‘NCIS’: Is Fornell Returning to Help Mark Harmon’s Gibbs Fake His Death?
The upcoming season of the CBS hit show “NCIS” is shaping up to be an interesting, though nerve-wracking, one. With multiple character departures and one more recently considering leaving after two decades on “NCIS,” fans are a nervous wreck. Nevertheless, soon we’ll find out whether or not former FBI agent Tobias Fornell has returned to the “NCIS” set to help Agent Gibbs fake his death.
Express shared that “NCIS” showrunners are adding fuel to the fire surrounding the theory as we slowly approach the premiere of the new season. Because of Fornell and Gibbs’ close relationship and the theory that Agent Gibbs has faked his death to help former Agent Bishop, the plot theory makes sense.
To briefly summarize the season 18 finale, Gibbs took out his famous boat on a lake to search for clues in a mysterious death. It’s then that the main character’s boat explodes, going up in flames, and throwing Gibbs into the water. The finale ends as, briefly, Gibbs lies face down in the lake, seemingly dead, before abruptly swimming off.
The finale left a lot of cliffhangers, but the biggest question, obviously, is who orchestrated the explosion and why? While fans seem sure Gibbs faked his own death, it appears he may not have accomplished the feat alone. The media outlet explained that, with Mark Harmon’s (Gibbs) desire to have a limited role on “NCIS,” Fornell would make the perfect character to return to take his place. Further, he would help “dampen” any suspicions concerning the “NCIS” agent’s supposed death. In this way, it would make sense for such an abrupt return from the character.
‘NCIS’ Fans Worry The Show Won’t Continue After Season 19
Despite the return of Tobias Fornell, fans are nevertheless worried about Mark Harmon’s minimal appearances this season. They’re also concerned that with the ever-shrinking number of original cast members, “NCIS” won’t be able to continue much longer.
Reddit has had a lot to say lately concerning the hit show’s new season. In an earlier thread, they expressed concerns that season 19 may be Mark Harmon’s last. Should that be the case, fans fear this could be the last season because the actor’s character is such a necessary member of the crew. “I don’t think the new cast could carry the show with Gibbs being in a small number of episodes,” one worried Redditor shared.
If the show still carried a larger number of the characters from the original “NCIS” crew, the OP explained that the team may have made it without Gibbs. “I think the old days of the funny banter between Tony and McGee could carry it,” they wrote, “not this cast.”
Nevertheless, the crew has added two more regular characters, Katrina Law and Gary Cole. While we don’t know much about them, perhaps they can help bring some normalcy back to the show with so much changing.
'NCIS' Fans Are Not OK With Latest Episode's Shocking Death
Fans are shook after a shocking death on Tuesday's episode of NCIS. The episode focused on the team investigating the competitive world of food trucks after finding the body of a man who froze to death in the back of one, but that wasn't what got fans all riled up. It wasn't until the episode neared its ending that fans saw Tobias Fornell, played by Joe Spano, get a shocking call.
Fornell called Gibbs, played by Mark Harmon, who rushed off to the hospital after it was revealed that Fornell’s daughter, Emily, had relapsed. Fornell had found Emily at home surrounded by pills before rushing her to the ER. Emily unfortunately died after her relapse. After Fornell found out, Director Vance (Rocky Carroll) read a poem by Merritt Malloy called "Epitaph." A fan of the show shared the poem on Twitter.
Man, the ending of @NCIS_CBS tonight was a tear jerker. The poem by Merritt Malloy was perfect. #NCISpic.twitter.com/KgMdFMYnJV— Danno Whipkey (@DannoWhipkey) March 10, 2021
The emotional ending and Emily's unexpected death left fans "not OK" to say the least.
I am not ok after tonight’s #NCIS. That was unexpected and uncalled for. This show loves to pull on my heart. 😭— ⎊ Michelle ⎊ (@Nitny_) March 10, 2021
No, @NCIS_CBS. You can’t keep doing this to us..you just can’t. Ugh! 😩😢😭💔— Ashley Garvey (@a_m_g3) March 10, 2021
Fans pleaded with the show to let them get through one episode without crying.
