The NCIS Cast’s Most Prolific Star Was Not Its Richest Or Highest-Paid


  • Mark Harmon was the highest paid NCIS cast member, but David McCallum was more prolific on the series.
  • McCallum’s iconic career spanned 60 years, though Harmon led NCIS for many seasons.
  • Although Harmon left NCIS, he remains an Executive Producer and may make special appearances on the show.

NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service has created a vast universe that has produced NCIS: Los Angeles, NCIS: New Orleans, NCIS: Hawaii, and NCIS: Sydney. But the original NCIS cast will remain with people. NCIS had its origins from a ’90s series, but it has grown on its own, spanning over two decades of content from CBS.

While some of the original NCIS cast moved on to other things, what they earned while on the show still gets talked about because it’s showbiz. Fans have wondered who got paid the highest, and whose pedigree didn’t fit their salary while on the show. A case in point is one of the NCIS cast not having a salary that matches their prolific career.

We’ll be looking at David McCallum’s prolific background, why Mark Harmon earns more than he and the rest of the cast, who is currently the highest earner on NCIS, and if Mark Harmon is still part of NCIS.

Mark Harmon Was The Highest Paid, But David McCallum Had The Most Prolific Career

David McCallum was part of the iconic 60s show The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Mark Harmon led the ensemble cast of NCIS for many seasons. Playing the level-headed Special Agent in Charge Leroy Jethro Gibbs, who has a penchant for shocking teammates, got Harmon the attention and draw of the audience.

NCIS Cast David McCallum and Mark Harmon
Via: TheThings

Although Mark Harmon is no longer on NCIS, he led the cast of NCIS, which means he got first billing and was also the highest paid. However, for a memorable performance and longer career, that would go to David McCallum (who passed away in 2023).


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The late Scottish actor had an acting career spanning over six decades, including theater, small, and big screen.

McCallum started as a theater actor in Glasgow as an assistant stage manager before earning his place in theater and television.

Many know McCallum from his role in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968), where he played agent Illya Kuryakin, the Russian sidekick to Napoleon Solo. The series was an iconic show that set a precedent for spy-action series on television. Additionally, McCallum’s performance earned him two Primetime Emmy nominations and one Golden Globe nomination.

Via: Instar

Other notable appearances include roles in the series, Colditz and Sapphire and Steel. Although McCallum would have non-glamorous roles after U.N.C.L.E, he found fame again as forensic examiner Donald ‘Ducky’ Mallard in NCIS.

He stayed with the series from its premiere in 2003 to his death in 2023. David McCallum died of natural causes at the age of 90, appearing in 20 seasons of the Primetime procedural.

Having lived long years in the entertainment industry for over six decades, McCallum definitely had a longer career than leading man Mark Harmon. However, it doesn’t mean Harmon does not have his own career highlights.

Mark Harmon started his career in the ’70s, appearing in small and big screen projects. He, too, would find fame playing Special Agent Gibbs in NCIS.

Mark Harmon Led The NCIS Cast, Even With His Paycheck

Mark Harmon’s salary for NCIS is still the highest, despite not being in the television series anymore

NCIS headliner Mark Harmon reportedly made $535,000 per episode for NCIS, leading the NCIS cast. Mark Harmon, who has a net worth of $120 million, stayed on the show for 18 years before quietly fading away in the show’s 19th season.

NCIS cast
The Things

After he left, Sean Murray, who plays Timothy McGee, stepped up as the headliner, including in salary. It’s reported that Murray has the next highest salary at $300,000 per episode. Other actors follow.

Primarily, Harmon led the NCIS team, which came as a no-brainer that his salary would be considerably higher than the rest. Below is the pay per episode of some of the former and current cast of NCIS.


$ per episode


Mark Harmon



Sean Murray



Michael Weatherly



Pauley Perrette



David McCallum



Cote de Pablo



Wilmer Valderrama



Emily Wickersham




How Leaving ‘NCIS’ Affected Pauley Perrette’s Net Worth

It came as a total shock to many when Perrette decided to leave the show in 2018, mainly because the role earned her $200,000 per episode.

Harmon’s former co-star and more prolific actor, David McCallum, earned less than most cast members. It’s not worthwhile mentioning that McCallum was only a supporting cast member, albeit beloved. Therefore, he carried less weight on the show. His character did provide pivotal information to move the plot of episodes forward.

Fun Fact
: David McCallum was so vastly knowledgeable about forensic science that showrunners were more interested in hiring him as a technical advisor for the show.

Mark Harmon Left NCIS Cast But Not The Show

Mark Harmon left NCIS to pursue more challenging materials, but he is still part of the show

NCIS is a successful show that has over 20 seasons under its belt. It is the original and only series from the NCIS franchise to have 21 seasons and counting.

Mark Harmon
via CBS

Out of 21 seasons, Harmon appeared in 19, acting as the lead cast for the ensemble investigative procedural. However, in 2021, Harmon announced that he was leaving the show for many reasons, including that it was time for his character Jared to fade out.

On why he left the show, Mark Harmon stated he wanted to pursue other fresh and challenging material.

“What has always drawn me here is the character I play and to keep it fresh and to keep it challenging,” he explained in a special featurette on the show’s season 19 DVD release. “The character is living in Alaska as far as I know.”

He added that he was satisfied with his character’s exit. “Plot-wise, this character has taken the path that it did. I thought it was honest and OK with it,” he said.

This negates the belief that Mark Harmon did not get along with his co-stars. However, there was rumored tension between Mark Harmon and former co-cast Pauley Perrette. These rumors were not confirmed, even though Perrette left the show in 2018.


Mark Harmon Got Physical With Michael Weatherly On NCIS After Their Recorded Scene Started Going Off-Script

Known as the “Gibbs slap,” Mark Harmon couldn’t help himself going off-script during an intense scene on NCIS with Michael Weatherly.

Mark Harmon’s Special Agent Gibbs leaving early in the 19th season of the show was able to prove to the studio that the audience would still love NCIS without its icon leading the team. Rather than go in a blaze of glory, the creators decided to give Gibbs a quiet but meaningful exit.

Nevertheless, fans should not be dismayed because Harmon is still on the show as an Executive Producer and he is signed on to make special appearances on the show.

Gibb’s exit would give the show a plausible explanation should Gibbs make a few of those special appearances Mark Harmon agreed to. Fans who love Harmon’s Gibbs do not need to close the door on the character, he may make a big cameo at any time.

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