‘NCIS:’ The Shocking Feud That Made Mark Harmon the Most Powerful Person on the Show

At this point in his career, NCIS star Mark Harmon is pretty much synonymous with the TV show. He’s been there since the show debuted in 2003, and there’s no doubt he’s the star. Plus, he has an executive producer role on the show, which means he does a lot more than what we see on the screen. However, you might have a different opinion of Harmon after you find out about the way he gained so much power on the show.

NCIS almost didn’t exist

Before we discuss the shocking way Mark Harmon took over NCIS, we have to talk about how the show got started.

The TV drama JAG eventually gave us NCIS, but CBS had to swoop in and run the show on its airwaves after it faltered at NBC. Aside from the fact that both are hour-long dramas, JAG and NCIS have one other thing in common — TV executive Donald Bellisario created both JAG and NCIS.

A few JAG cast members show up on NCIS and that show’s spinoffs. Patrick Labyorteaux plays Bud Roberts, Jr. in a handful of NCIS episodes, and John M. Jackson reprises his role of A.J. Chegwidden on NCIS: Los Angeles. The similarities between both show point toward an NCIS-JAG crossover show in the future.

The shocking way Mark Harmon took over the show

Aside from JAG and NCIS, which have aired for nearly 30 seasons combined, Donald Bellisario has a long track record of TV success. He gave us Battlestar Galactica, Magnum P.I., Airwolf, and Quantum Leap long before the other shows came on the air. However, his management style didn’t jibe with Mark Harmon at all.

The long hours on set and last-second rewrites resulted in 16-hour days on set, according to a TV Guide report. Harmon called it a “chaotic management style” that wore on him and his fellow co-stars.

Harmon talked to CBS brass about the workload, and Bellisario was forced to resign as the producer in charge of the show. However, he still receives credit for creating the show. Plus, Bellisario still works with CBS; he gets writing credits for the network’s Magnum P.I. reboot.

It was a contentious split

A star more or less pushing the creator and manager off the stage sounds like something you’d see on a TV show, but it really happened.

For what it’s worth, Harmon never backed down on his assertion that Bellisario worked actors too hard. He mentioned that the cast and crew were used to six-day work weeks for months at a time during a Los Angeles Times profile. One of the reasons Sasha Alexander moved on from NCIS was because of the grueling schedule. She tearfully told Bellisario she couldn’t handle it anymore.

However, Bellisario didn’t care for being forced to relinquish control of the show. He filed a breach of contract lawsuit after he walked off the NCIS set, according to Deadline.

Seeing the show’s continued success might sting for Bellisario for another reason. Mark Harmon’s role of Leroy Jethro Gibbs is very personal for Bellisario. Leroy and Jethro are the names of his father and grandfather, according to Fox News.

Harmon makes a fortune for his work on NCIS

Harmon doesn’t earn quite as much as what the cast of Friends makes for reruns, but he’s still doing OK for himself. He earns $525,000 per episode for NCIS, according to The Observer. That’s higher than Emilia Clarke’s salary and that of her co-stars for the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones.
However, when you throw in the producing credits and syndication money for the show, Harmon might make even more for each show.

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