Can ‘NCIS’ Survive Without Pauley Perrette?

Popular actress will leave TV’s top drama two years after Michael Weatherly bailed for “Bull”

“NCIS” is (still) the most-watched drama on broadcast television, which is quite an achievement considering the CBS series just kicked off its 15th season.

But it will soon lose female lead Pauley Perrette, who this morning said she’s hanging up her lab coat (“wiping off her goth makeup” would have worked here as well) at this end of the current run.

The fan-favorite actress behind forensic scientist Abby Sciuto has been in all 331 episodes of the series to-date. Losing her deals the franchise’s flagship series a big blow — especially considering Michael Weatherly walked away a year ago — and no one knows that more than CBS.

“Pauley has been a valued member of both ‘NCIS’ and the CBS family for over 15 years,” the network and studio said in a statement Wednesday. “While it’s never easy saying goodbye to a beloved actress and character, we respect her decision to leave at the end of the season. We are grateful to Pauley for all her contributions to the series and making Abby one of the most unique characters on television.”

Read Perrette’s own statement on her decision to walk away here.

When CBS says Perrette is “beloved,” they mean it. Twice TheWrap has studied the Q-Ratings — a measurement of likability — for Fall TV’s lead actresses, and both times Perrette has ranked No. 1.

Leading up to this fall, Perrette topped all other female leads on broadcast television with a whopping 47 Positive Q Score. That was a full 10 points ahead of our No. 2 tie between Viola Davis and Taraji P. Henson.

Here’s the same study from 2014. Get the hint? She’s good enough, she’s smart enough, and doggone-it, people like her.

Back at the crime lab, those are some gigantic Doc Martins to fill. But CBS, which has known about Perrette’s plan for quite some time, is working on it. And they’ve been here before.

The network already kinda-sorta replaced Michael Weatherly — the nation’s favorite leading man on broadcast TV — on “NCIS” with Wilmer Valderrama. This time around, producers are bringing in Maria Bello soon to help cushion the eventual Perrette blow.

Plus, professional paycheck-collector and “NCIS” original Mark Harmon is sticking around, and he is America’s No. 2 guy. Then you’ve got Emily Wickersham, who will become the top actress on the call-sheet after Perrette goes. (Should’ve stuck around, Cote de Pablo.)

With all that and an incredibly loyal CBS procedural audience, how bad can the inevitable Perrette-less Season 16 be?

We haven’t even gotten into the show’s ratings yet. Take a look at these Nielsen numbers, which all include one week’s worth of delayed viewing.

2014-15: “NCIS” averages a 2.9 rating/10 share in adults 18-49 and 18.5 million total viewers per episode
2015-16: 3.1/11 and 20.5 million viewers
2016-17: 2.5/9 and 18.3 million viewers

Yes, it’s down since de Pablo and Weatherly left, but those are still gigantic tune-in stats. Plus, let’s not forget that the property has already spawned two valuable spinoffs for CBS.

Bottomline: Les Moonves’ gigantic bags of money marked “NCIS” will assure this show sticks around long enough to challenge “Survivor’s” run.

But in the meantime, rest assured the network intends to see Perrette off with a bang. “We’ve known for some time this would be Pauley’s final season on ‘NCIS’ and have been working toward a special send-off,” executive producers George Schenck and Frank Cardea added. “From day one, she has brought incredible passion and specificity to the role. Abby is a character that inspires millions of fans around the world, and all of us at ‘NCIS’ are appreciative of Pauley for portraying her.”