JAG: BTS, Untold Truths, and Where Are They Now

In the 1990s, before NCIS, JAG (Judge Advocate General) was the most popular military drama on television. Fans tuned in weekly for a decade (1995–2005) to watch Harm and Mac’s dramatic relationship unfold until the abrupt end. But beyond the thrilling storytelling, there are some untold truths.

Catherine Bell, David James Elliott / David James Elliott / Catherine Bell, David James Elliott / Catherine Bell.
Source: Getty Images

Few fans of the show know about these surprising details. The talented cast has also moved on to different things. Read on to find out some interesting facts about the show and what has happened to your favorite characters in the military legal drama.

NBC Pulled the Plug After the First Season

NBC canceled the show in the spring of 1996 due to underperformance. Even though the network rescheduled it from Saturdays to Wednesdays in the middle of the season, it couldn’t compete with shows like The Jeff Foxworthy Show and Beverly Hills, 90210. But fortunately, that wasn’t the end.

A promotional shot for the television series.
Source: Amazon

CBS picked up the canceled JAG the following season, after then–NBC president Warren Littlefield informed show creator Donald Bellisario that he didn’t think JAG would ever make it through another season. He also said if Bellisario thought the show would work at CBS, he was welcome to take it.

CBS Says Thank You

If CBS hadn’t picked up JAG for the second season, the show many people grew to love would never have continued. But not only the fans were thankful; even CBS might still be sending thank-you cards to NBC for canceling the show after season one.

David James Elliott and Catherine Bell pose for a promotional shot.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: CBS

CBS picked up JAG mid-season, airing it on Friday nights, thanks to Bellisario and distributor Paramount. Littlefield later admitted that he didn’t think this would work at the time, but CBS proved to have a much better understanding of JAG’s appeal. JAG eventually turned out to be the foundation of CBS.

What if David James Elliot Didn’t Play Harm?

After ten years of seeing David James Elliot as the charming, daring judge advocate Harmon ‘Harm’ Rabb Jr., it’s virtually impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. Don Bellisario, on the other hand, has acknowledged that Elliot went through four auditions before being cast as the series lead.

David James Elliot speaks during an interview.
Source: L.A. Times

“He was always this big, tall, good-looking [guy] and a good actor, but I was looking for a certain style of humor,” Bellisario said.

That fourth audition was when Elliot nailed what the creator was looking for in terms of wit and humor — presumably Harm’s wry amusement.

JAG Heralded the Biggest TV Franchise in History

JAG is responsible for almost 50 seasons of scripted network television. NCIS is the most popular scripted drama on television, with two successful spin-offs set in Los Angeles and New Orleans – both of which originated with JAG. NCIS, which has 19 seasons, was a spin-off of JAG.

A still from an episode.
Source: YouTube

It spawned NCIS: Los Angeles (13 seasons) and NCIS: New Orleans (7 seasons). Americans appear to have an insatiable appetite for Navy crime. The Law & Order franchise is bigger, having more than 50 seasons, while All My Children had 37 seasons.

Bellisario Planned NCIS All Along

If you run into Bellisario, we have one piece of advice for you; do not, DO NOT call NCIS a spinoff. When he created JAG, Bellisario was aware of the Navy’s internal crime-fighting system, but he didn’t immediately incorporate it into the series because he thought it would be confusing.

Mark Harmon and Bellisario pose for the press / A still from NCIS.
Photo by Mathew Imaging, FilmMagic, Getty Images / Moviestillsdb.com, Copyright: CBS

He urged then–CBS CEO Les Moonves to advertise the shows separately when he started NCIS because he wanted to attract a distinct market – a younger audience. He thought connecting it to JAG might deter them from watching. Moonves ignored him, but in hindsight, we don’t think it did much harm!

There Was a Failed Spinoff

Despite the fact that NCIS went on to build its own fan base and spawn a number of interesting spinoff series, another JAG spinoff series failed to attract a dedicated audience. First Monday, another project created by Bellisario, centered around the United States Supreme Court.

