Mark Harmon Made TV History Before Starring on ‘NCIS’

Mark Harmon is one of television’s most beloved icons, an actor who is capable of conveying intense emotion as well as handling action scenes effortlessly. For the past several decades, Harmon has starred as Leroy Jethro Gibbs on NCIS.

Harmon has earned acclaim for his work on the series and is considered by many to be one of the most influential actors on television. Still, Harmon had a successful career prior to NCIS, and in his role on the popular TV series Chicago Hope, he was responsible for breaking a surprising television barrier.

How did Mark Harmon get started as an actor?

Mark Harmon NCIS
Mark Harmon ‘NCIS’ | Erik Voake/CBS via Getty Images

 

Harmon was born in California in 1951. He was surrounded by an active, loving family, including a father who was a Heisman Trophy–winning football player and broadcaster.

Harmon displayed the same affinity for football, and after his high school graduation, and during his early years in college, he received several offers from football programs. He played football throughout his years in college, ultimately graduating with a degree in Communications.

In spite of his talent for sports, Harmon wanted to pursue a career in advertising. Still, after a few years in the marketing field, he switched his focus to a career in acting.

All throughout the ’70s, Harmon acted in a variety of television shows, making appearances on shows such as Laverne & ShirleyOzzie’s Girls, and Flamingo Road. By the time the ’80s rolled around, Harmon was an established presence on network television and a familiar face to viewers all around the world.

Mark Harmon broke a major barrier on ‘Chicago Hope’

 

Harmon took a break of several years from starring in television shows in order to focus on acting in movies. Still, by the mid-90s, he had returned to television, his first love.

From 1991 until 1993, he appeared in the TV show Reasonable Doubts, and in 1995, he played a private investigator in the short-lived series Charlie Grace. Harmon’s longest-running series during this time was Chicago Hope. He was cast on the series in 1996 and immediately made a splash as Dr. Jack McNeil.

On Chicago Hope, Harmon made TV history in several ways — including, most notably, becoming the first actor in history to say “shit” on a scripted television show. According to E! Online, a 1999 episode of the series marked the first time that the phrase “shit happens” was uttered on a primetime network broadcast.

“It’s a painful story that ends up with (Harmon) being unable to make his point clear,” said executive producer Michael Pressman. “It’s a full embodiment of what the episode is about, and there really wasn’t a better way to say it.”

Although there was some controversy about whether certain stations would agree to air the expletive, in the end, the episode was only the beginning of a much more open period in television history, where few words would be off-limits.

Mark Harmon went on to star in ‘NCIS’

Harmon acted on Chicago Hope for four years, and although the series marked a major turning point in his career, he would reach the next level of superstardom when he was cast in NCIS in 2003. Harmon has been a firm fan-favorite on the series ever since and has become one of the most decorated actors in television.

While there has been speculation in recent years about how much longer Harmon will work on NCIS, for the foreseeable future at least, it seems as though Gibbs is here to stay.