Mark Harmon Revealed Gibbs Almost Had A Different Name, And He Nearly Dropped Out Of NCIS Because Of It

Leroy Jethro Gibbs was almost never born.

Mark Harmon as Leroy Jethro Gibbs in NCIS

(Image credit: CBS)

While Mark Harmon left NCIS at the beginning of Season 19, fans may still have a hard time getting used to it. Leroy Jethro Gibbs was such a big part of the series for 19 seasons and a father figure to the agents, so he made quite an impact on the long-running procedural. Even though there were other A-listers up for the role of Gibbs, Harmon won everyone over. However, at one point, the actor nearly dropped out of the show because of a possible name change.

Leroy Jethro Gibbs is definitely an interesting name, and now an iconic one. Harmon told ET that when the show was still in development, he not only loved the script but his character’s name. Unfortunately, it almost didn’t stick:

I didn’t expect to like the script as much as I did when I first read it. I was reading other things and I was also trying to stay home — young family, and I wanted to try and be home more. I read ‘Leroy Jethro Gibbs’ and thought, ‘Huh, I like that name. And then, for a brief second, when I decided that I liked the idea of the project, the name changed.

On NCIS, it was explained how Gibbs was named after his father’s close friend and World War II veteran Jethro “LJ” Moore. With a backstory like that and even an episode centering on LJ, it’s hard to imagine that another name was in mind when the series was still in development. Harmon recalled how he fought with the show’s creator about the name, and obviously, he won:

Bob Johnson or something like that. And I went, ‘No, no, it’s gotta be Leroy Jethro Gibbs.’ The creator said, ‘No, you can’t play a guy named Leroy Jethro Gibbs,’ and I said, ‘Why not?’ And then it went back, and I was happy about it.

NCIS Special Agent Bob Johnson does not have the same ring to it. Plus, hearing everyone just say “Gibbs” or “Jethro,” in Ducky’s case, fits a whole lot better. The show would have been completely different if they went the Bob Johnson route and didn’t land Mark Harmon.

That’s not to say that Harmon is the sole reason that NCIS has been around for so long, as the show’s rotating cast members have made it just as entertaining along with the intense storylines. Although executive producer Charles Floyd Johnson believed that the actor leaving would be “the death knell” of NCIS, the series is still going pretty strong. NCIS will be returning to CBS early next year as part of the 2024 TV schedule with Season 21, and there’s always a possibility that Harmon could return sometime in the future.

A character may be memorable because of their stories, but the name also makes an impact. Leroy Jethro Gibbs is arguably one of the best characters in the NCIS franchise, if not the best, and Mark Harmon is a big part of that. He was also one of the highest-paid actors at one point. It’s a good thing they listened to him when he said he didn’t want to change the name because who knows what could have happened. Leroy Jethro Gibbs may no longer be on the team, but his impact, legacy, and many rules will remain an important part of NCIS.

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