Ask Matt: Say It Ain’t So, Gibbs!

NCIS - Mark Harmon as Gibbs - Season 19

Welcome to the Q&A with TV critic — also known to some TV fans as their “TV therapist” — Matt Roush, who’ll try to address whatever you love, loathe, are confused or frustrated or thrilled by in today’s vast TV landscape. (We know background music is too loud, but there’s always closed-captioning.)

One caution: This is a spoiler-free zone, so we won’t be addressing upcoming storylines here unless it’s already common knowledge. Please send your questions and comments to [email protected] (or use the form at the end of the column) and follow me on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush). Look for Ask Matt columns on many Tuesdays and Fridays.

Is Mark Harmon Really, Truly Gone from NCIS?

Question: I am totally shocked about NCIS. Is Mark Harmon leaving the show? He IS the show. Please say it isn’t so. PLEASE. — Ellen

Matt Roush: Oh Ellen, I wish I could. But as it became clear even before the Oct. 11 episode ended with the NCIS star peaceably fly-fishing in Alaska, Leroy Jethro Gibbs has indeed left the building — at least as a cast regular. Mark Harmon will still be listed as an executive producer, and as his producing colleague Steven D. Binder suggested in a statement, “Regarding the future of Gibbs … never count [him] out.” I wouldn’t be surprised, depending on how much future is left in a series now in its 19th season, if Gibbs shows up again (like Ziva did from time to time) as either a sweeps or cliffhanger-style stunt, should the story allow. As cast departures go, NCIS laid the groundwork for Gibbs’ departure rather elaborately since his suspension last season, and the network hedged between seasons when asked directly about the level of Harmon’s involvement this year. So while this will be a shock to the NCIS ecosystem for sure, I’m not sure it counts as an actual surprise.

Question: In regards to Mark Harmon’s exit, we were told in the offseason that he would make a “limited number” of appearances this year, but it was never specifically said that those appearances would all be at the start of the season. On the heels of the NCIS showrunner reminding viewers to “never count out” Gibbs, is it possible that Harmon’s deal for limited appearances includes something later on, or was the showrunner just leaving the door open? — RJ

Matt Roush: Anything’s possible, but with the shock waves of his departure this fresh, everything regarding Mark Harmon’s on-screen future with NCIS is just speculation. I doubt they’ll overplay the Gibbs card in the near future, let’s leave it at that. And bringing aboard another “gray fox” like Gary Cole was a very smart move to help cushion the blow. Of course, should the show nose-dive without its main character, that could be an entirely different story.

Giving Billions the Axe Without Axe

Question: Being I have already complained about the leaving of Megan Boone and Emily VanCamp from The Blacklist and The Resident respectively, I guess you should know I would complain about the sudden departure of Damian Lewis on Billions. But instead of asking why he left, I will approach this differently and ask: Why continue with this series at all since I believe that Lewis’ portrayal of Bobby Axelrod was the main reason to watch this series? This comes after Liev Schreiber had to almost beg to get a wrap-up movie for Ray Donovan, even though he at least wanted to continue in his role and Lewis obviously did not. Didn’t Showtime officials see this coming in that Lewis’ contract was up and they could have maybe dropped this series instead of rebooting it, which I believe would have been more appropriate? — JV

Matt Roush: There were a number of personal factors involved in Damian Lewis leaving Billions, but regardless of when Showtime and the producers saw the writing on the wall about losing their star, they had the foresight to bring on Corey Stall as Mike Prince to become the new co-lead adversary of Paul Giamatti’s Chuck Rhoades. Will that be enough? We’ll see come early next year when Season 6 premieres, but the reality of TV anymore — on premium cable as well as the broadcast networks, all fighting to survive the streaming juggernaut — is that when a show is as successful as Billions, they’ll go to great lengths to keep it going, even without a major star. This doesn’t explain why Showtime offed Ray Donovan a year ahead of schedule, but I’m glad it’s getting a final chapter — thankfully, without having to worry if its lead is coming back.

Who Made Darlene The Connors’ Top Dog?

