NCIS is one of the most popular dramas on network television. Since 2003, the CBS show about the Navy Criminal Investigation Service has dominated TV ratings. According to an April 2018 report in Deadline, the series "has been crowned as the most-watched drama in the world in three of the last four years" and is "licensed in more than 200 territories." Its stellar crime-fighting cast seems about as squeaky clean as can be, but as is often the case in show business, painful adversity and scandal lurk just below the surface.
From scandalous run-ins with the law to running themselves into the ground, the cast members’ real life problems have sometimes proved more grueling than their cases on TV. Whose marriage was a nightmare? Who feared for their life? Some stars broke hearts and others endured heartbreaking losses. From homelessness to custody battles and some highly controversial scripting, here are the dark secrets the cast of NCIS tried to hide.
Pauley Perrette says the ‘machine’ kept her quiet about assault
Shortly after Perrette exited NCIS in May 2018, the actress shed light on why she left in a series of cryptic tweets implying that she’d been bullied and assaulted during her time on the show. "It’s horrifying. I left. Multiple Physical Assaults," she tweeted, without sharing specifics about what happened or who was responsible. "I REALLY get it now. Stay safe. Nothing is worth your safety. Tell someone."
CBS Television Studios responded to the allegations in an equally vague statement (via Entertainment Tonight): "Over a year ago, Pauley came to us with a workplace concern. We took the matter seriously and worked with her to find a resolution. We are committed to a safe work environment on all our shows." Meanwhile, Perrette thanked the network, tweeting, "They have always been so good to me and always had my back."
Sasha Alexander wanted out
At the end of NCIS Season 2, the show shockingly killed off one of its main characters, Special Agent Kate Todd. But it turns out that’s exactly what actress Sasha Alexander wanted. NCIS creator and then-showrunner Donald Bellisario told the Chicago Tribune that Alexander requested to be let go. "Sasha came in [to my office] with tears in her eyes, she said, ‘I just can’t work this hard,’" the producer recalled. "[It’s] a hard show to make. We work very long hours, and Sasha just didn’t feel she was physically up to that kind of time and commitment."
The Rizzoli & Isles star has no regrets. "People don’t realize that on a network show, you make 24 episodes a year — that’s 10½ months a year, 17 hours a day. It’s hard core," she told TV Guide. "I really firmly believe in my heart that I would not be where I am today—happily married, with two kids, doing things creatively that I want—if I had stayed."
Bad blood simmered on set
Intense schedules, long hours, and unrealistic demands ultimately led to a showdown between showrunner Bellisario and the show’s biggest star, Mark Harmon. According to TV Guide, the actor, who anchors the show as the stoic and complex Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, had grown tired and frustrated with the longtime producer’s "chaotic management style."
"Mark’s been working every single day, 16 hours a day," an NCIS insider told TV Guide in 2007. "Don tries to micro-manage everything. Script pages get faxed to the set at the last minute, and Mark is tired of dealing with the huge impact that makes on his life."
After months of feuding on set, Bellisario was reportedly forced out. He kept his title when he stepped down but effectively lost all control of the hit show he’d helped create.
No one knew Cote de Pablo was quitting
When Cote de Pablo, who played fan favorite Special Agent Ziva David for eight seasons, quit the show in July 2013 — mere days before filming for Season 11 began — she shocked her fans and co-stars alike. "It was huge news to us," Perrette told E! News. "I found out literally 20 minutes before it was released in the press. But we love her … No one wanted her to leave. There was no drama."
However, there may have been some behind-the-scenes dirt. Co-star David McCallum didn’t mince words. "It was frustration and anger that someone should just walk out on us," he told Digital Spy. "I just don’t understand how a leading lady in a show that’s worldwide, who ostensibly wants to have a career as an actress, suddenly walks away from such a gem and just vanishes a couple of days before we start production."
Years later, de Pablo explained her reasons for leaving during a panel for her film The 33. "Unfortunately, because of political things and the scripts not being good enough, I chose not to [continue]," she said. "I love this character. I worked eight years in crafting this character and loving her, so when I felt or I perceived the character was not being treated with the respect that she deserved, all the money in the world [couldn’t make me stay]."