A still of Joe Mantegna in a Supreme Court scene.
Photo by Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

The title is a nod to the fact that the Court’s new term generally begins on the first Monday in October. The pilot, which starred Joe Mantegna, James Garner, and Camille Saviola, premiered in January 2002 and is notable for including Kaley Cuoco in a brief role.

JAG Recycled Footage from Past Blockbusters

To save money, the show used previously shot studio footage from the archives. Top Gun, Flight of the Intruder, Clear and Present Danger, and The Hunt for Red October are just a few of the films that were used to create the naval combat scenes.

A promotional shot of JAG.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: CBS

The USS Forrestal was the primary filming ship (CV-59). The USS Saratoga, USS Enterprise, and USS John F. Kennedy are just a few of the Navy’s Nimitz-class carriers that appear throughout the series. The ships, however, were frequently given fanciful names such as the Reprisal and the Seahawk.

Bellisario Served in the US Marines

The military context has a special meaning for Donald Bellisario. He served in the Marine Corps from 1955 to 1959 and has spent the majority of his television career attempting to convey a more nuanced side of the military than is typically seen on television.

A photo of Donald Bellisario with his JAG cast surrounding him.
Photo by Giulio Marcocchi/Getty Images

Bellisario was keen to illustrate to the public that the military is about more than just brutality and warfare. Although the show has its share of bad guys, Bellisario makes it a point to highlight that the majority of military personnel are fighting to make the world a better place.

JAG Got Help from the Military

Bellisario and his team wanted the series to look as realistic as possible to a real-world Naval operation with aircraft carriers, fighter jets, and stunts. Diamond Farnsworth, the stunt coordinator for every episode of JAG and every season of NCIS, recalls, “One episode we had tanks.”

Catherine Bell and Sasha Alexander pose for the media.
Photo by Giulio Marcocchi/Getty Images

“We actually got a tank from the military and ran it up and over a car.” Farnsworth worked on every episode of JAG and every season of NCIS. But tanks weren’t the only spectacular things to be featured or done on the famed TV show.

Bellisario Told a Crew Member to Find a Fighter Plane

George Tuers served as a prop master on all ten seasons of JAG and four seasons of NCIS. He claimed that between the first and second seasons of JAG, Bellisario instructed him to find an F-14 Tomcat. He managed it somehow. Don’t ask us, we don’t know either.

Catherine Bell, Bellisario, and David James Elliott speak on stage.
Photo by Mathew Imaging/FilmMagic/Getty Images

But the plane was so heavy that the crew had to disassemble and reassemble it. However, without a Navy-sized budget, the crew was unable to create an aircraft carrier or a fighter plane, let alone crash them. Eventually, the initially adamant Navy helped out by allowing the use of previous footage.

The Navy Didn’t Want the Show to Air

Although JAG frequently portrayed the Navy in a positive light, a naval courtroom drama must include seamen behaving badly. The Navy was justifiably against a show that aired its dirty laundry in public – at least at first – especially since many of the fictional cases were based on real crimes.

Catherine Bell poses on the set of JAG.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: CBS

Bellisario also remarked that the Navy was still reeling from the Tailhook controversy when JAG initially aired in 1995. The connection between the fictional and real organization was finally settled in the end. “Every Tuesday the show would run, and every Wednesday the enlistment would spike,” Bellisario explained.

JAG Had More Help from the Navy

Additionally, the Navy authorized JAG to film on restricted locations and provided feedback on the scripts, including military jargon, uniforms, and protocol. The Navy also provided any other material they could to help the show appear realistic. Even the Pentagon was known to get involved from time to time.

A still from the pilot episode.
Source: YouTube

The Navy, however, declined to assist on episodes with which it strongly disapproved. A good example of an episode like this was the one in which a submarine unintentionally drops a nuclear weapon round. Although the Navy was strongly against it, Bellisario went ahead with the episode.

The Real Reason Why David James Elliot Was Dropped

David James Elliot was JAG’s leading star from the onset. So when it was announced that he wasn’t returning for season 10, it wasn’t just his fate that was at risk, the entire show was. Bellisario tried to downplay Elliot’s exit, claiming “[they] had to cut costs.”

