In the same vein as other forensic procedurals, but with an armed forces spin that added a lot more spice to the mix, NCIS has been a huge hit ever since it first debuted in 2003. While the show was a spin-off from Jag, it has since grown into a broad franchise of its own. With a whopping 20 seasons now behind it, the original show also has three spin-offs and a possible fourth on its way with NCIS: Sydney.
It’s been impressive and entertaining all this time, finding ways to mix intricate plotlines with an amazing ensemble cast of characters who all have distinct skills, traits, and backstories. Already doing well before that, by Season 3, a new character was introduced — one that would go on to become a firm favorite among many fans. Although she’s Chilean-American, Cote de Pablo earned herself instant fame as she became a hit on the show playing Ziva David, an Israeli Mossad agent.
However, after becoming a series regular until Season 11, it was abruptly announced that de Pablo would be leaving the show for “undisclosed reasons.” Fans of the show, de Pablo, and Ziva were crushed to hear this, and it’s always been a contentious issue over why she really left the show. While fans did get glimpses of her afterward, when the truth later emerged, it brought about mixed reactions. Here’s why Cote de Pablo really left NCIS.
The Legacy of Cote de Pablo as Ziva
Shortly after she began appearing on the show, it was easy for fans to immediately become enamored by Ziva David. After all, the character was stunningly beautiful and tough as nails, with a fierce and independent spirit that permeated. Ziva also brought all the expertise and impressive qualities that Mossad has become renowned for around the world as one of the world’s most prestigious intelligence agencies. Through Ziva, it was easy to understand why real Mossad agents were so revered and respected, even among other spies.
She was skilled with basically any weapon, had advanced driving skills, and was deadly with more than one form of martial arts. Although initially quiet and reserved, she began opening up more and earning the respect of her new team week by week as she used her physical prowess and mental acuities to great effect whenever needed. As more of her backstory emerged, her character also showed more depth and became even more likable for her dark past.
There seemed to be just one thing missing. When Ziva began building romantic tension with fellow character, Tony DiNozzo, played by Michael Weatherly, their subsequent relationship finally rounded Ziva’s character in every way fans could have hoped for. She emerged as one of the most memorable and well-liked characters on the show for eight years, making it that much harder for fans to accept it when she suddenly left.
Cote de Pablo Leaving NCIS
The announcement that Cote de Pablo would be leaving NCIS seemingly came out of the blue when it was announced back in 2013. The network’s statement was cryptic to say the least, only adding to the frustration of fans everywhere who had come to love the character. Among other things, CBS said the following in a statement.
“We respect Cote’s decision, thank her for being an important part of the ‘NCIS’ team, and for eight terrific years playing Ziva David, Cote and CBS share a great respect for the ‘NCIS’ audience, and we look forward to working with her and the producers on appropriate closure in this chapter of Ziva’s story.”
With more questions than answers, it would take a while for fans to gain some sense of closure over what had really gone on behind the scenes. It was an inexplicable decision, to say the least. Not only was Cote de Pablo one of the most popular stars from the show, her character’s arc hadn’t indicated anything that had been building up to a departure. More significantly, although playing an Israeli, Cote’s rise as an actress and the strength of her character had become an inspiration to Latin-American women.
María José de Pablo Fernández, who later took on the stage name Cote de Pablo, moved to the United States at the age of 10 when her mother, also an actress, got a job in Miami. She studied acting and was soon hosting shows as a teenager before she went on to complete her studies in music and theater through Carnegie Mellon University. As a complete unknown in the industry, her rise as Ziva made her an icon to many people while her character was also a triumph for people of other ethnicities too.
The Real Reason for Leaving
It would take almost three years before de Pablo finally opened up publicly about why she really left NCIS so abruptly. During a public appearance to promote a film she was in, the actress answered questions candidly and revealed a lot more about what really happened. The answers were partially captured on a fan video which finally provided some real answers.
“Look, I love this character. I worked eight years crafting this character and loving her. I felt or I perceived that the character was not being treated with the respect that I thought she deserved no money in the world (would make me stay)…they were going to send her back to Israel and make her a sad, miserable woman. I said ‘What do I leave all the women that are watching and following the show?’ And I didn’t think it was fair, so I said, ‘unless someone can really write something fantastic, I won’t go back.”
There were notable cheers from the crowd when de Pablo made this admission. Her explanation that the character wasn’t being respected enough resonated with fans once they learned the truth behind her departure.
After building Ziva up as such a strong and formidable character, it seemed counterproductive that her character would have headed in such a wasteful direction. Fans’ disappointment was at least assuaged a little now that they had some answers, and luckily for them, it wasn’t the last they’d see of Ziva either.
The Return of Ziva and What Cote de Pablo Did Next
After leaving the show, Cote de Pablo has thankfully remained active as an actress. She appeared in the biographical survival drama, The 33, based on the famous real-life Chilean mining disaster. She’s also been in a couple of other TV films and a miniseries named The Dovekeepers since. Fans were also thrilled when it was announced that she and Michael Weatherly would be co-producing a show called M.I.A together. However, the show never went on to make any considerable waves after.
Between all of this, de Pablo sent fans into rapture when Ziva finally made a return to NCIS, albeit a temporary one as she appeared in four episodes of Season 17. While it was great to see her in action again, now that people know how personal the decision to leave the show was, none of her fans have since begrudged Cote’s decision to leave NCIS — no matter how badly the beloved Ziva David has been missed ever since.