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Why 'NCIS' can survive without Mark Harmon

NCIS

Mark Harmon plays NCIS special agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs in "NCIS."

More than 18 years after Mark Harmon first played Leroy Jethro Gibbs on an episode of "JAG," his run as the "NCIS" star is over. 

With Monday's episode, "Great Wide Open," Harmon's departure is official. While he will remain a producer, he will no longer be a regular cast member for the first time since "NCIS" debuted in 2003. 

It is a major but expected development. Reports circulated near the end of season 18 that Harmon was going to leave the show but decided to re-sign for a limited season 19 run. According to multiple outlets, Harmon believed that CBS would cancel "NCIS" if he didn't return. He is, it appears, the reason "NCIS" reached its 19th season. 

Now, the series faces the aftermath of its most significant departure. It was tough when Michael Weatherly (who played Anthony DiNozzo) and Cote de Pablo (who played Ziva David) left the long-running CBS series. But this is different. Harmon is the heart and soul of "NCIS." As Gibbs, he was the boss. Everything ran through him. 

It will not be easy. For long-time fans, it will be difficult to imagine "NCIS" without Gibbs. Some, apparently, are already pledging to not watch the show. They are entitled to this view, of course. But it's disrespectful to those who keep this series going, including Harmon, who will continue to serve as a producer. 

"NCIS" has a strong cast. The additions of Jessica Knight (played by Katrina Law) and Alden Parker (played by Gary Cole) will help fill the void. Nick Torres (played by Wilmer Valderrama) has been a strong character since he joined the lineup in season 14. The same goes for Kasie Hines (played by Diona Reasonover). 

It helps that "NCIS" has a few longtime cast members led by Timothy McGee (played by Sean Murray). McGee had a touching moment with Gibbs at the end of "Great Wide Open" when Gibbs decides that he is going to stay in Alaska. There were tears in McGee's eyes, but you wonder if those were tears in Sean Murray's eyes. It was a real moment and captured what a lot of fans were feeling — that it was hard to believe this is the end for Gibbs/Harmon.

"NCIS" should be OK for season 19. The introduction of the Knight and Parker characters allow them to take the show in a new direction. Plus, with McGee and Director Leon Vance (played by Rocky Carroll), there is a connection to the early years of the series. Those two, along with Palmer (played by Brian Dietzen) and Ducky (played by David McCallum), should provide enough stability. 

There is no doubt that whether "NCIS" has a 20th season is up in the air. Without Harmon, it's probably a tough sell. But this is a strong cast. They are capable of putting together a strong enough season to keep "NCIS" going into a 20th season and, perhaps, beyond. 

For now, a big thank you to Mark Harmon for the Gibbs character. Maybe it's not the last time he plays Gibbs on "NCIS," but it was a pleasure watching him all these years. For a long time, he has been my favorite character on television. His ability, flaws and strength all made "NCIS" what it is today. 

Thanks for the memories, Gibbs.

Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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Online producer and politics reporter

I have been The Citizen's online producer and politics reporter since December 2009. I'm the author of the Eye on NY blog and write the weekly Eye on NY column that appears every Sunday in the print edition of The Citizen and online at auburnpub.com.

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