Mark Harmon, who played Leroy Jethro Gibbs on NCIS, said an emotional goodbye to fans during the season 19 episode “Great Wide Open.” Fans were in stitches during and after his heartfelt breakup with longtime agent Timothy McGee. We’re not surprised, however, that Mark Harmon’s final episode had a similar impact on NCIS’ writers and producers. NCIS showrunners revealed nearly a year after Harmon’s final episode that many crew members cried while writing and filming “Great Wide Open.”
NCIS executive producer David J. North and co-executive producer Brendan Fehily wrote Gibbs’ final episode, “Great Wide Open,” according to Parade. The episode’s inspiration came from one of Gibbs’ final rules: Rule #91.
Rule #91, as many NCIS fans recall, is straightforward: When you decide to walk away, never look back. “I cried writing it, and then I cried shooting it,” Fehily said of “Great Wide Open.” To see Sean [Murray, who plays Timothy McGee] in that river at the end and cry… Many of the crew members were crying when the camera was turned around.”
The writer also discussed the difference between a storyline written on a page and one acted out by cast members.
“Writing it is one thing,” he continued. But it’s “another thing to see it all come to fruition in front of our eyes, everything we wrote.”
“I was as pleased as I had been for any single episode I wrote or was a part of,” Fehily concluded.
Mark Harmon Discusses His ‘NCIS’ Exit
Mark Harmon, like his character Leroy Jethro Gibbs, appears to be a man of few words. Harmon never addressed his departure from NCIS after leaving last fall. Instead, fans of the CBS series had to wait until the NCIS Season 19 box set’s bonus features to hear what he had to say.
Harmon said of his departure in the bonus features, “What has always drawn me here [to NCIS] is the character I play and keeping it fresh and challenging.”
He stated about the character “From a plot standpoint, this character chose the path that it did. ‘I’m not retired,’ I thought, was honest and acceptable. As far as I know, the character resides in Alaska.”
However, why Alaska? NCIS executive producer Steven D. Binder elaborated on the decision.
“It just didn’t feel right to see [Gibbs] retired and going grocery shopping, working in his basement, and playing checkers in the park,” Binder said. “It just didn’t seem right to put him somewhere, so we ended up putting him somewhere.”
Instead, NCIS writers gave Gibbs a new lease on life. They give him a more isolated life than he is accustomed to, but one that is quiet and simple. Longtime fans know Gibbs’ exit was a perfect fit for his personality.
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