Seriously @NCIS_CBS ? First Breena Palmer and now Emily Fornell? Come on, I want to watch one episode without crying! #NCIS.— Kathy Hansen (@KNHansen87) March 10, 2021
Others accused the show of going too far, calling tonight's episode of NCIS "brutal."
That was freaking brutal. #NCIS— Traci (@manntr07) March 10, 2021
Okay @ncis stop with all the team drama. Tired of you killing of family members.— John Borneman Breaks His Silence (@JohnDBorneman) March 10, 2021
Was it really necessary to kill off Emily Fornell like that? I mean, Tobias has had enough heartbreak during this show...give the man a break! pic.twitter.com/A74egv9u6M— AnnaBanana (@wwe4life1985) March 10, 2021
The show's Twitter account responded to the onslaught of distraught fans, urging them to "take a breath."
"Sit down. Take a breath. #NCIS," the tweet read.
Sit down. Take a breath. #NCIS— NCIS (@NCIS_CBS) March 10, 2021
Fans of the show have been through it lately. Just last month, it was revealed that the team was hit especially hard by COVID-19. Jimmy Palmer, played by Brian Dietzen, suffered a devastating loss when his wife, Breena, died of the virus.
Viewers were heartbroken for Palmer, while others expressed their frustration over the storyline, especially following the deaths of other characters on NCIS. See their reactions below.
@NCIS_CBS Palmer's wife passes away? Y'all really have to stop killing off the wives & women on this show! Kate, Jenny, the female FBI agent Tony liked, Ziva-then you bring her back, Gibbs' wife, Vance's wife, now Palmer!? Just let the bad guys perish until the series finale!🤨— TeeTee (@teeNYMD50) February 10, 2021
The show was dealt a blow over the summer when ET confirmed that fan-favorite, Maria Bello, would be leaving the show in its 18th season. Her final episode aired last week.
NCIS airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
'NCIS': Maria Bello's Final Episode Ends With a Bittersweet Goodbye
'NCIS: LA' Stars Daniela Ruah & Eric Christian Olsen on Hawaii Spinoff
'NCIS: New Orleans' Ending After Season 7
NCIS exit: Has Fornell left NCIS for good?
NCIS: Ellie Bishop says goodbye to Nicholas Torres
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Tobias Fornell (played by Joe Spano) is a former FBI special agent who has worked alongside NCIS on and off for several years. He is also a good friend of Agent Leroy Gibbs (Mark Harmon), with both of them being there for one another during some difficult times. The pair have an unusual shared history in terms of their love lives which brought them even closer.
WARNING: This article contains spoilers from NCIS.
Is Fornell leaving NCIS for good?
Fornell may not be a regular cast member in NCIS but he has been in the CBS series longer than most.
He appeared in the very first episode of NCIS, Yankee Whit and has popped up time and time again whenever Gibbs has needed him.
Fornell and Gibbs have something very unusual in common which has meant they could relate to one another on a deeper level: an ex-wife.
Both were married to criminal investigator Diane Sterling (Melinda McGraw) with Fornell even having his daughter Emily Fornell (Juliette Angela) with her.
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Everything changed for the ex-FBI agent in season 18 as his beloved daughter Emily was killed off.
She had suffered from a drug problem for a few years but in the latest series, she had an overdose and died in hospital as a result.
This left both Fornell and Gibbs, who was like a second father to her, utterly heartbroken.
But now the question is whether Fornell is going to be back for season 19 or is this the end of his journey on NCIS?
So far, there has been no confirmation that Spano has left the police procedural drama.
The 75-year-old hasn't featured in every series of NCIS as he just crops up from time to time.
He hasn't shared that he has returned to film new episodes but the actor isn't too active on social media.
There is no news of him reprising his role either on Spano's IMDB page.
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There is also the matter of Gibbs pretending to be dead in the season 18 finale.
As Fornell is his friend, he tends to only make an appearance because of the veteran agent.
But with Gibbs temporarily out of the picture, it is unclear when or if Fornell will be back.
However, this could be an opportunity for the former FBI agent to do some digging.
