NCIS: Origins Is Taking A Major Risk That The Tony And Ziva Spinoff Isn’t


The announcement of two new NCIS spinoff series signaled major changes for the NCIS franchise, and of the two, NCIS: Origins is taking a huge risk that NCIS: Tony & Ziva isn’t. The spinoff shows share a few key similarities, the main one being that both will expand the narrative of core Major Case Response Team (MCRT) members that appeared in the original NCIS show. However, the series exploring the backstory of Mark Harmon’s legendary Leroy Jethro Gibbs, NCIS: Origins, is departing from the show significantly. As such, the franchise will offer viewers two very different character revivals when they premiere.

The new shows will explore the lives of Gibbs, Tony (Michael Weatherly), and Ziva (Cote de Pablo). Gibbs and Tony had been with the franchise since its origin, featured in the two episodes of the legal drama Jag that served as a backdoor pilot for NCIS. Both characters would appear in NCIS season 1, episode 1, “Yankee White.” Ziva would join the cast of NCIS in season 3 following the departure of Kate Todd (Sasha Alexander). All three characters are pivotal to the franchise, but the revival of Harmon’s character is different from the return of Tony and Ziva.

NCIS’ Tony and Ziva Actors Will Reprise Their Roles In Their Spinoff (Young Gibbs Will Not)

NCIS: Origins Will Introduce A New Actor To The Franchise To Play Jethro Gibbs

A key element of NCIS: Tony & Ziva is that Michael Weatherly and Cote de Pablo will reprise their roles as Tony and Ziva.Tony and Ziva’s romance will leap forward into the couple’s future, in contrast to Harmon’s spinoff that will follow Gibbs earlier in time. Michael and Cote are in their 40s and 50s, respectively, with the series following them at a mature time in their lives. While it may be a risk to portray the agents as parents rather than falling in love in their youth, the NCIS: Origins cast will take a greater risk.

In March, showrunners announced that Austin Stowell had been cast as young Gibbs. Stowell will mark the fourth actor to portray Gibbs. Micah Tayloe Owens portrayed Gibbs as a child, and Mark Harmon was Gibbs in his central NCIS timeline. Harmon’s son, Sean Harmon, filled in for Gibbs as a young adult. Rather than seeing the original actor (Sean Harmon as young Gibbs) return to the role, recasting Gibbs is what sets Origins apart. While the Tony & Ziva spinoff may be taking risks portraying the agents in their midlife, it will offer viewers two familiar faces.

Sean Harmon Could Have Reprised His Role Given NCIS’ Timeline

Mark Harmon’s Son Is The Perfect Age To Reprise The Role Of Gibbs

Given the timeline, Sean Harmon was in the perfect position to reprise his role as young Gibbs. According to the NCIS timeline, Leroy Jethro Gibbs was born November 21, 1954. In the 1970s, Gibbs enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served until he was honorably discharged in 1991 with the rank of Gunnery Sergeant. NCIS: Origins will open in the year 1991, when Gibbs is newly assigned to the Camp Pendleton office. Calculations suggest that Gibbs was about 37 years old when he joined the fledgling NIS office.

He timeline perfectly aligns for the young Gibbs to reprise his role. Sean Harmon turned 36 years old in April 2024. It would be an obvious choice to rule out the younger Harmon if the timelines didn’t match up, but to the contrary, it happened to work out. While the timeline is rarely perfectly synced up in the shared NCIS universe, this is an instance where the timing could not have been more opportune. That said, Austin Stowell turned 39 years old at the end of 2023, making him an appropriate age for the role as well.

Why NCIS: Origins Is Taking A Major Risk Recasting Sean Harmon

Mark Harmon’s Son Has Already Been Established As Young Gibbs

Ever since Mark Harmon exited NCIS, viewers have hoped to see his character return. That said, while Origins will see the character revived, Gibbs will look different in the upcoming series, and NCIS: Origins is taking a risk by recasting Sean Harmon’s young Gibbs. The whole point of the Origins spinoff is to revisit the character. If that’s the intention, it’s an interesting choice to introduce a new actor for the role where one has already been established. It would be different if young Gibbs had never been portrayed, but Sean Harmon established young Gibbs in several appearances.


Sean Harmon portrayed Gibbs in flashbacks in season 6, episodes 4, “Heartland,” and 15, “Deliverance.” He returned in season 7, episode 16, “Mother’s Day.” In season 9, Harmon made appearances in episode 8, “Engaged Part I,” episode 9, “Engaged Part II,” and episode 14, “Life Before His Eyes.” Sean Harmon’s final appearance as young Gibbs was inseason 18, episode 2, “Everything Starts Somewhere,” which explored Gibbs’ early days of friendship with Ducky. Sean Harmon positioned himself as young Gibbs, and the episodes that feature him are some of the best NCIS episodes across the show’s 21 seasons.

When trying to replicate the Special Agent in Charge, it’s hard to get closer than his own son, who shares his genetics and mannerisms.

It’s a risk to recast Sean Harmon’s young Gibbs role because the portrayal needs to be recognizable as Gibbs to maintain continuity. When trying to replicate the Special Agent in Charge, it’s hard to get closer than his own son, who shares his genetics and mannerisms. It’s a risk to recast young Gibbs because Gibbs hasn’t been relevant for several years, and it would be safer to bring in a character that added nostalgia, since that’s what the network is counting on in terms of its success considering it’s an origin story.

How Austin Stowell Could Work As Gibbs

Austin Stowell Will Need To Emulate Gibbs’ Essence

That said, Austin Stowell is more than capable of reviving Jethro Gibbs. With Mark and Sean Harmon as executive producers of the series, there’s a good chance that they’re confident they’ve made the right choice for the character. It would be more concerning if Mark and Sean had nothing to do with the series, but they are currently helping create it. The most important element of Stowell’s portrayal of Gibbs being successful isn’t so much that he looks like Gibbs, but that he feels like the commanding yet intuitive special agent the audience has come to know.

If Stowell can get the feeling of Gibbs right, then his portrayal of Gibbs will resonate with audiences that tune back in to see their favorite agent’s origin story. Stowell has a unique opportunity to portray Gibbs at a time in his life that has the biggest story to tell but has received the least exposure. He could set the tone for how the agent acted at the beginning of his NCIS career. Stowell’s portrayal will have to achieve the right blend of how Gibbs acted on NCIS before and after his time at the Camp Pendleton office.

It’s heartening that Mark Harmon has joined the new Gibbs actor to promote NCIS: Origins. An Instagram video showed the actors side by side, and Stowell had a similar look and demeanor to Mark Harmon. The actors have a similar build and face, especially accounting for fluctuations over time due to age and exercise. While it’s more important that Stowell acts like Gibbs, producers will also need to look out for easy continuity opportunities to solidify that Stowell is, in fact, the new Gibbs. Recent images of Gibbs’ NCIS prequel character already revealed something off about the new special agent: his signature haircut.

When reviving old NCIS characters, actors reprising their roles seems like an obvious choice. When done well, it brings an added element of nostalgia and familiarity to an already trusted premise. The Tony & Ziva spinoff will lean on original actors reprising their roles as beloved characters, while NCIS: Origins will test the waters with a new Jethro Gibbs. While both series will explore central MCRT characters and expand a different chapter of their lives, the shows will feel different. Whatever succeeds with audiences will dictate what shows the NCIS franchise decides to green-light in the future.