Mark Harmon Breaks His Silence Over ‘NCIS’ Exit After 19 Seasons

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Mark Harmon is opening up at last about his decision to exit NCIS last fall. The character, who played NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs since the CBS procedural’s first season back in 2003, exited the show’s 19th season early on after speculation that Gibbs was being slowly written off the series, but has stayed largely mum about his choice to walk away.

In a first look at one of the special features from the upcoming Season 19 DVD release obtained by Entertainment Tonight, the 70-year-old actor hinted that it was time for him to close this chapter of his career, at least for now. “What has always drawn me here is the character I play and to keep it fresh and to keep it challenging,” Harmon said. “Plot-wise, this character has taken the path that it did. I thought it was honest and OK with.” He added of Gibbs’ fate in the show world, “I’m not retired… The character is living in Alaska as far as I know.”

In Gibbs’ final episode of NCIS before his exit, the character tells McGee during a fishing outing in Alaska that he would not be returning to the agency and was “not sure” how long he would be away. “My gut’s telling me, I’ll know when I find it,” Gibbs said of his next step in life. “This sense of peace, I have not had this since Shannon and Kelly died and I’m not ready to let it go.” He then handed over his role in the office to McGee, assuring him, “I could not have hoped for anyone better to watch my back for the past 18 years than you.”

Executive producer and showrunner Steven D. Binder left the door open for a possible Gibbs return in a statement he released at the time of Harmon’s exit. “As an executive producer and dear friend, Mark continues to be an integral part of the fabric of the show. Our north star has always been staying true to our characters, and that truth has always guided the stories we tell and where those characters go,” he said at the time. “So regarding the future of Gibbs, as longtime fans of the show may have noticed over the years… never count Leroy Jethro Gibbs out.”