NCIS: Behind The Scenes Controversies

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In the world of television, few series have seen the success that NCIS has. With over 15 seasons to its name and two spinoffs, NCIS is now the second longest-running scripted and non-animated series in U.S. primetime TV history and is consistently in the top five for how many viewers continually tune in week after week and season after season. Since the series has been one of the best in quality television for over a decade, it might be surprising for fans to learn that it has certainly not been controversy-free behind the scenes. From shocking exits to conflicting personalities and personal drama, the cast has had a lot going on both on and off camera over the years of being in the spotlight thanks to the show. Here are some of the biggest NCIS cast and crew controversies that went on behind the scenes:

12. Cote de Pablo’s Exit

Fans of the series were both shocked and saddened when after eight seasons as Ziva David, actress Cote de Pablo abruptly quit the series. If fans were shocked, it was nothing compared to what the cast felt as she quit only days before filming for season 11 began, and everyone expected her to be a part of it. “It was huge news to us,” Pauley Perrette told E! News. “I found out literally 20 minutes before it was released in the press. But we love her … No one wanted her to leave.” Frustration showed elsewhere however when David McCallum said, “It was frustration and anger that someone should just walk out on us. I just don’t understand how a leading lady in a show that’s worldwide, who ostensibly wants to have a career as an actress, suddenly walks away from such a gem and just vanishes a couple of days before we start production.” Viewers sensed that Cote de Pablo’s exit wasn’t exactly amicable however as she refused to say why she asked to leave so suddenly and kept repeating that her reasons were “personal.” Later however the drama was stirred up when she offered a little more insight and criticized the script writing for her character.  “Unfortunately because of political things and the scripts not being good enough. I chose not to continue. I love this character. I worked eight years in crafting this character and loving her, so when I felt or I perceived the character was not being treated with the respect that she deserved, all the money in the world [couldn’t make me stay],” she said during a panel for her film The 33.

Source: CBS

11. Cote de Pablo vs. Pauley Perrette

Although Cote de Pablo’s costar Pauley Perrette, who portrayed Abby Sciuto on the series, had nothing but love and support after the news that de Pablo was leaving the series, things quickly changed after one tweet. With things already tense because of the surprising exit, all it took was one tweet to ignite controversy. Days after Cote de Pablo’s exit was revealed, Perrette showed up to a network event wearing an “I (heart) my job” shirt and tweeted the same message “I love my job. #NCIS” on July 28, 2013. Many Ziva David and de Pablo supporters instantly took the statements personally and assumed Perrette was criticizing her costar for leaving so abruptly. It was later reported that de Pablo actually called Perrette and asked her to stop tweeting about the situation, and Perrette stopped using Twitter for less than a day.

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10. Michael Weatherly Controversy

While Michael Weatherly’s exit was one of the few that wasn’t controversial, he did have some off-screen drama. The actor who starred as Tony DiNozzo on the series shocked fans when he s arrested in November 2015. Although he was initially pulled over for speeding, he ended up being arrested and charged for a DUI. Two months later the actor plead no contest and shortly after announced his exit from NCIS. A few years later, Weatherly made headlines again when he was accused of sexual misconduct by his former Bull costar Eliza Dushku. Despite not working on NCIS for years, many of his former costars spoke up to support the actor as the controversy raged on. Pauley Perrette, who played Abby Sciuto alongside Weatherly’s Anthony DiNozzo on NCIS, tweeted, “This man…I love, respect, trust, and I KNOW. TWO decades of friendship and respect. The best. I love you @M_Weatherly Always and forever,” along with a photo of the pair smiling together.

Michael Yarish / ©CBS / courtesy Everett Collection

9. Sasha Alexander’s Exit

Sasha Alexander starred on NCIS as Caitlin Todd for the first two seasons and then went to a recurring role for seasons 3, 8, 9, and 12, and fans were very upset by her exit. While rumors indicated she had been fired, it was later discovered that she was the one who wanted to leave the show. According to Alexander, filming the series was especially exhausting, and she couldn’t handle it anymore. “Sasha came in [to my office] with tears in her eyes, she said, ‘I just can’t work this hard,'” former NCIS producer Don Bellisario recalled. “It’s a hard show to make. We work very long hours, and Sasha just didn’t feel she was physically up to that kind of time and commitment.” Years later, Alexander revealed that she felt she would have not had the success she had if she had not quit the show. “People don’t realize that on a network show, you make 24 episodes a year — that’s 10½ months a year, 17 hours a day. It’s hardcore,” she told TV Guide. “I really firmly believe in my heart that I would not be where I am today—happily married, with two kids, doing things creatively that I want—if I had stayed.”