If NCIS isn't aware of Gibbs' whereabouts and Fornell finds out, it could lead to him conducting an investigation of his own.
Moreover, the show may want to bring him back so fans can get an update on how he is doing after Emily's death.
With his daughter and best friend out of the picture, how is Fornell going to cope?
NCIS season 19 will premiere on Monday, September 20, on CBS.
‘NCIS’: Before Playing FBI Special Agent Fornell, Joe Spano Starred with Ron Howard in Iconic 1973 Film
Beloved “NCIS” character, FBI Agent Tobias Fornell, regularly appears on the long-running hit TV show. He immediately joined the crew during the show’s first season, appearing in its very first episode which aired in 2003.
He makes consistent appearances on “NCIS” now as it approaches its 19th season on CBS. Modern fans recognize him by his rapidly balding head and gray stubble. However, those same fans may fail to recognize him in one of his earlier roles. In the 1973 film, “American Graffiti,” Spano starred as Vic.
Joe Spano has experienced a long career in acting according to Looper, and was only 27 years old when he secured his second role ever as Vic in “American Graffiti.”
To summarize Vic’s part, his character tries to come between the characters Debby and Terry. Spano’s character Vic went out with Debbie three weeks prior. He shows up unexpectedly to confront the pair and attempt to reignite things with Debbie. Never mind that Vic went three weeks without acknowledging her.
The hit film featured Spano and Ron Howard, however, it also featured other critically acclaimed actors and actresses. These include Harrison Ford and Suzanne Somers, among others. Additionally, if you decide to watch the film today as an “NCIS” fan, Spano may appear almost entirely unrecognizable. Given, he starred as Vic just about 50 years ago, so you have to give him credit.
According to Looper, “American Graffiti” saw five nominations for Academy Awards.
“NCIS” Season 19 Will Feature a Major Character Return, Per Showrunner
“NCIS” character Tobias Fornell has been missing lately in recent “NCIS” episodes. However, following the death of the former FBI agent’s daughter last season, he will finally appear more frequently in season 19. However, despite fans’ relief at seeing Fornell’s return, the latest edition of the show is missing many original faces.
At this point, fans worry “NCIS” won’t continue for many more seasons as it’s beginning to lose the majority of the original cast. Thankfully, Agent Timothy McGee actor Sean Murray and Agent Torres actor Wilmer Valderrama plan on returning. However, “NCIS” patriarch Leroy Jethro Gibbs, played by Mark Harmon, is reluctant in returning to the set at all.
While the Gibbs actor had initially planned on leaving the show this season, production said they would have to officially cancel the show were that to happen. So for now, the actor will make occasional appearances in season 19. However, things seem dismal for next year’s season 20, should it see confirmation for the following season.
Nevertheless, while things appear to be getting darker for America’s favorite TV show, fans share a slight glimmer of hope as a previous Michael Weatherly post hinted he may very well return to the set of “NCIS.” Hopefully, the very Special Agent Anthony Dinozzo pulls through for us “NCIS” fans.
To our delight, Gibbs (Mark Harmon) lives on and for the premiere of NCIS season 19, he only had one goal — to hunt down Samuels (Jason Wiles). But in the process, his old friend Fornell (Joe Spano) made him think “that chasing bad guys may not be the answer anymore.”
While getting to the bottom of the latest twist in the case, Fornell found a spooked Gibbs in a truck staking out a man spotted in the background. Although Fornell was glad to see Gibbs alive and mostly in good shape, he couldn’t help but point out that the suspended special agent in charge, who could only serve as a lookout, had put himself in this deadly situation. How? Well, because according to Fornell, Gibbs makes all of his cases personal.
“You always find some way to justify staying in the hunt. I mean, what the hell are you doing out here still chasing bad guys?” he said. After Gibbs claimed it was his job, Fornell shot back at him calling him out for making his job his identity. “And for how long, Mister Who Am I Without the Job? I mean how many wrongs made right will it take to fill that void inside you?” Fornell added.