A portrait of David James Elliott.
Photo by Mathew Imaging/FilmMagic/Getty Images

According to him, the show purposely reduced Elliot’s screen time in his final season so he wouldn’t renegotiate his return. Elliot’s manager, on the other hand, claimed his client requested another season but wasn’t answered. However, it was reported that Elliot had already “made a lucrative deal” with rival ABC.

Not Even Bellisario Expected the Abrupt End

After ten seasons, you’d think JAG would get a heads-up that the end was approaching. The show’s creator, Donald P. Bellisario, was given only a few weeks’ warning that it would not be renewed. Writers rushed to finish the ongoing plot and eventually put Elliott’s and Bell’s characters together.

A still from the television series.
Source: YouTube

Bellisario wanted to give JAG a proper send-off, but the network was evasive regarding the show’s future. The show ended on April 29, 2005, and never returned. Despite his regret at not being able to leave JAG fans on a high, Bellisario stated he is pleased with the cliffhanger ending.

Catherine Bell Was Supposed to Have 5 Minutes

Bell’s character, Marine Major ‘Mac’ MacKenzie, was a fan favorite, but it wasn’t her first appearance. In season 1, Bell’s character, Lieutenant Diane Schonke, is murdered by an unknown stalker in the first five minutes of the episode. Bell’s unsolved murder haunts Harm until season three when he solves it.

A closeup on Catherine Bell in a scene from the show.
Source: YouTube

But Catherine was the facilitator of her own return. In a letter to Bellisario, she explained why she was the ideal replacement for Andrea Parker, who had another commitment. Bellisario recognized her as a good actor and loved the idea of a character like Mac messing with Harm.

JAG Had a Large Following

Considering how it started and how it didn’t pick up immediately, it is surprising to note that JAG really had a huge following. The show, which was picked up by CBS after NBC dropped it, lasted ten years, but that wasn’t the only ‘ten’ about it.

Officers talk in a dressing room scene from the show.
Source: YouTube

JAG itself is a solid ‘10/10’ TV show, as people in this era would put it (although it wasn’t a juggernaut on the ratings board) and no wonder it ushered in the biggest TV franchise in history. It also averaged more than ten million viewers each season!

David James Elliot Worked in a Belt Factory

Many people who have made it to the big screen or even made it in life always have a story to tell. For some, it wasn’t handed down to them and they had to fight for it. Elliott grew up in a farming community in Ontario.

A portrait of Elliott during an interview.
Photo by Paul Archuleta/Getty Images

He was a member of a few punk and new-wave bands as a teenager, including the Assassinators. He departed for Toronto at the age of 17 in the hopes of making it big. He told TV Guide, “I was working at a belt factory and living in this boarding house.”

20 Years After, What’s Happening?

Hearing the JAG theme tune puts you in a patriotic spirit like nothing else. It’s right up there with the greatest. It was also created by Donald Bellisario, who began with Magnum PI and went on to create Airwolf and Quantum Leap before creating JAG.

Catherine Bell poses for a promotional portrait.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: CBS

The JAG series finale aired more than 20 years ago, on April 29, 2005, and many of the show’s cast members have since gone on to new adventures and returned to the JAG/NCIS universe. Well, what are the season’s regulars doing now? What happened to them?

Then: David James Elliott as Harmon Rabb, Jr.

For anyone who’s watched all 227 episodes of JAG, you’ll know Captain Harmon Rabb Jr. He’s the only series regular to appear in every episode! Although some referred to him by his official title, those close to him and most fans called him “Harm” for short.

A portrait of David James Elliott as Harmon Rabb, Jr.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: CBS

As the captain, Harm was arguably the show’s most crucial character. He was in charge of solving crimes and cases, as well as leading the group. And yes, he didn’t do it alone because he had a professional (and romantic) partner and doppelganger beside him.

Now: David James Elliott as Harmon Rabb, Jr.

