Former NCIS Stars Who Left The Series Due To Behind The Scenes Drama

Since premiering on CBS in 2003, "NCIS," short for Naval Criminal Investigative Service, has achieved significant acclaim, drawing in over 10 million viewers per episode in the 2021–2022 season. The show's triumph spawned multiple spin-offs, including "NCIS: Los Angeles," "NCIS: New Orleans," and "NCIS: Hawaiʻi." Despite enduring substantial cast changes over its two-decade run, "NCIS" has maintained a devoted fan base as its special agents continue to tackle criminal cases.

While some of the actors, like Sasha Alexander and Lucas Black, left due to the hectic filming schedule, others exited the series because of behind-the-scenes drama. From co-star conflicts to toxic work environments, the "NCIS" franchise has faced off-screen turmoil throughout its history. The earliest instance of drama on set was when Mark Harmon reportedly got a producer fired from the show. In 2007, Harmon played a crucial role in the departure of "NCIS" co-creator Donald P. Bellisario when he complained about 16-hour workdays and last-minute script deliveries, attributed to Bellisario's "chaotic management style," per TV Guide. 

Crew members later confirmed there were multiple clashes between the two, citing their strong personalities and incompatible working styles to The Hollywood Reporter. However, executive producer Charles Floyd Johnson clarified that Harmon didn't explicitly seek Bellisario's dismissal but simply expressed discontent with the work environment. Bellisario maintained that leaving the show was his choice, stating, "I had done enough on the show, so I stepped away." The incident appears to have marked the beginning of off-screen tensions on the "NCIS" sets, as they were far from absent in the following years.

Pauley Perrette left because of alleged physical assaults

Pauley Perrette portrayed the character of Abby Sciuto for 15 seasons before bidding farewell to "NCIS." Abby, the beloved forensic specialist known for her distinctive gothic aesthetic and unwavering passion for her work, was a fan favorite throughout her tenure on the show. Despite Perrette's prior announcement about leaving the long-running CBS series, the real shock came when she revealed that on-set violence was the reason for her exit.

In May 2018, following her final episode, Perrette took to X, formerly known as Twitter, writing, "There is a 'machine' keeping me silent, and feeding [false] stories about me," adding, "He did it." Later that day, she followed up with, "I left. Multiple Physical Assaults." In June of the following year, Perrette implicated co-star Mark Harmon in the alleged assaults, admitting, "I am terrified of Harmon and him attacking me. I have nightmares about it."

The reported feud between the former co-stars stemmed from Harmon repeatedly bringing his dog to set, even after it bit a crew member. According to The Wrap, Perrette felt uneasy about the dog's presence on set. To manage the escalating tension, the production team scheduled Perrette and Harmon's filming on separate days, ensuring they didn't have to be on set together, not even for Perrette's final scene. Despite their characters having a close bond, it seems this connection didn't translate well to Perrette and Harmon's real-life relationship.

Cote De Pablo wasn't satisfied with her character's storyline

The unexpected departure of Cote de Pablo from "NCIS" took everyone by surprise, to say the least. Pablo portrayed the resilient Ziva David, an NCIS Special Agent with a tough-as-nails persona who joined the team after serving in Israel's national intelligence agency, Mossad. She made her debut in the third season and stayed until the eleventh, ultimately leaving due to disagreements with the show's producers.

In a 2016 Q&A session, Pablo touched upon her exit, citing dissatisfaction with the direction of Ziva's storyline. She revealed, "Unfortunately, because of political things and scripts not being good enough, I chose not to [return] ... They were going to send [Ziva] back to Israel and make her an unfortunate, miserable woman," (via YouTube). According to the actor, the script was disrespectful to her character and undermined everything Ziva represented.

CBS acknowledged Pablo's decision in a statement, noting, "Cote and CBS share a great respect for the 'NCIS' audience, and we look forward to working with her and the producers on appropriate closure in this chapter of Ziva's story," per CBS News. However, Ziva was seemingly killed off-camera in Season 13, which didn't sit right with fans. In an attempt to address this, Pablo returned for four episodes in Season 17, when it was revealed that Ziva had faked her death to protect her loved ones. She then went to live in Paris with Anthony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) and their daughter, Tali, which provided a more satisfying conclusion to her narrative.

Shalita Grant quit due to the toxic work environment

Another "NCIS" installment saw its mainstay leave due to behind-the-scenes drama. Shalita Grant, who portrayed special agent Sonja Percy on "NCIS: New Orleans" from 2015 to 2018, departed from the series under circumstances that were initially downplayed. Despite her manager asserting to Variety that there was no animosity, the real reason Grant left the series was troubling.

During an interview on the "Tamron Hall Show," Grant disclosed that she experienced racial bias on set, particularly from the hair department, which resulted in significant hair loss due to the intricate styles required. In addition, unlike her colleagues, Grant had to personally purchase her own wigs. The actor informed Hall that the criticism she faced on social media about her bad hair pieces didn't even matter because, in the end, she had to protect her tresses as much as possible.

Grant expanded on the issue in an interview with Vulture: "It wasn't just that the people didn't know how to do my hair. ... What was specific to them was a couple of producers who were committed to Sonja Percy not having a natural curl pattern." After standing up for herself in the face of mistreatment and opting out of the show, Grant's character bid an emotional farewell in Season 4 and transferred to the FBI.