Mark Harmon is appreciating the challenge of tackling his first major role since “NCIS” started.
One of television’s top stars makes a one-night departure from his hugely popular Tuesday-night CBS adventure series to appear on USA — where “NCIS” has a second home through frequent repeats — in “John Sandford’s Certain Prey” Sunday, Nov. 6. The movie is based on one of the 20-plus mystery novels about Lucas Davenport, a Minneapolis police detective who’s independently wealthy but still loves his job.
That sentiment is one Harmon surely knows, his ninth year of playing Naval Criminal Investigative Service operative Leroy Jethro Gibbs having won its time period both weeks of the new TV season so far. While he tells Zap2it that an outside venture “puts you back in touch with what the life of an actor is, which is doing different projects,” he adds that his heart remains very much in “NCIS.”
“It hasn’t stopped growing,” Harmon says, “and the part I’m most proud of is that nobody in this group, including the actors, is phoning it in. Nobody is saying, ‘Do I have to work today, and what time do I get to go home?’
“The work has remained constant. We may be working 12-to-14-hour days now, where at one time, we were working 19-to-20 … but that’s not to assume that we’re working any less hard. We’re not. We’re just better organized and better at doing this. There’s no confusion for anyone on the set of this show about how we got here or what we do, and that feels pretty good. It’s a rare place to be.”
Also an executive producer of “NCIS,” as he is on “Certain Prey,” Harmon has had the same mantra since the series began: “All we can control is our work.” Aware of FOX’s new Tuesday advantage with Zooey Deschanel‘s comedy hit “New Girl,” he allows, “You hold your breath a little bit and hope the audience stays with you. This show has built over the nine years, so it doesn’t lose audience … it gains it.
“As far as competition is concerned, there’s always that. There have been plenty of new series slotted against us, and whatever else is out there, we just try to do good shows. Some might be my favorites and some might be your favorites, but I guarantee that whatever they are, they won’t be someone else’s favorites. That’s just the way it works.”
Married to actress Pam Dawber for almost 25 years, Harmon isn’t sure whether the “NCIS” franchise will see any more expansion. He points out his series and its CBS spinoff “NCIS: Los Angeles” are run by different teams, “so they have a different feel. They’ve done well, though, and that’s a good thing.”