Mark Harmon, who played series protagonist Leroy Jethro Gibbs for more than 18 seasons on NCIS, has recently passed away. The 70-year-old is still an executive producer on the show, but his role as the show’s star has ended.
Harmon was a force to be reckoned with on the set of TV’s most-watched show during his time there. Due to a conflict with the series’ star, creator Donald P. Bellisario was fired from NCIS in the early days. Harmon, according to Bellisario, released material to the press in order to get sacked.
After Mark Harmon featured in an episode of ‘JAG,’ Donald P. Bellisario created ‘NCIS.’
In 2003, Harmon guest-starred as Gibbs in episodes 20 and 21 of Bellisario’s JAG, titled “Ice Queen” and “Meltdown,” respectively. When the main character on JAG was the prime suspect in a murder case, the team from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service arrived, which featured Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly), Dr. Ducky Mallard (David McCallum), and Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette).
Harmon’s portrayal as Gibbs pleased Bellisario so much that he transformed the two-episode guest appearance into a backdoor pilot and presented it to CBS. For the fall 2003 TV season, the network picked up the JAG spinoff and renamed it NCIS.
On set, Mark Harmon and Donald P. Bellisario had a spat.
By the end of season 4 of NCIS, in the spring of 2007, tensions between Harmon and Bellisario were at an all-time high on set. At the time, TV Guide claimed that the situation was “far worse” than anyone had anticipated.
At the time, an insider alleged, “Mark has been working every single day, 16 hours a day.” “Don strives to be in charge of everything.” Last-minute script pages are faxed to the set, and Mark is tired of dealing with the significant impact this has on his life.”
The creator of ‘NCIS’ accused the show’s executive producer of leaking material in order to have him fired.
Bellisario was unexpectedly sacked from NCIS, but he was retained by CBS to produce other shows. The producer told The Los Angeles Times that Harmon was behind “a full-fledged PR operation” to force him out of the show he created after he was fired.
Harmon, he claims, was behind the anonymous press leaks alleging poor set conditions. All of this, according to Bellisario, was done to get him fired.
“I requested that Mark reshoot a scene. “He did it the same way he did it the previous time, and he never spoke to me again,” Bellisario recalled. “I really wish it hadn’t ended that way.”
In the press, Mark Harmon declined to ‘go head to head’ with Donald P. Bellisario.
Harmon remained tight-lipped regarding Bellisario’s departure. However, he did remark that circumstances on set improved once the NCIS founder left. He further implied that Bellisario was the one who was pushed out.
“Just because we’re working 14-hour days now instead of the 17- or 18-hour days we were doing before doesn’t mean we’re working any less hard,” the actor stated at the time. This thing has turned into a well-oiled machine. I’m not interested in going head-to-head with Bellisario in the press… He understands why he left.”
Mark Harmon’s account of events was backed up by another ‘NCIS’ star.
It wasn’t until several years later that another NCIS cast member spoke to the press about Bellisario’s termination. When Harmon and Bellisario battled in 2014, Harmon’s co-star David McCallum told Digital Spy that his co-star was standing up for the cast and crew.
“After a few years, we got to the point where [Bellisario] was sending us scripts late.” There was a squabble between Mark Harmon, the cast and crew’s representative, and Don, therefore CBS determined that Don would leave us.”