Given that David James Elliott featured in all 10 seasons of JAG, it should come as no surprise to find that he is now a household name in the world of television. While many fans of the show will always remember him as Harm, he has worked on many projects.

David James Elliott in Mad Men / David James Elliott in JAG.
Source: YouTube

David James Elliot has worked in both television and film, and it appears that he’s had a busy schedule. In 2010, he landed a new leading role in Scoundrels, and he even had the opportunity to guest star on Mad Men, a hugely popular television show.

David James Elliot Appeared on NCIS

Most excitingly, David James Elliott reprised his JAG role in three episodes of NCIS: Los Angeles in 2019. Since JAG ended, Elliott has starred in the dramedy GCB and had a recurring role on the ABC mystery Secrets and Lies, both of which aired on YouTube’s Impulse.

A still of David James Elliot in an episode from NCIS.
Source: Moviestillsd.com/ Copyright: CBS

He is now starring in the Netflix film Spinning Out about ice skating. Actor David Elliott is married to actress Nanci Chambers (who played Lt. Loren Singer in JAG) and lives in an 8,000-square-foot Italian villa–style estate. His most recent film role was in Bryan Cranston’s American biographical film Trumbo.

Then: Catherine Bell as Sarah ‘Mac’ MacKenzie

There’s no denying that Lieutenant Colonel Sarah MacKenzie created quite a stir when she first appeared on the show in season two. Even though she was a new addition to the show, it didn’t take her long to establish herself among some of the most prominent figures in JAG.

Catherine Bell takes a picture behind the scenes.
Source: Facebook

She eventually became one of the most notable characters. In JAG, she demonstrated her abilities and her strong desire to succeed, which enabled her to progress through the ranks and eventually settle as a lieutenant colonel. Although she was a little rough, her reasons became clear later on.

What’s Catherine Bell Doing Now?

Even though Catherine Bell is best known by the majority of TV fans for her part as Lieutenant Colonel Sarah MacKenzie, this is not the only role in which she has appeared over the years. In fact, not long after she left JAG, she was offered a similar role.

Catherine Bell attends an event.
Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage/Getty Images

It was an opportunity to reprise her role as a female lead in Army Wives, which she accepted. She was a regular on this show for a staggering six years, and it provided fans with the opportunity to fall even more in love with her.

Not Bad, Catherine. Not Bad at All

Her career as an actress has continued to this day, and she even returned to her role as Sarah for an episode of NCIS: Los Angeles in 2019. She has also worked as a producer on a number of television shows throughout the years since her time in JAG.

A still of Catherine Bell in an episode of NCIS.
Source: YouTube

She has had leading roles on long-running shows, from Denise Sherwood in Army Wives to Cassie Nightingale in the Good Witch films and television series, which she also co-executive produced. Catherine Bell has established a solid reputation for herself. It’s safe to say she’s doing well.

Then: Patrick Labyorteaux as Budrick ‘Bud’ Roberts, Jr.

While it’s clear to everyone that Harm is by far the most recurring character on JAG, Budrick ‘Bud’ Roberts, Jr. wasn’t too far behind. This character appears in every season of the show, totaling 208 episodes. One reason for his staying power is that this character was so lovable.

A portrait of Patrick Labyorteaux as Budrick ‘Bud’ Roberts, Jr.
Source: Wikipedia

While his bubbly nature and welcoming personality made him easy to like by fans, he quickly established that while he was working on a case, he had no time for nonsense. His confidence and determination to succeed eventually helped him win Harriet’s heart, and they later married.

Now: Patrick Labyorteaux as Budrick ‘Bud’ Roberts, Jr.

Besides appearing in JAG as Bud Roberts, Jr., Patrick Labyorteaux also took his lovable character into one of the many spin-offs from JAG, showing up in three episodes of NCIS. He has always been a fan favorite. And of course, he has played more roles.

