NCIS, the beloved long-running action drama, continues to captivate audiences as it gears up for its highly anticipated season 21, set to premiere on Monday, February 12, 2024, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS. However, amidst the excitement of its return, we can’t help but reminisce about the past seasons and the unexpected turns that altered the show’s landscape.
Throughout its tenure, NCIS has bid farewell to several iconic characters, leaving viewers stunned and curious about the reasons behind their sudden exits. Join us on a journey through the untold stories and enigmatic departures of these unforgettable characters.
Uncover the mysteries that surround the surprising departures, shedding light on the behind-the-scenes moments that forever changed the dynamic of this renowned series.
Sasha Alexander (Caitlin ‘Kate’ Todd)
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.
Michael Weatherly (Anthony DiNozzo)
Michael Weatherly, known for his portrayal of Anthony DiNozzo on NCIS for 13 seasons, unexpectedly bid farewell to the show. The character’s exit was depicted as a poignant departure, leaving NCIS after discovering he had a daughter with Ziva, who was believed to have died in a mortar explosion orchestrated by Sahar Azam to kill her.
Reports suggest there were several factors contributing to his departure. Weatherly revealed a longing for the on-screen chemistry between his character and Ziva, played by Cote de Pablo, which significantly influenced his decision. Moreover, after dedicating 13 years to the role, Weatherly felt a sense of burnout and a desire for new challenges, prompting his departure from the iconic series.
Despite this departure, there remains a glimmer of hope for fans. Executive producer Steve D. Binder has expressed openness to the potential return of Michael Weatherly as Special Agent Tony DiNozzo in the future, keeping the door ajar for the beloved character’s comeback.
Cote de Pablo (Ziva David)
Cote de Pablo, renowned for her portrayal of Special Agent Ziva David on NCIS, bid farewell to the series in 2013. Ziva’s introduction in the season 3 premiere, “Kill Ari (Part 1)”, marked the beginning of her journey, eventually becoming a regular cast member starting from the episode “Silver War”. However, her unexpected departure during season 11 led to only brief reprisals of her role in seasons 16 and 17.
Initially, the reasons behind her exit remained undisclosed. However, in 2016, de Pablo shed light on her decision, citing dissatisfaction with the direction of her character and the quality of the scripts. She voiced concerns about her character’s treatment, feeling that Ziva wasn’t receiving the respect she deserved. This led her to step away from NCIS until a compelling storyline worthy of Ziva’s character was crafted.
Her eventual return to the show in 2018 and 2019, after a six-year hiatus, offered a more fulfilling closure to Ziva’s narrative, delving into her pursuit of reuniting with Tony and their daughter, providing a poignant resolution for fans invested in her story.
Maria Bello (Jacqueline ‘Jack’ Sloane)
Maria Bello’s portrayal of Jacqueline ‘Jack’ Sloane, the astute forensic psychologist who joined the NCIS team in season 15, came to an unexpected end after just three seasons.
The announcement of Maria Bello’s exit from NCIS came in 2021, coinciding with her character, Jack Sloane, bidding farewell after season 18. The reason for her departure was straightforward: her contract had reached its conclusion, and she made the decision not to extend it.
Despite the contract’s expiration, Bello returned to NCIS for the first seven episodes of season 18, ensuring her character received the closure she deserved.
Additionally, sources disclosed that Bello’s choice not to renew her contract was driven by a desire to allocate more time to her family, particularly to support her partner battling cancer at that time. Her decision reflected a heartfelt prioritization of personal matters amid her successful tenure on the show.
Lauren Holly (Jenny Shepard)
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.
Mark Harmon (Leroy Jethro Gibbs)
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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