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And he wasn’t done. When Gibbs asked what void he was speaking of, Fornell didn’t hold back and got super honest with him. Watch how the rest of the intense moment unfolds between them above. Now, whether or not Gibbs eventually takes his advice to go to counseling is unknown. But there’s no denying that Fornell’s words struck a chord with NCIS fans.
“This scene between those two… wow… very moving and so heartfelt!” one person wrote. “This scene was🤧🤧🤧🤧,” another added. “🥺 that line…grabbed my heart and squeezed the breath right out of me. 😢😭💔,” a different fan said. “Only Fornell could have pulled off that talk. Who better than he would understand? … Any scene with Gibbs and Fornell is golden. They play off of each other so well,” a follower commented.
In the end, the mysterious man Gibbs was after was apprehended by Torres (Wilmer Valderrama), Knight (Katrina Law) and McGee (Sean Murray), which further proved Fornell’s point that his team would be able to go on without him. The man wearing the mask, sunglasses and hat turned out to be FBI Special Agent Alden Parker (Gary Cole) who was undercover also trying to capture the serial killer. But astute viewers quickly figured out that the candid interaction between Gibbs and Fornell was to help set up his upcoming absence from the show.
According to TVLine “sources,” Mark is only set to star in a "relatively small number of episodes" in the new season. There’s no word if he’ll be featured every once in a while or have an emotional sendoff, but it’s still early on, so we don’t have to think about that … yet.
Selena BarrientosAssociate Entertainment and News EditorSelena Barrientos is the associate entertainment and news editor for Good Housekeeping — she writes and reports on the latest shows and movies, in addition to spotlighting Latinx celebrities.
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Tobias C. Fornell or "T.C. Fornell" is a former FBI Special Agent who occasionally works with the NCIS Major Case Response Team and who is also good friends with the team's leader, Leroy Jethro Gibbs.
He is also the ex-husband of Diane Sterling and father of Emily Fornell.
In addition, Fornell would work alongside the NCIS team if a case crosses over into the jurisdiction of the FBI.
Following a case concerning Gabriel Hicks in November 2017, Fornell resigned from the FBI and now works as a Private Investigator.
Much of Fornell's past is unknown but at some point, he met and married Diane Sterling which the two had a daughter named Emily Fornell.
Unfortunately, they later divorced, parting on bitter terms.
At some point, Fornell also joined the FBI and rose up through the ranks from being a Junior Agent to Senior Agent and then finally, a Special Agent.
NCIS Season 1
NCIS Season 2
NCIS Season 3
NCIS Season 4
NCIS Season 5
NCIS Season 6
NCIS Season 7
NCIS Season 8
NCIS Season 9
NCIS Season 10
NCIS Season 11
NCIS Season 12
NCIS: New Orleans Season 1
NCIS Season 13
Tobias Fornell was an agent who always looked out to find the truth. He is the sort to have both a tough and a soft side. Mostly seen having a close friendship with Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs of NCIS the two often poke fun at each and have their jokes. Tobias keeps those he loves close to his heart such as late ex-wife Diane Sterling where you can see he really opens up. Overall Tobias is a fun-loving guy and would protect those he loves any means necessary.
Tobias is 5’10 with a thin stature and has dark grey hair occasionally having a beard. He has a tanned complexion and is often seen sporting a black suit and tie.
- In the Season 1 premiere episode, "Yankee White", William Baer was heard calling Fornell "Tom" which hinted that it was "Tom Fornell" although the NCIS writers presumably later changed it to "Tobias" to avoid confusion between Fornell and Thomas Morrow who was NCIS Director at the time.
- At forty episodes, Fornell is the longest-running recurring character associated with the main NCIS series itself to have appeared in various episodes across NCIS Seasons 1 to 16 and 18/19. In addition to this, Fornell is also the only recurring character to appear in every season of the main NCIS series. NCIS Season 17 is the only season that he doesn't appear, although he is mentioned in Musical Chairs (episode) and Lonely Hearts (episode).
For a more detailed list, see Tobias Fornell/List of Appearances.
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Joseph Peter Spano
(1946-07-07) July 7, 1946 (age 75)
San Francisco, California, U.S.
