Why Every Main Character Left NCIS
17 mins read

Why Every Main Character Left NCIS


  • NCIS has seen many beloved characters leave the show over its long run, some due to creative differences or scheduling conflicts.
  • The characters and their relationships are vital to the show’s success, with departures often stirring up emotions and speculation among fans.
  • Mark Harmon and Michael Weatherly’s exits from NCIS were influenced by burnout and desire for new challenges, while others left due to personal reasons.



NCIS has had a long run, but fans have wondered why Abby left NCIS along with a slew of other fan-favorite characters. As one of the longest-running shows on television, NCIS has seen plenty of turnover in its team of special agents. Though some fan favorites make an appearance on NCIS from time to time, other exits have been much more permanent. While most departures from the show were made on a high note, some farewells were less than amicable. Beginning in 2003, NCIS has become a staple in the CBS line-up.

The cast and characters of NCIS are a large part of the series’ success. After more than 20 seasons, it is still one of the most-watched scripted television shows around, pulling in millions of viewers every season. Starting as a spin-off of the hit show JAG, NCIS has launched successful spin-offs in Los Angeles, Hawai’i, and elsewhere. While the many plots and twists of NCIS have entertained fans for almost two decades, it is the characters that provide the true heart of the show. However, it isn’t clear why Mark Harmon and other actors left NCIS.

Watch NCIS on Paramount+


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Caitlin Todd – Sasha Alexander

Alexander Was Signed On To Play Todd For Six Seasons

Caitlin Todd pointing a gun in NCIS

Caitlin Todd left NCIS because she didn’t have the stamina to continue with the show. Todd (Sasha Alexander) was one of the first special agents on the NCIS team. As a former Secret Service Agent on board Air Force One, she was an expert psychological profiler who was frequently surprised by NCIS’ shirking of the rules. Todd’s exit from NCIS at the end of season 2 was shocking, as she was shot by the Mossad double-agent and series antagonist Ari Haswari right in front of her team. Alexander was initially signed on to play Todd for a six-season stint.

However, she left the series as a regular character at the end of NCIS season 2. Then-showrunner Donald Bellisario said Alexander did not have the stamina to meet the filming demands of a 24-episode season, which Alexander told TV Guide spanned “10 1/2 months a year, 17 hours a day.” After leaving NCIS, Alexander ended up in another television series, Rizzoli & Isles, where she played one of the main characters, Dr. Maura Isles. She was able to withstand the schedule this time, lasting for all seven seasons of the series, finishing up her stint in 2016. Alexander commented:

“I really firmly believe in my heart that I would not be where I am today — happily married, with two kids, doing things creatively that I want — if I had stayed.”

Ziva David – Cote De Pablo

Cote De Pable Felt The Character Wasn’t Being Treated With Respect

Ziva David stands in front of a coat rack in NCIS.

Ziva David left NCIS because she felt her character wasn’t written well anymore. Israeli Mossad officer Special Agent Ziva David (Cote de Pablo) was brought in to take the place of the recently deceased Agent Todd. Starting as a Liason Officer, David eventually resigned from Mossad to become a full-time member of the NCIS team alongside DiNozzo and McGee. Ziva’s romance with fellow agent Tony was one of the series’ greatest relationship arcs, culminating in the pair welcoming a daughter, Tali David-DiNozzo.

After the entire team resigned from NCIS in order to protect their team leader in NCIS season 1, David opted to return to her home country of Israel when her colleagues returned to their positions. Though viewers — and her team members — were led to believe that David died in an attack on her farmhouse in season 13, it was later revealed that Ziva had faked her death to go deep undercover and eliminate the criminals that had attacked her and her family. After the threat was eliminated, Ziva was able to retire to Paris in NCIS with her family.

Cote de Pablo had a long run as Ziva David on NCIS, and leaving the series was not an easy decision for her. Despite being offered even more money to stay on, de Pablo chose to maintain David’s integrity. De Pablo ultimately cited that the scripts were no longer good enough for her character, revealing in a 2016 Q&A that her character (via Hello Magazine):

wasn’t being treated with the respect she deserved…
until someone can write something really fantastic for Ziva I won’t come back.