Perrette was attacked on the street
In November 2015, Perrette experienced what she called an "awful, life changing" event. "On my street, I was jumped by a VERY psychotic homeless man," the actress recounted on Twitter. "He grabbed me so forcefully, pinned my arm, punched me…repeatedly telling me he was going to kill me."
According to Entertainment Tonight, Perrette broke away from her attacker and texted two friends, one of whom also happened to be a cop. After drawing a sketch of her assailant, they located the man at a 7-Eleven in Hollywood. He was reportedly taken into custody and arrested on felony battery charges. "I almost died tonight," she tweeted. "We need full mental health care. We need housing and help for the homeless. We need to support our cops. We need to not walk alone."
The traumatic experience seemingly strengthened Perrette’s resolve to help the homeless. She told CBS Los Angeles, "My heart breaks for that guy, and it breaks for every single person that’s out there on the streets."
Michael Weatherly has a criminal record
Best known as the ever-charming and funny Special Agent Tony DiNozzo, Michael Weatherly doesn’t seem the type to ruffle feathers, but the Bull star was once busted for drinking and driving. According to TMZ, the actor was stopped by Los Angeles police for speeding at around 1 a.m. in November 2015, but wound up arrested and booked on DUI charges. In January 2016, Weatherly pleaded no contest to driving under the influence. He could have faced a maximum sentence of six months in prison and a $1000 fine, reported TMZ, but he essentially got a slap on the wrist: three years’ probation and six months to complete an alcohol program and a Mothers Against Drunk Driving course.
Weatherly made the decision to leave NCIS shortly after his sentence. "I will miss the amazing crew & cast, who are like family to me, & to the fans all over the world," he tweeted (via Page Six). "THANK YOU, it’s been a fantastic ride!"
Wilmer Valderrama is allegedly a player
In 2016, Wilmer Valderrama was one of three actors to join NCIS as a series regular in an effort to fill the void left by Weatherly’s departure. Known as the charismatic and unpredictable Special Agent Nicholas Torres, it turns out that Valderrama has a real-life reputation for being a womanizer. The former That ’70s Show star has always been vocal about his prolific dating life. As Nicki Swift previously reported, Valderrama got himself into a spot of trouble during a TMI interview with Howard Stern in 2006. The actor detailed his trysts with Lindsay Lohan, Mandy Moore, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Ashlee Simpson in explicit detail.
In 2014, the Daily Beast published a scathing piece about Valderrama’s love life. The article not only mocked his career path, but also connected him to the leaking of racy photos allegedly featuring Valderrama and then-girlfriend Demi Lovato. The story quipped, "Yo Wilmer Valderrama’s so culturally irrelevant, he relies on the commodification of his young girlfriend’s body in order to re-enter the current celebrity conversation!"
Perrette’s marriage was a nightmare
Pauley Perrette is best known as the lovable, goth-chic forensic scientist Abby Scuito. Not unlike her character, the actress has faced adversity throughout her life. According to Fox News, her marriage to Francis "Coyote" Shivers, a Canadian DJ, was allegedly an abusive nightmare that ended in a contentious divorce in 2006. To strengthen her case against Shivers, Perrette teamed up with his first ex-wife, Bebe Buell, and former girlfriend, Angela Garber. The women all claimed to have endured similar treatment from Shivers, including stalking, computer hacking, threats, vandalism, emotional distress, and even assault.
"Because of my fear of him, I left. I grabbed my two dogs, my cat and my laptop and I ran," Perrette told Fox News. "My whole goal was to be able to work in television and film and maintain a normal life, never be in a tabloid. I was clean as snow. And now there’s this guy. And I find myself in the middle of a horror movie I didn’t audition for."
Shivers has pointed the finger at Perrette, accusing her of stalking him in a personal injury lawsuit, the Daily Mail reported in May 2018.
David McCallum suffered a heartbreaking loss
Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard’s boyish charm, wisdom, and endless stories have made octogenarian David McCallum a fan favorite. However, he and his family suffered a tragic loss in 1989. His 27-year-old son, Jason, whom McCallum adopted with his then-wife, Jill Ireland, died of an accidental overdose. According to the Los Angeles Times, Jason had struggled with drug abuse for years but had completed a rehab program and was on the road to recovery just prior to his untimely death.