Joseph Peter Spano (born July 7, 1946) is an American actor best known for his roles as Lt. Henry Goldblume on Hill Street Blues and FBI Special Agent Tobias C. Fornell on NCIS.
Spano was a member of the San Francisco improv group The Wing, and in college debuted as Paris in a production of Romeo and Juliet in 1967. In 1968, he helped found the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, appearing in its first production, and stayed with the company for ten years. He moved to Hollywood in the late 1970s, landing guest spots on TV and bit roles in American Graffiti (1973) and The Enforcer (1976).
In Hill Street Blues he played Henry Goldblume during the entire seven-year run of the series, first as a detective sergeant, later as a lieutenant. Goldblume was one of Hill Street precinct captain Frank Furillo's trusted junior officers, serving at times as a hostage negotiator and gangs relations officer. The character was sympathetic to crime victims, sometimes coming in conflict with his duties as a police officer. Spano was one of many actors appearing throughout each episode, which typically had several interwoven story lines.
After Hill Street Blues ended, Spano won recurring roles in television police shows Murder One (1995) and NYPD Blue (1993), again as a detective, and has appeared regularly in television movies and television shows like The X-Files (episodes "Tempus Fugit" and "Max"), Mercy Point and Amazing Grace. Spano won an Emmy award in 1988 for Best Guest Actor in a Drama Series for a role he played in an episode of Midnight Caller. He has appeared in several feature films, including working alongside Tom Hanks in Apollo 13 and Richard Gere and Edward Norton in Primal Fear. His credits are often confused with Australian actor Joseph Spano. They are not related.
He is a veteran stage actor on the east and west coasts. Spano made his Broadway debut in 1992 in the Roundabout Theater revival of Arthur Miller's The Price, with Eli Wallach, which was nominated for a Tony for Best Revival. West coast stage credits include Eduardo Pavlovsky's Potestad, and David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow and American Buffalo, for which he was awarded an LA Drama Critics Circle Award. At the Rubicon Theater in Ventura he has played General Burgoyne in George Bernard Shaw's The Devil's Disciple, Greg in A. R. Gurney's Sylvia and Vladimir in Waiting for Godot. He is a member of the Antaeus Theater Company and a founding member of three other theater companies. He played a seductive vampire in the cult musical Dracula: A Musical Nightmare in a small Los Angeles theatre. He also appeared in the TV movie Brotherhood of Justice with Keanu Reeves and Kiefer Sutherland.
Spano has been a recurring character in NCIS since its premiere episode, "Yankee White", playing FBI Special Agent Tobias Fornell, the FBI counterpart to NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, portrayed by Mark Harmon. In Season 15, Fornell is no longer with the FBI, but is a private investigator.
Two episodes have used Fornell's personal life as the main crux of an NCIS episode: one where Fornell's daughter is imperiled and another where Fornell's career is imperiled. In each episode, it is the friendship between Gibbs and Fornell which is invoked in order to involve NCIS in the resolution.
Spano was born in San Francisco, California, the son of Virginia Jean (née Carpenter) and Vincent Dante Spano, a physician. He graduated from Archbishop Riordan High School in 1963, and he is an honorary member of the House of Russi. Spano and his wife Joan Zerrien, a therapist, were married in 1980. They have two adopted daughters.