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8. Mark Harmon vs. Donald Bellisario

At the end of season four in 2007, many were worried about the future of the series when then-showrunner and head writer Don Bellisario was said to be stepping down from the roles but would remain as an executive producer. It was soon revealed however that bad blood simmering on set is what caused the major change behind the scenes. According to reports a disagreement between Bellisario and the show’s star Mark Harmon resulted in Harmon forcing the producer out. Harmon reportedly had an issue with Bellisario’s “chaotic management style.” “Mark’s been working every single day, 16 hours a day,” an insider told TV Guide in 2007. “Don tries to micro-manage everything. Script pages get faxed to the set at the last minute, and Mark is tired of dealing with the huge impact that makes on his life.” As a result of Harmon winning the battle, Bellisario lost all control of the series which he helped create.

7. NCIS LA Lawsuit

After six successful seasons, the first NCIS spinoff came to fruition with the season six episode “Legend” serving as a backdoor pilot for NCIS: Los Angeles which premiered on September 22, 2009. NCIS: Los Angeles hit a bit of snag however when scorned NCIS showrunner Donald Bellisario filed a lawsuit against CBS. Bellisario claimed that because of his contract with the network he was supposed to be given the “first opportunity” to develop a spinoff or sequel, but instead, CBS went right ahead with NCIS: L.A. which was created by Shane Brennan. In June 2012 a judge dismissed the case while Bellisario and CBS continued to hold private talks about the matter. In the end, the dispute was settled out of court in January 2013, one week before it was set to go to trial. The terms of the agreement were never released.

Sonja Flemming / ©CBS / courtesy Everett Collection

6. Diane Neal’s NCIS: New Orleans Complaint

Another NCIS spinoff saw some drama back in 2015 when actress Diane Neal went on an angry Twitter rant about the working conditions on NCIS: New Orleans. Neal, who appeared on both NCIS and NCIS: New Orleans as CGIS Agent Abigail Borin, lashed out over what she perceived as “safety issues” and called the conditions “dangerous and stupid.” She went on to say, “they just use me like a rented mule” and “these folks don’t give a damn.” She also called out a producer saying, “Funny part, this producer had his mom on set the other day and, for ONLY HER SAKE, gave a big, rousing speech about safety. #bullshit.” Neal eventually apologized and deleted the tweets.

Dee Cercone/Everett Collection

5. Pauley Perrette’s Attack

In 2015, NCIS‘s Pauley Perrette had a very scary off-screen incident when she was attacked by a homeless person outside of her home. The actress took to her Twitter account on Friday, November 13 to recount the story which is truly shocking. She wrote the story out on her computer and then shared the screenshot on Twitter, adding, “So, tonight was awful, life-changing and I’m only grateful to be alive. It’s here.” In the lengthy post, she describes walking across her street to meet her architect and then, “I was jumped by a VERY psychotic homeless man. He grabbed me so forcefully, pinned my arm, punched me in the nose, forehead repeatedly telling me he was going to kill me.” She went on to describe that “he went on to show me how he was going to kill me,” and repeated his name over and over again, telling her not to forget it because he was going to kill her. “I was alone, terrified and trapped. There was an empty garage behind me and I knew if he got me in there I was dead. I knew I couldn’t overcome him, I prayed my heart out and then finally said, ‘William is a beautiful name, I have a little nephew named William.’” Luckily, the man then let her go and the police were able to find him and charge him with felony assault. , “I am shaken and traumatized. My house, my beloved Hollywood. My beloved homeless people that I spend my life protecting. My life changed tonight…We need full mental health care. We need housing and help for the homeless. We need to support our cops. We need to not walk alone. I need to heal. I almost died tonight,” she concluded.

Gregorio Binuya/Everett Collection

4. The Almost Spinoff

After the success of the first NCIS spinoff, NCIS: Los Angeles, it seems CBS attempted another spinoff one year before NCIS: New Orleans came to fruition. In 2013, CBS had created, cast and put together an episode to serve as the backdoor pilot for a spinoff called NCIS: Red. The series starred John Corbett as the leader of an anti-terrorist NCIS unit called the Red Team. Unfortunately, the cast and creators of NCIS: Red were crushed when the network decided they didn’t like the backdoor pilot at all and the entire series was cut.