Tony DiNozzo – Michael Weatherly

Weatherly Was Burnt Out After So Many Seasons

Tony left NCIS because he was simply tired of the show. Tony DiNozzo was one of the defining members of the NCIS team. Starting alongside Gibbs from the beginning, Very Special Agent Tony DiNozzo was known for his charm, humor, and playboy behavior. Just when it seemed like nothing could tear DiNozzo from his position, love ultimately won out. DiNozzo originally left to take care of his daughter after Ziva’s “death,” but having tracked down Ziva during her supposed death, DiNozzo was ready to settle down and raise their daughter in Paris once the dust had cleared.

Michael Weatherly was a staple on NCIS for 13 seasons — and, after such a long run, the actor was simply burnt out by NCIS. Weatherly was tired after so many demanding seasons, telling Hollywood Reporter that he was “ready for a new challenge.” He also greatly missed the on-screen chemistry between his character and Ziva David, who had already taken her leave. However, Weatherly’s real reason for leaving was getting to star in his own show, as he took on the lead in Bull in 2015 and remained there until the show ended in 2022.

Abby Sciuto – Pauley Perrette

Perrette Had An Ongoing Feud With Mark Harmon

Abby Sciuto left NCIS because the actor felt that she couldn’t work with Mark Harmon anymore. Though she was not a field agent, Sciuto was beloved both by her team and audiences alike. As the quirky, goth forensic specialist, there wasn’t a bit of evidence that could escape Sciuto’s keen eye — as long as there was enough Caf-Pow to fuel her, anyway. Though her methods weren’t always traditional, Abby always got the job done. After 15 seasons on NCIS, Sciuto left the series to start a charity in honor of her friend, Clayton Reeves, after he passed away.

But despite Abby and Gibbs’ close relationship on NCIS, Pauley Perrette and Mark Harmon had a falling out after Harmon’s dog attacked a crew member on set. When Harmon reportedly continued to bring the dog on set, the feud grew so much that they filmed on separate days, and the script was written to avoid having them on screen at the same time. Perrette would ultimately leave NCIS, stating (via Twitter) that she was “terrified of Harmon” and that she had nightmares of him attacking her. Perrette made her stance on this more than clear in her tweet.

Perrette got her own sitcom called
in 2020, but it only lasted one season before it was canceled. She hasn’t had any roles since that show.

Eleanor Bishop – Emily Wickersham

Wickersham’s Split With NCIS Seemed Amicable

Ellie Bishop looking confused In NCIS

Eleanor Bishop left NCIS for unspecified reasons, but the news she was pregnant arrived just two months after her exit. Special Agent Eleanor Bishop (Emily Wickersham) joined the NCIS team in NCIS season 11, taking up the mantle of Ziva’s absence. As a former NSA member, Bishop was an incredibly capable and quick-witted member of the NCIS Major Case Response Team. Bishop ultimately left the series after almost a decade with the team when it was discovered that she had leaked an NSA document in her past career.

This, however, was revealed to be part of a ploy for Bishop to enter an undercover operation after leaving NCIS in “disgrace.” Though Wickersham never cited a reason for quitting NCIS, it seems like the departure was amicable and was made in good spirits. Wickersham announced her exit in a 2021 Instagram post, thanking the cast and crew for the opportunity. Wickersham has not appeared in any projects since NCIS, but the actress welcomed a son with her partner shortly after her departure. Wickersham has not appeared in a movie or TV show since leaving NCIS.


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Jacqueline Sloane – Maria Bello

Bello Simply Didn’t Want To Renew Her Contract

Dr. Jacquelin Sloane in a red plaid suit in NCIS

Maria Bello left NCIS because she didn’t want to renew her contract for the series. Dr. Jacqueline “Jack” Sloane (Maria Bello), a former Lieutenant in the US Army, served as the team’s operational psychologist. The NCIS senior special agent had a close relationship with team leader Jethro Gibbs, to the point that the team would frequently rib the pair by hinting at a relationship between them. Though Sloane had hoped to retire to a peaceful life in Costa Rica, she ultimately decided to return to Afghanistan and further help those in need, continuing the work of a murdered friend.

Maria Bello’s exit from the show is another that seems to be in good spirits. After three years, the actress simply decided not to renew her contract, although she has never stated why. Bello expressed her love and gratitude for the cast and crew in a 2020 post (via Instagram), stating that she has “never worked with a kinder, more generous group of people.” Since leaving NCIS, Bello has appeared in the Netflix series Beef and was a co-writer on the award-winning movie, The Woman King​​​​​​.