Film and television
- One Is a Lonely Number (1972) as Earl of Kent
- American Graffiti (1973) as Vic
- Warlock Moon (1973) as John Devers
- The Streets of San Francisco (1974, TV Series) as Taxi Driver - Witness / Toomey
- The Enforcer (1976) as Mitch, Robber (uncredited)
- Northern Lights (1978) as John Sorensen
- Lou Grant (1979, TV Series) as Jack Ridgeway / Larry
- Trapper John, M.D. (1979) as Dr. Gallant
- Roadie (1980) as Ace
- Tenspeed and Brown Shoe (1980) as Duff McCoy
- Fighting Back (1980) as Captain Murphy
- Insight (1981, TV Series) as Karl Rothman
- The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981) as Guard
- Terminal Choice (1985) as Dr. Frank Holt
- Brotherhood of Justice (1986) as Bob Grootemat
- Hill Street Blues (1981–1987, TV Series) as Lt. Henry Goldblume
- Deep Dark Secrets (1987) as Eric Lloyd
- Valerie (1987) as Mr. Cameron
- L.A. Law (1988, TV Series) as George Ripley
- Disaster at Silo 7 (1988) as Sgt. Swofford
- Midnight Caller (1989) as John Saringo
- Cast the First Stone (1989) as Bill Spencer
- The Easter Story (1990) as Jesus (voice)
- Blind Faith (1990, TV Mini-Series) as Sal Caccaro
- The Girl Who Came Between Them (1990) as Jim
- The Great Los Angeles Earthquake (1990) as Chad Spaulding
- American Dreamer (1990, TV Series)
- The Summer My Father Grew Up (1991) as Louis
- For the Very First Time (1991) as Mr. Allen
- Fever (1991) as Junkman
- Civil Wars (1992, TV Series) as Carl Sherensky
- Bloodlines: Murder In the Family (1993) as Hal Leventhal
- Reasonable Doubts (1993) as Jimmy Cooper
- The Flood: Who Will Save Our Children? (1993) as Richard Koons
- Rave Review (1994) as Lou
- Dream On (1994, TV Series) as Policeman
- Apollo 13 (1995) as NASA Director
- Amazing Grace (1995) as Detective Dominick Corso
- Primal Fear (1996) as Abel Stenner
- Murder One (1996, TV Series) as Ray Velacek
- Her Costly Affair (1995-1996, TV Series) as Carl Weston
- The X-Files (1997, TV Series) as Mike Millar
- A Call To Remember (1997) as Dr. Green
- Profiler (1997–1998, TV Series) as Detective Mike Ramdak
- From the Earth to the Moon (1998, TV Mini-Series) as George Mueller
- JAG (1998, TV Series) as Captain Jack Murphy
- Break Up (1998) as Priest
- Logan's War: Bound by Honor (1998) as Special Agent John Downing
- L.A. Doctors (1998, TV Series) as Don Claybourne
- Nash Bridges (1998, TV Series) as FBI Agent Langdon
- In Quiet Night (1998) as Gold
- Mercy Point (1998–1999, TV Series) as Dr. DeMilla
- A.T.F. (1999) as Senator at Hearing (uncredited)
- Touched by an Angel (1999) as James Cooper
- A Question of Faith (2000) as Duncan
- Batman Beyond (1999-2000, TV Series) as Bennet / Boss / Sniper (voice)
- Strong Medicine (2000) as Jonathan Freid
- Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)
- Texas Rangers (2001) as Mr. Dunnison
- Providence (2001, TV Series) as Dr. Carroll
- Ticker (2001) as Captain Spano
- The Invisible Man (2002, TV Series) as Father Tom Moore
- Hart's War (2002) as Col. J.M. Lange
- Static Shock (2002) as Mr. Osgood
- NYPD Blue (2002-2003, TV Series) as Det. John Clark Sr.
- Boomtown (2003, TV Series) as Henry Stein
- Fortunate Son (2004) as Robert
- L.A. Dragnet (2004, TV Series) as Bill Kutler
- Eyes (2005, TV Series) as Judge William Massey
- Crossing Jordan (2006) as Captain Innis
- The Closer (2006, TV Series) as Dr. Rose
- Hollywoodland (2006) as Howard Strickling
- Standoff (2006, TV Series) as Joe Suser
- Fracture (2007) as Judge Joseph Pincus
- Shark (2008, TV Series) as Paul Faber
- Frost/Nixon (2008) as Network Executive
- In Plain Sight (2010) as Gabe Andrews / Gabe Marion
- If I Did It (2011) as Mayor
- NCIS (2003–present, TV Series) as Senior FBI Agent / Private Investigator Tobias "T.C." Fornell
- The Mentalist (2012, TV Series) as Greg Relin
- NCIS: New Orleans (2014, TV Series) as Senior FBI Agent Tobias "T.C." Fornell
- Pearson (2019, TV Series) as Mr. Allen
Awards and nominations