Why Mark Harmon's Wife Pam Initially Didn't Want To Star On NCIS

When Mark Harmon was getting close to ending his 18-year run on "NCIS," his wife Pam Dawber made her much-anticipated debut. In March 2021, Entertainment Weekly caught wind that Dawber, who has been married to Harmon since 1987, would be joining the police procedural as a guest star for four episodes. Just like that, the "Mork & Mindy" alum became the third member of her immediate family to star on the CBS hit show. Starting in 2008, Harmon and Dawber's oldest son, Sean, began stepping in to play the young Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

Because Harmon basically is "NCIS" and his son had already been in it, fans always expected Dawber — a seasoned TV actor — to guest star at some point. It took her way longer than anyone could have anticipated. And when she accepted the job, she had one very strong condition. "I talked to the writers and the producers before I signed on and said, 'If this is a romantic interest, I'm not interested,'" she told Entertainment Weekly the following month.

The crew assured her there was no intention of pairing up Gibbs and Marcie Warren, the investigative journalist who helped the special agent track down a serial killer. Even though she was only featured in a few episodes, Dawber became popular among viewers. "Wish list! I so hope we get to see Marcie (Pam Dawber) in S19 #NCIS," one X user wrote. But fans almost didn't meet Marcie as Dawber initially had no interest in joining the show.

Pam Dawber waited for the right time to join NCIS

It wasn't for lack of trying on the showrunners' part that Pam Dawber had never guest-starred on "NCIS" before Season 18. "Either I just didn't want to do it or I didn't appreciate what it was they wanted me to do," she said in the April 2021 Entertainment Weekly interview. Other times, opportunities would clash with personal plans, requiring to be filmed over the holidays when her parents were set to visit, for example.

Producers eventually gave up trying. It was actually Mark Harmon who suggested they offer up the role of Marcie Warren to Dawber. "With Marcie, it was so funny because when they were casting, Mark goes, 'Who you're really looking for is my wife,'" she told TV Insider that same month. But producers were still unhopeful. "They said, 'But she's always turned us down!'" This time was different, though. She also thought she was perfect for the role. "The character is so good. I just fell in love with what they wrote," she told EW.

It's not that Dawber was sitting around waiting for producers to come up with the perfect character for her. She had been reluctant to accept any roles at all at that point in her life. "I haven't acted in so long. It's also, at my age, do you really want to be on a big screen? I finally thought I'd feel worse if I chickened out," the actor, who was 69 when her season came out, told TV Insider. 

Pam Dawber became more selective after having kids

Pam Dawber stayed busy in the late '70s and '80s. In addition to "Mork & Mindy" and "My Sister Sam," she starred in about a feature or TV film a year. It is no coincidence that her career slowed down in the late '80s and eventually fizzled almost completely out by the late '90s. Before accepting the "NCIS" role, Dawber's last steady acting job had been in 1997-98, when she voiced Perdy in "101 Dalmatians: The Series." That's exactly what she wanted.

In April 1988, Pam Dawber and Mark Harmon welcomed their son Sean and completed their family in June 1992 with the birth of Ty. Until then, Dawber had kept all doors open, having done TV, film, Broadway, voice acting, musical theater, and beyond. But becoming a mother changed Dawber's priorities. "I did everything you can do in this business, and then I had children and it's like, 'I'm not going to chase this fame thing,'" she told ET in 2016.

Dawber's list of goals now was vastly different. "I wanted to drive my kids to school. I wanted to be there for their birthdays and bring cupcakes and donuts and do the school festivals and all that, and I did," she said. Sean and Ty didn't just change their mother's goals. Mark Harmon also chose to focus on TV to be more present for them. "No job is worth missing life's most important moments," he told Closer Weekly in 2018.