A still of Patrick Labyorteaux as Bud Roberts, Jr. / Patrick Labyorteaux attends an event.
Source: YouTube / Photo by Jonathan Leibson, Getty Images

Patrick has appeared in several films and TV shows. While most of his TV appearances have been one-offs, he’s had a pretty impressive list regardless. These include Dexter, American Crime Story, and Scandal. He also appeared as Julius Caesar in The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time.

Then: John M. Jackson as Albert Jethro ‘A.J.’ Chegwidden

A.J. Chegwidden is the Judge Advocate General, a former Navy Seal. Despite his tough exterior, he is a sensitive soul who cares for the people he leads. According to him, those are “his people.” Jackson began acting in 1981 and had a recurring role on Wiseguy in 1997.

A portrait of John M. Jackson as A.J. Chegwidden.
Source: YouTube

While he was professional at work, he was a ladies’ man. He had many girlfriends during his time on the show, including Meredith Cavanaugh and Sidney Walden. To play A.J., he interviewed top navy officers and the common response was, “An admiral acts any damn way he wants to!”

Now: John M. Jackson as Albert Jethro ‘A.J.’ Chegwidden

Many JAG actors have taken on new identities and characters in the spinoff shows, but that wasn’t the case for John M. Jackson. He was brought in to reprise his roles on spinoff shows like NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles because his character proved to be so popular.

John M. Jackson appears next to Ellen Pompeo in an episode from Grey’s Anatomy.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: ABC

That isn’t to say John M. Jackson hasn’t worked on other projects. A stint on Bones, as well as appearances on Without a Trace, CSI, and Criminal Minds, are among his other television works. He also appeared in the 2017 film Gifted, starring Chris Evans.

Then: Scott Lawrence as Sturgis Turner

Commander Sturgis Turner and Harm were former Naval Academy classmates. They served on submarines together before going on to become lawyers. Outside of work, these two spent a lot of time together fixing vehicles and playing basketball, but it doesn’t mean they were best friends.

A still of Scott Lawrence as Sturgis Turner.
Source: YouTube

Harm teased Turner about his fixation with obeying the rules. Scott Lawrence made his professional acting debut in 1987 as Office Worker Scott in Season 2 of Murphy Brown. He appeared in the 1994 Jean Claude Van Damme flick Timecop, and has voiced Darth Vader in many video games.

The Commander Has Been Busy!

While some of the actors on this list had a litany of acting credits prior to joining JAG, Scott Lawrence’s time on the show catapulted him into the spotlight. People were able to understand what he was about and remember his name because of this role.

A picture of Scott Lawrence attending an event.
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

He’s been active since then! Scott has appeared in numerous television shows, including Fear the Walking Dead, Unbelievable, Mr. Mercedes, and Star Wars Resistance, where he voiced the character of Jarek Yeager. He has acted in films such as Avatar, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Stuber.

Then: Susan Haskell as Lieutenant Commander Jordan Parker

Some fans of the show may remember her as Lieutenant Commander Jordan Parker while others, simply ‘Jordi.’ Still, there’s no denying that she had an impact in the United States Navy. After making her debut in season four, she didn’t take long to win over Harm’s heart.

A portrait of Susan Haskell as Lieutenant Commander Jordan Parker.
Source: YouTube

In fact, these two had such a strong connection that they began dating soon after. However, things weren’t meant to be for these two. Their relationship met a ‘dead end’ when Parker was brutally killed by the mentally unstable wife of a marine officer in season 6.

Susan Haskell Has Left the Limelight

This brilliant Canadian actress has had a small film and television career. But if you really want a big dose of Susan, you can always binge-watch One Life to Live, an American soap opera on ABC, where she plays Dr. Marty Saybrooke. Since 1992, the actress has reprised her role numerous times.

A picture of Susan Haskell attending an event.
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

She played the role till 2011. Her career was defined by this character, but it all came crashing down when she was fired. She has not been in any other television show or film since then, and she appears to have vanished totally from the limelight.

Then: Zoe McLellan as Petty Officer Jennifer Coates

Jennifer Coates was a petty officer with a tumultuous past. Zoe began acting in 1994, but her career took off once she co-starred in the 2000 fantasy film Dungeons & Dragons with Jeremy Irons, which received terrible reviews. Things got better for her when she started on JAG a year later.

