'NCIS' Star Mark Harmon Reportedly Might Only Appear in Handful of Episodes in Season 19

NCIS will definitely be back for its 19th season later this month with Mark Harmon returning as Special Agent Gibbs, but just how many episodes will feature the beloved star is still up in the air. It has been an ongoing question all summer, with no solid answer. During CBS' Television Critics Association Press Tour panel on Thursday, even CBS Entertainment President Kelly Kahl could not give a definite number. The only thing that is clear is that Harmon probably won't be in every episode.

"Mark's always been part of the show, Mark's always going to be part of the show," Kahl said Thursday when asked about Harmon's future. "In terms of his on-air appearances, we're just going to have to see how it plays out going forward." Kahl was referring to Harmon's role as an executive producer on the show. Harmon also served as an executive producer on the recently-concluded NCIS: New Orleans.

While Kahl couldn't comment on the specifics, NCIS has made several moves that hint at Harmon's scaled-back role in Season 19. The show cast The Good Wife star Gary Cole in a new role, Special Agent Park. Katrina Law was also brought back as Special Agent Jessica Knight, who was introduced in the final two episodes of Season 18 as a guest star.

Gibbs was at the center of the biggest cliffhanger of the 2020-2021 television season. At the end of Season 18, his boat suddenly blew up with him on it, but his "lifeless" body was seen swimming away. After the episode aired, sources told TVLine in June Harmon would only appear in a "small number" of episodes, adding it would be in the "low single digits."

NCIS showrunner Steven D. Binder noted there were several ways the final scene of Season 18 was filmed, but they chose to leave it open-ended. "We shot a lot of different things for that [sequence], and there were a lot of different ways to cut it," Binder told TVLine on Aug. 30. "And what we left with was something that we felt left all possibilities open. We know he's not dead right there, and we know he's able to swim well enough... All things are still possible with Gibbs."

Binder later suggested that some of the reports around the show are not "necessarily" true. The show is still facing complications while filming under COVID safety protocols. "What we're trying to focus on right now is telling the best stories we can with the characters we have - and Gibbs is a part of that world. And I think we're doing a pretty good job with that," he said.

NCIS will air in a different timeslot for the first time ever this season. The show was moved to Mondays at 9 p.m. ET and will premiere on Sept. 20. The show will act as a lead-in for the new NCIS spin-off, NCIS: Hawai'i, starring Vanessa Lachey.