Leroy Jethro Gibbs – Mark Harmon

Harmon Stepped Down After 18 Years But Still Serves As An Executive Producer

Gibbs left NCIS because he decided to retire from the series. As the team members of the NCIS Major Case Response Team rotated out, Agent Jethro Gibbs seemed like a permanent fixture. Taking no nonsense from his agents, Gibbs ran his team like a well-oiled family, keeping them all in line with a series of his own rules while ensuring they always got their guy in the end. While it seemed like Gibbs would run his team forever, he made the surprising decision to retire to Alaska in 2021, where he finally found peace.

After 18 years on the show, Mark Harmon stepped down from NCIS — in an acting capacity, anyway. Harmon continues to serve as an executive producer on the show, working behind the scenes instead of in front of the camera. An on-screen return for Gibbs is not entirely out of the question, but nothing has been confirmed yet. Still, a large faction of NCIS fans is eagerly awaiting his return. Harmon has mostly stepped back from acting, as he has appeared in nothing since leaving NCIS​​​​​​. As for Harmon, he was happy with his exit from NCIS (via Hello!).

“What has always drawn me here is the character I play and to keep it fresh and to keep it challenging. The character is living in Alaska as far as I know. Plot-wise, this character has taken the path that it did. I thought it was honest and OK with.”

Who Hasn’t Left NCIS Yet

Donald “Ducky” Mallard Is Still In NCIS In A Limited Capacity

Cheif M.E. Ducky on NCIS looking in suspicion

Most of the original NCIS cast didn’t make it through to the 21st season, save for one member who is still on the show, albeit in a limited capacity. Donald “Ducky” Mallard was introduced in the NCIS pilot episode as the Chief Medical Examiner and quickly became a fan favorite. His memorable quirks include speaking in-depth with the dead as he performs autopsies – a phenomenon often interrupted by Gibbs – and a vast collection of colorful bow ties. Ducky was given his own backstory and character arc, which includes his time working for the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Associations with the CIA and alleged war crimes aside, the character of Ducky (played by David McCallum) retired from his role as Medical Examiner in NCIS season 15, but remains on the series in a limited capacity. After NCIS season 16, it was announced that McCallum would only appear in a reduced capacity to spend more time with his family. The fact that the actor is 89 years old could also have something to do with it. All in all, McCallum has appeared in over 440 episodes of NCIS and remains in the series to this day.

Who Has Returned To NCIS?

Cote De Pablo Returned After She Faked Her Death

A montage of Gibbs and DiNozzo on NCIS.

The biggest return to NCIS of any of the departed cast members was Cote de Pablo, who returned in a shocking moment since most fans felt she had died. However, she faked her death and then returned in NCIS season 17 to seek help from Gibbs. Once that ended, she left again and seemingly moved to Paris to reunite with Tony and their child. There was one problem – Tony didn’t show up. This means that fans who wanted to see Tony and Ziva finally together for that big farewell moment haven’t got to see it yet.

However, that could happen eventually. There have been rumors that both Mark Harmon and Michael Weatherly could return for small bits in the next season of the show (via Radar Online). This could finally give fans the chance to see that big Tony and Ziva moment they were denied up until now. It would also be a nice return for Harmon’s Gibbs as fans have always wondered if he would come back occasionally to help out here and there as a guest star on NCIS.

NCIS Show Poster


NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) focuses on the sometimes complex and always amusing dynamics of a team forced to work together in high-stress situations. Special Agent Alden Parker, a quirky former FBI agent who solves his cases with calm professionalism and sharp, sarcastic charm, leads the NCIS team, which includes NCIS Special Agent Timothy McGee, an MIT graduate with a knack for computers who has now graduated to senior field agent; the charismatic, unpredictable and resilient NCIS Special Agent Nicholas “Nick” Torres, who has spent most of his career on solo undercover assignments; and sharp, athletic and tough NCIS Special Agent Jessica Knight, a formidable REACT agent who specializes in hostage negotiations and high-risk operations. The naïve Jimmy Palmer is assisting the team, who graduated from assistant to fully licensed medical examiner and now runs the morgue; and forensic scientist Kasie Hines, Ducky’s former graduate assistant. Overseeing operations is NCIS Director Leon Vance, an intelligent, highly trained agent who can always be counted on to shake up the status quo. From murder and espionage to terrorism and stolen submarines, these special agents investigate all crimes with Navy or Marine Corps ties.

sean murray , Wilmer Valderrama , Katrina Law , Brian Dietzen , david mccallum , Mark Harmon , Rocky Carroll , Gary Cole , Joe Spano

Release Date
September 23, 2003


Donald P. Bellisario

Donald P. Bellisario

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