How Adam-12 helped turn Mark Harmon from a college football standout into a TV star

A link to Ozzie and Harriet helped boost his decade-long career, too.

AP Photo

One doesn't become the "Sexiest Man Alive" overnight. People bestowed that title upon Mark Harmon in 1986. The St. Elsewhere hunk became just the second man to earn the title, following, erm, Mel Gibson. By then, the thirtysomething actor was no newcomer. Networks had been handing the handsome California kid headlining television roles for decades. He had been a cop with a dog partner in Sam (1977), and a helicopter rescue hero in 240-Robert (1979).

That Sexiest Man Alive honor took him to another level. Harmon was playing a game of basketball when he found out. The other fellows had taped covers of the magazine to the backboard to rib their buddy.

He may have been on the court when he learned of his supreme sexiness, but Harmon was best known for his achievements on the football field. After putting two years in a community college, Harman made the leap to the big time at the University of California, Los Angeles. He was a quarterback of course. Just look at the guy.

AP Photo/George BrichHarmon walks to practice at UCLA in 1972.

As QB, Harmon led UCLA in the 1972 and 1973 seasons. In his first game as a starter (which took place days before the above photo) the slinger led the Bruins to a shocking upset over two-time defending champions Nebraska.

Being a photogenic college athlete just miles away from Hollywood studios can certainly lead to a screen career, but Harmon can truly thank two people for his television stardom — his sister Kristin and Dragnet creator Jack Webb.

Let's start with the former. Kristin was undoubtedly the envy of American girls when she married teen idol Ricky Nelson in 1963. She was a teenager at the time. (Fun aside: Mark's other sister, Kelly, married John DeLorean, the automobile innovator.) Being married to Ricky had its perks, specifically a role on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. She made her first appearance as Kris Nelson on the era-defining sitcom in 1963.

Mark was just 12 at the time, and not quite ready for his primetime debut. However, in 1973, a forgotten reboot, Ozzie's Girls, brought Ozzie and Harriet back to (syndicated) television. Through his sister, Harmon nabbed a walk-on role in 1973, his screen debut.

Harmon on 'Ozzie's Girls' and 'Adam-12'

Kristin Nelson had just one other significant recurring role on television — playing Jean Reed, the wife of Officer Jim Reed (Kent McCord) on Adam-12. It just so happens that Harmon solidified his acting career playing a "partner" of Jim Reed, too.

After UCLA, an uncertain Harmon turned down offers to go pro, dabbled with law school, worked at an ad agency, and sold shoes. Finally, still feeling the bite of the acting bug from his tiny role on Ozzie's Girls, Harmon sought advice from Jack Webb, the creator of Dragnet and Adam-12. Webb himself helped Harmon secure guest spots on his shows Emergency! and Adam-12.

Harmon ended up with an entire episode named after his character, "Gus Corbin." The story came late in the show's run, just two episodes before the finale. When Malloy is otherwise occupied, Reed finds himself working with a new partner, Gus (Harmon, naturally). 

Alas, that episode did not feature his sister, Kristin. She can be seen before and after his turn in the squad car. 

Forty-five years later, Harmon is still playing law enforcement on NCIS. Let's see who People picks for the cover later this year.

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Mike111 26 months ago
So Jack Webb is responsible for my three favorite shows Adam-12, Dragnet, and NCIS.
Encell85 45 months ago
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Wiseguy 45 months ago
Never have I heard anyone say "erm" in my entire life. (Even typing it here caused spellcheck to underline it). I've heard people say oh, uh, um and er, but never erm (is it pronounced like term without the t?) but I keep seeing it written as something people supposedly say.
Vixensmom Wiseguy 45 months ago
Agreed. I’ve never heard anyone say it, but I’ve seen it written many times.
HerbF 45 months ago
Jack Webb also put harmon in a back-door pilot, "905-Wild" a 1975 episode of EMERGENCY! that was a pilot for a series based on LA Animal Control officers, which also featured Gary Crosby who had a regular recurring role on "Adam-12" as Officer Ed Wells. It didn't sell (and it pre-dated Harmon's appearance on Adam-12 as well!)
Inrodwetrust 45 months ago
He was never going to be a pro QB he was not good enough even with the draft being like a hundred rounds back then he didn’t have “it” scouting reports on him said things like so so arm strength and happy feet never a good thing for a QB. Not a hater just stating fact.
MIGM1516OH Inrodwetrust 45 months ago
I think his Dad was a legend at TSUN. But, being an Ohioan, I can't say that's any great honor. It's like if your Dad were a legend at Attica's death row.
UTZAAKE Inrodwetrust 45 months ago
Didn't help that he was undersized (6' tall), too. Hasn't stopped him from being typecast as a quarterback type, though.
texasluva Inrodwetrust 45 months ago
Don't have to be a hater to see his UCLA stats. He was actually more of a runner then passer. He was 43 for 100 with nine TD passes and 9 interceptions. He ran for 14 TD's and passed for 9. Even back then the NFL would never pick someone with those stats. 22 games and did not pass for 1000 yards. He made the right moves into acting otherwise most likely be a NFL bust.
SalIanni 45 months ago
One of the stars of Adam-12 was Kent McCord. He also appeared on Ozzie and Harriet as one of Ricky's fraternity brothers using his real name Kent McWhirter. So he would have been good friends with both the Nelsons and the Harmons and I have no doubt that he would have had some imput into getting Mark his big break, even making him a partner in crime!
texasluva 45 months ago
It's some better then having some (6'7) 320 pound lineman sending you to the turf on a weekly basis. You can have some stunt guy do your dangerous scenes for you. Remain one of the sexiest men without dragging a leg or arm that has been broken a few times after 1000 tackles. Sounds like a good career move to me.
Randall 45 months ago
Gus Corbin i love that episode you could see him crafting a character that would later influence Gibbs its easy to imagine him walking away after Adams's 12 cancelation happy days had killed it comedies were The Thing but perseverance led to NCIS something MEtv will be showing 20 years from now good going Gus!!!
ebarch2 45 months ago
I love the fuzzy friend pistol grip to use on the show after two years because if rental Los Angeles police detective who made custom made pistol grip sent Alex record these grips it was so cool and realistic I love that show
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