Scottish-born McCallum spoke about his anguish to the Belfast Telegraph in 2016. "You never come to terms with the death of a child, the pain is very real and turns into anger," he said. "At the same time, there’s a frustration that you couldn’t really have done anything about it, which makes it even worse." He added, "In the final analysis, he had the life he had. You just have to accept it."
Mark Harmon waged a custody battle
Mark Harmon attempted to gain permanent custody of his then 12-year-old nephew, Sam, in the 1980s. According to the Los Angeles Times, the actor built a case with his wife, Pam Dawber, on the grounds that his estranged sister, Kristin Nelson, was addicted to prescription drugs and therefore an unfit parent. After a long legal battle, the former West Wing actor dropped the bid after Nelson completed a rehab program in June 1987. However, there may have been more to the story.
Around that time, Nelson’s defense reportedly made a move to potentially target Dawber for alleged cocaine use while working on Mork and Mindy, reported the Los Angeles Times. Dawber told the court that any such testimony would be a lie, but Harmon reportedly initiated settlement talks midway through his wife’s testimony. Sam returned to this mother, and Harmon was granted visitation rights. The legal settlement reportedly did not resolve the family tension, and problems allegedly continued until early 2017, when a source told Radar Online that the "siblings have worked through their issues."
Jennifer Esposito aired her ex’s dirty laundry
During her one-year stint with NCIS, Jennifer Esposito was known to fans as Special Agent Alex Quinn, but do you know she used to be known as Mrs. Bradley Cooper?
According to Us Weekly, the two divorced in 2007 after only four months of marriage — so you may have blinked and missed it. Things apparently ended so badly between them that Esposito bashed Cooper in her 2014 book Jennifer’s Way. "I should have noticed the red flags from the beginning — actually, they were more like an entire marching band squad of red flags — but I ignored them," the former Blue Bloods actress wrote (via Us Weekly). "He was funny, smart, cocky, arrogant, and a master manipulator … he also had a mean, cold side." She went on and on. "Within days, my relationship hit an all-time low, and within a week, it was over. Abruptly, rudely, and with the exact callousness that I’d come to expect from him, but this time, I did nothing but agree to end it."
Henry Duane was homeless
Breakout star Henry Duane is best known as MI6 Officer Clayton Reeves, but his humble beginnings may surprise you. The English actor reportedly spent ten years struggling to find work in London before moving to Los Angeles in 2013, but once in the States, his bad luck continued. "I kept having meetings, I went up for everything," he told the Birmingham Mail in 2016. "I was homeless at one point, couch surfing."
He was finally offered a part in an Oprah Winfrey TV series called Queen Sugar. "They would have paid me a lot of money," he said. But get this: Duane said no…to Oprah! "The character didn’t feel right. I wouldn’t have been happy doing it. Money isn’t why I work, I’m used to not having it so it doesn’t bother me."
"It’s taken me 13 years," he said. "I held out for so long and stuck to my guns and ended up on the number one show in the world as my first major TV role. I couldn’t have done better."
Michael Weatherly was accused of sexual harassment
Two years after leaving NCIS, Michael Weatherly joined the ranks of multiple men in Hollywood who have been accused of sexual harassment amid the #MeToo movement. In December 2018, The New York Times reported that actress Eliza Dushku received a confidential settlement of $9.5 million from CBS for wrongful termination after accusing the TV star of inappropriate behavior on the set of Bull.
According to mediation documents, Weatherly allegedly made a number of sexual comments to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer alum, including suggesting a "threesome" and jokingly inviting Dushku to his "rape van." After the actress confronted Weatherly about making her uncomfortable, he reportedly texted CBS Television Studios’ president to discuss her "sense of humor," and she was quickly written off the show.
Weatherly stated that he "was mortified to have offended [Dushku]" in his public apology, and suggested to The Times that she simply misunderstood some of his attempts at "ad-libbed" jokes. However, Dushku later shed more light on her claims in an op-ed written for The Boston Globe. "I do not want to hear that I have a ‘humor deficit’ or can’t take a joke," she wrote. "I did not overreact. I took a job and, because I did not want to be harassed, I was fired."