Question: The Conners should be renamed The Darlene Show. Why does the show revolve almost entirely around Darlene (Sara Gilbert)? Why do the other characters receive so very little screen time? Why are D.J. and his family virtually excluded? — Unsigned

Matt Roush: You say this like it’s a bad thing. The way I view The Conners is that once Roseanne unceremoniously departed the reboot, Darlene stepped up as the character most like her mother in terms of sardonic attitude and life experience as a beleaguered mother. She’s now the natural center of the show — and Gilbert is an executive producer—but to say it’s all Darlene all the time doesn’t give the show enough credit in how it has developed sister Becky’s storyline of alcoholism and recovery, Dan falling for Louise, Jackie restarting the Lunch Box business and so on. Yes, D.J. and his family feel like an afterthought most weeks, but maybe they haven’t found a way to make them funny. Yet.

Grey’s Anatomy on Life Support?

Comment: I am watching the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy and I think it’s time to call time of death. I don’t even recognize half of the characters, and Meredith is running around Minnesota with Amelia and Peter Gallagher, making googly eyes at someone no one knows. I don’t know what Ellen Pompeo and Shonda Rhimes are thinking, but they should be ashamed between last year and this year. Thinking I’m done. — MK

Comment: Is it time for Grey’s Anatomy to close its doors? I loved it from the beginning! I’m so ready! I can’t watch it anymore! — Joan F

Matt Roush: Thankfully, Meredith’s stay in Minnesota was short-lived, and she’s already back in Seattle (though the Gallagher and Parkinson’s storyline will continue) — and maybe bringing Kate Walsh back into the fold will appease some longtime fans. But this kind of pushback never surprises me when a show’s been around this long — franchise fatigue is a real condition, I’ve learned — and with a bunch of new residents crowding the frame, plus reintroducing Scott Speedman like we’d all instantly remember his appearance from four seasons ago, Grey’s isn’t off to the best start. But until Ellen Pompeo decides otherwise, ABC isn’t going to let this still-popular series go until it has to.

Impressed with Mayim

Comment: I think Jeopardy! should look no longer for a permanent host. Mayim Bialik is just wonderful at this job. She is informed and smart, but doesn’t bring attention to herself, which is exactly what Alex did. Stick with Mayim. — Del

Matt Roush: I’ve also enjoyed the continuity of having a single host run the game for several weeks, instead of the distracting merry-go-round of guest hosts. I enjoyed Mayim Bialik during her first tryout, and remain impressed with her consistency upon her return, including this wild week when Matt Amodio’s winning streak suddenly ended. As most Jeopardy! fans know, she’ll be rotating with Ken Jennings starting in November, and it’s unclear what the show’s next move will be in the new year — but anything that resembles another celebrity bake-off would be most unfortunate.

And Finally …

Question: Matt Amodio’s loss on the Oct. 11 episode of Jeopardy! seems very fishy to me. It looked like he was losing on purpose. I believe the show (producers?) told him not to win and get incorrect answers because they don’t want anyone to beat Ken Jennings’ record. I believe this happened to James Holzhauer as well. Both men could have gone the distance and become top winners, but I think the show told them not to. What do you think, Matt? — Richard W

Matt Roush: I think this is the most absurd thing I’ve heard in a while — and you should see my unedited mailbag. What happened was that Matt had an off game — it happens to the best of them — and he was up against two strong contestants, plus he didn’t land on the usual Daily Doubles that typically helped put him out of reach. The genius of Jeopardy! is that luck can be as important a factor as skill, and after 38 wins, Matt’s ran out. (And, for the record, he and James Holzhauer are still top winners, part of Jeopardy! history forever.)

The notion that the producers would willingly sandbag a long-running champ is nuts, especially when you consider that Matt’s winning streak was the best thing to happen to Jeopardy! during one of its darkest periods (the Mike Richards debacle). I considered not even publishing this, but I figured after the last few years we’ve lived through and the disinformation campaign against vaccines and other subjects, it might feel good to nip at least one conspiracy theory in the bud.

That’s all for now. We can’t do this without your participation, so please keep sending questions and comments about TV to [email protected] or shoot me a line on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush), and you can also submit questions via the handy form below. (Please include a first name with your question.)