A still of Zoe McLellan in a scene from the show.
Source: YouTube

Jennifer was able to thrive in the military under the guidance of Harm and Sarah MacKenzie, and by the time season nine rolled around, she and her team were celebrating her promotion to the rank of Petty Officer First Class. She did, in fact, turn her life around.

Now: Zoe McLellan as Petty Officer Jennifer Coates

Zoe McLellan found herself in a prominent role in NCIS: New Orleans. However, this isn’t the only role she has taken on, as she has found herself to be quite busy since her fictional days in the Navy. She has been on shows like Dirty Sexy Money and Suits.

Zoe McLellan attends an event.
Photo by Toni Anne Barson/FilmMagic/Getty Images

She has also appeared on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Designated Survivor, where she played the main character in season two. Her personal life was troubled when her ex-husband was arrested in January 2020 on indecent charges regarding their three-year-old son. She now raises him as a single mother.

Then: Tracey Needham as Meg Austin

Harm was quite popular among the ladies. He seemed to have the ability to enchant any woman into falling in love with him. Lieutenant Junior Grade Megan ‘Meg’ Austin was Harm’s second partner. However, her stint was brief and only lasted for the first season.

Tracey Needham is in a scene from the television series.
Source: YouTube

She became Harm’s second girlfriend when Caitlin Pike left the show, and they were a formidable team for about 20 episodes before she was also swept aside in 1996. But her departure paved the way for Sarah MacKenzie to leave a lasting mark on the JAG team and on Harm.

Now: Tracey Needham as Meg Austin

Even though she hasn’t appeared in as many films and television shows as some of the other actors on this list, she has appeared in a number of productions that are rather remarkable. An example is the high-profile show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

A portrait of Tracey Needham.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: RHI Entertainment

Tracey Needham has also appeared on Criminal Minds and on Veronica Mars, where she starred as a series regular. However, she hasn’t been in the limelight since 2010 and we’ve not seen much of her since then. We’re not sure why either. But we do hope she’s doing okay.

Then: Isabella Hofmann as Professor Meredith Cavanaugh

Although many of the characters were in the military legal profession, Professor Meredith Cavanaugh brought a fresh outlook with her desire to be a scholar. Even though she was only on the show for a brief period, there is no doubt that she made an impression.

A still of Isabella Hofmann as Professor Meredith Cavanaugh.
Source: YouTube

She was Admiral A.J.’s last love interest. Meredith Cavanaugh was a character who became close to Chegwidden because of their mutual love of William Shakespeare. After a while, the two became engaged. Unfortunately for Miss Cavanaugh, cheating on your fiancé never ends well.

What Is Isabella Hofmann Doing Now?

Isabella made her mark on JAG between 2002 and 2004. Yes, she may have starred in only 18 episodes, but many of the show’s fans will still remember her. But it appears her career peaked in the ’80s and ’90s. That was when she took on numerous TV roles.

Atticus Baldwin, Isabella Hofmann, and Daniel Baldwin attend an event.
Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic/Getty Images

These include Dear John, Homicide: Life on the Street, and The Boys. But she has been relatively quiet since leaving JAG. Not that she stopped acting, but they’ve only been minor short-lived roles. Interestingly, she has a few blockbusters on her resume such as Burlesque and The Princess Diaries 2.

A Trip Back to Memory Lane

These characters will have refreshed your memory, but if you’re still struggling to remember what JAG was about, here’s a quick recap. The show follows “judge advocates” in Washington. Think of them as lawyers in uniform. They work in the Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy Department.

Catherine Bell is in a promotional shot for the show.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: CBS

The office can prosecute and defend criminal matters under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, conduct investigations, and provide legal advice on military operations. John M. Jackson played Albert Jethro ‘A.J.’ Chegwidden, the Judge Advocate General, while David James Elliot, the main character, played Captain Harmon ‘Harm’ Rabb Jr.