It’s easy to assume that NCIS will die without Gibbs. How can the show possibly survive without its figurehead? However, if you look at the habits of some other long-running shows, the answer changes.
Can ‘NCIS’ survive without Gibbs?
Yes, NCIS can survive without Gibbs. However, this question truly hinges on fan acceptance. For example, Doctor Who has existed now for more than fifty years. But the show’s lead character, the Doctor, has now been recast 12 times. You have Doctor Who fans who have their favorite iteration of the Doctor. However, the reason Doctor Who has lasted for as long as it has is due to the fact that the show embraces change, rather than running away from it.
When it comes to replacing a main character, finding a worthy successor is key. And then the writers must make it clear that the successor isn’t there to just replace the character that fans have grown accustomed to. NCIS showrunner Steven Binder told TV Line that Gary Cole’s Agent Alden Parker was never meant to be a replacement for Gibbs. Gary also emphasized to TV Line that he wanted Agent Parker to be his own man and not just a Gibbs stand-in.
“Part of my job description is to get comfortable, whatever that takes. I'm not trying to be [Gibbs]. The writers made that distinction," he said. Gary also noted the differences between Gibbs and his character Agent Parker.
"Parker isn't overly chatty, but he is more verbal. He's not as old school; he tries to get his hands on new tech gadgets and impress everybody. He's trying to fit in with the rest of the team. Although he may be reluctant to voice it, he admires that Gibbs breaks rules. Parker bends them," he noted. "We'll see if it gets to the point of breaking."
What will 'NCIS' look like with Gibbs gone?
It’s only been two episodes since Gibbs decided to stay in Alaska. Thankfully, Gibbs wasn’t killed off in a traumatic fashion like Agent Kate Todd (Sasha Alexander) back in Season 2. However, while Team Gibbs doesn’t have to mourn the death of their beloved team leader, they must learn how to move forward without their coffee-loving, head-slapping figurehead.
After all, Gibbs was more than just a boss to Team Gibbs. In many ways, Gibbs was the father figure the NCIS team needed to keep moving. Agent Ziva (Cote de Pablo) admitted to Gibbs that she viewed him as the only stable father figure she’d ever had. Gibbs had a similar fatherly relationship with Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette) and Kate.
After all, Gibbs broke one of his own rules (never apologize) twice when it came to Abby and Kate. He apologized to the ghost of Kate for arriving late to her funeral, and he also apologized to Abby for failing to protect her after Abby ended up in the hospital in Season 15, Episode 22. It’s not just the women of Team Gibbs that benefitted from Gibbs as a father figure. Gibbs kept Agent Tony DiNozzo’s (Michael Weatherly) immaturity in check.
Many fans thought Agent Tim McGee (Sean Murray) was the most worthy successor to lead Team Gibbs. However, it’s thanks to Gibbs that McGee wisely decided not to be the next NCIS leader. He didn’t want to lose as much as Gibbs had during his NCIS tenure. So in that aspect, McGee’s choice demonstrated that he had learned the most from Gibbs not only as a father figure but also as a cautionary tale.
Even the still relatively new character Agent Nick Torres (Wilmer Valderrama) realized how he looked at Gibbs as a father figure when Torres’ actual father came back into his life. How can NCIS move forward effectively with the loss of their unofficial patriarch?
The best way to move on is to stop looking back. NCIS can still thrive as long as the show sticks to its promise that Agent Parker isn't just a cheap Gibbs knock-off character. Allow Agent Parker to build his own unique relationships with the team. At this point, many of the NCIS agents don't need another Gibbs father figure, but rather a boss man that still gets things done in his own way.
The best way to allow this change to happen is to leave Gibbs in Alaska.
Warning: Here's a possibly unpopular 'NCIS' take.
What NCIS should do moving forward (to allow fans to truly move on) is leave Gibbs in Alaska. Throw in a mention or a short tribute to Gibbs every now and then, but don’t bring Mark Harmon back (as painful as it is to say that). In some capacity, a Mark Harmon return would be like texting that beloved ex you spent months trying to get over. Sure, the new guy you’ve been seeing is nice and buys you dinner all the time. However, your mind still strays to your former man who found peace in Alaska.
You text the Alaska ex once, see him again for just that one time, and then it’s like you never spent months trying to move on at all. NCIS cannot move forward if it keeps looking back. Mark Harmon’s work as Agent Gibbs will always be one of the best parts of NCIS as a whole. But there’s more to NCIS than Gibbs.
If NCIS makes it to Season 20, it’s because the show didn’t allow the characters and the fans to mourn Gibbs’s absence for too long. There’s plenty of plot potential for the series moving forward, as long as everyone involved chooses to keep looking ahead.
NCIS airs Mondays at 9 p.m. EST on CBS.