Source: CBS

3. Mark Harmon’s Family Feud

Longtime NCIS star Mark Harmon is known for being ultra-private, but his family drama was very public at one time. Harmon and his wife Pam Dawber were engaged in a public custody battle after they tried to gain custody of Harmon’s nephew Sam Nelson. Harmon’s sister, Kristen, married singer and actor Ricky Nelson in 1963 and had four children together before an acrimonious divorce. After Nelson’s death in 1985, things fell apart for Harmon’s sister and so Harmon and Dawber petitioned to get legal custody of their nephew Sam, who was Kristen and Ricky Nelson’s youngest. Harmon argued that his sister was incapable of being a good parent because of her mood swings and drug use. Harmon and his wife ended up dropping the petition because it was causing huge rifts in his family, and the publicity of the case was straining them.

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2. Pauley Perrette’s Exit

After the shocking and rather dramatic exits of Cote de Pablo, Sasha Alexander, and Michael Weatherly, the show suffered another serious blow when Pauley Perrette confirmed she was exiting the show after season 15. Having played Abby Sciuto since the show began, Perrette was loved by many fans and at first it seemed just as though she was simply ready to move on. “It was a decision made last year. I hope everyone will love and enjoy EVERYTHING ABBY not only for the rest of this season but for everything she has given all of us for 16 years. All the love, all the laughter, all the inspiration…I love her as much as you do,” she shared at the time. Months later however things changed when the actress went on a Twitter rant seemingly alleging that “multiple physical assaults” led to her decision to leave.

“Maybe I’m wrong for not ‘spilling the beans’ Telling the story, THE TRUTH,” she tweeted in part. “I feel I have to protect my crew, jobs and so many people. But at what cost? I.don’t know. Just know, I’m trying to do the right thing, but maybe silence isn’t the right thing about crime. I’m… Just… ?”

She continued, referring to a “he” tweeting, “There is a ‘machine’ keeping me silent and feeding FALSE stories about me. A very rich, very powerful publicity ‘machine’. No morals, no obligation to truth, and I’m just left here, reading the lies, trying to protect my crew. Trying to remain calm. He did it.”

Her last tweet read, “I’ve been supporting anti-bullying programs forever. But now I KNOW because it was ME! If it’s school or work, that you’re required to go to? It’s horrifying. I left. Multiple Physical Assaults. I REALLY get it now. Stay safe. Nothing is worth your safety. Tell someone.”


1. Pauley Perrette vs. Mark Harmon

If Pauley Perrette’s strange tweets alleging assaults on set weren’t shocking enough for fans, things got even worse when reports then alleged that it all stemmed from problems between Perrette and the show’s star Mark Harmon. According to the reports from “multiple individuals familiar with the situation” when Harmon brought his dog to set back in 2016, it allegedly bit a crew member causing an injury that required 15 stitches according to The Wrap, and then Perrette became upset that more wasn’t done and the dog was allowed to return. The Wrap report added that many were uncomfortable when Harmon did continue to bring the dog to set but couldn’t say anything as Harmon is the star and an executive producer, but Perrette had the power to speak out and that is when a rift began between the two stars. In order to ensure a major feud did not break out, producers quickly devised a way for the two to spend as little time filming together as possible. “She did her scenes on one day and he did his work on other days, and they still produced a great show,” the source said. “It was simply scheduled that they did not work the same days.” The timing of the incident does line up with when the two began to appear in fewer scenes together and answers the question as to why Perrette’s Abby Sciuto did not say goodbye to Harmon’s Gibbs in person during her final episode. When asked about the incident, in particular, CBS simply stated, “Pauley Perrette had a terrific run on NCIS and we are all going to miss her. Over a year ago, Pauley came to us with a workplace concern. We took the matter seriously and worked with her to find a resolution. We are committed to a safe work environment on all our shows.” In June, 2019, Perrette spoke out about the matter again, taking her Twitter to state that she would never return to NCIS in any capacity because of her fear of Harmon. “NO I AM NOT COMING BACK! EVER! (Please stop asking?) I am terrified of Harmon and him attacking me. I have nightmares about it. I have a new show that is SAFE AND HAPPY! You’ll love it! #HappyPlace Love y’all!,” she wrote.

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Telisa Carter

Telisa Carter

Telisa enjoys learning and writing about all things entertainment in the world of Hollywood. When she isn't catching up on her favorite TV shows, she likes to read, and obsess over all things football.