some of these exits are on the short list for most unexpected thing that has ever happened on NCIS.
Why did Caitlin ‘Kate’ Todd leave NCIS?
Caitlin ‘Kate’ Todd (Sasha Alexander) was a core piece of the NCIS puzzle early on. She was right next to Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) during the first two seasons, and was given the sort of character development and attention that a character is afforded when they are going to be part of a show’s fabric for years to come.
Then, she was gone. Todd was shot and killed in the season 2 finale, “Twilight” in what amounted to the most devastating death on the show up to that point. Alexander told TV Guide that she was the one who pushed for the character’s death, as she had been worn down by the grueling production NCIS production schedule.
Alexander made a few cameos via voiceover in later episodes, but her character’s death proved that fans could not take any NCIS members’ survival for granted. Anything could happen, and in the case of Todd, it actually did.
Why did Jenny Shepard leave NCIS?
Jenny Shepard (Lauren Holly) was brought in after Todd’s death, and provided the show was a new dynamic. Her previous romance with Gibbs meant that investigations had an underlying flirtation to them, and her status as NCIS director meant that she was oftentimes privy to information that the rest of the team wasn’t. It created a unique tension.
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Shepard was a terrific addition to a show that hit its stride between seasons 3-5, but as with the character she had technically replaced, her tenure was cut short. At the behest of Holly, who wrote a lengthy blog post about her decision to work on other shows, the NCIS writers killed Shepard. She took out two Russian criminals in the season 5 episode “Judgement Night (Part 1)”, but ultimately succumbed to injuries she sustained during the shootout.
Another death in the field, and another emotional scarring loss for Gibbs, who Shepard still had feelings for.
Why did Leroy Jethro Gibbs leave NCIS?
The big one. It was hard to imagine NCIS without Gibbs, since he was the most consistent and recognizable face in the entire franchise. As with the actors who came before him, however, Mark Harmon decided that he’d investigated enough naval based crimes, and decided to leave after the season 19 finale.
It’s tough to watch this episode even two years later, which is a testament to how much Gibbs means to the fans, and how well the writers created a narrative in which his exit felt justified. On the bright side, Harmon is still an executive producer on NCIS, and he hasn’t ruled out a return at some point down the line. The perks of leaving one’s most popular character alive, no doubt. He will be hanging out in Alaska until he is needed.
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