Catherine Bell was originally only supposed to have three lines on JAG

By: H&I Staff     Posted: October 15, 2021, 3:36PM

For nine seasons, Catherine Bell starred as Lt. Colonel Sarah "Mac" Mackenize on the hit Naval drama JAG. Introduced in the second season, Mac worked with Captain Harmon "Harm" Rabb to throw the book at a variety of bad guys.

Longtime JAG fans might recall that Catherine Bell's first role on JAG wasn't Mac, but rather a season one murder victim. In the season one finale of the series, Bell first appeared as Lt. Diane Schonke, who Harm had been dating prior to her murder. She had only three lines during the episode but had an amazing time with both the cast and series creator.

"I guest-starred on the season finale in the first season and there was another girl playing the female lead opposite Harm and my character was killed off, but it was a really important character for [series creator] Don Bellisario, who created the show because Harm was in love with this woman. He shows up to investigate a murder and she's dead. We met and we really hit it off and when we worked together we had a blast," said Bell on her initial guest-star appearance.

Following the finale where she made her first appearance, JAG was dropped by NBC and quickly picked back up by CBS. Unfortunately between the time of being canceled and picked back up the show had lost its previous female lead, Tracey Needham, to another commitment. 

The showrunners would quickly begin the series of a new female co-lead for JAG. Hearing the news and loving her time of the series, Bell was more than eager to ask to return to the Naval drama. 

“CBS picked up the show and they decided to recast the female lead. I went after the role and wrote Don a letter after I had read the breakdown for Mac and they brought me in. Six callbacks later, I got the role."

Rather than ignoring the fact that she’s played two characters in the series, the showrunners used the 'lookalike' characters to their advantage. Following the death of Schonke, Harm would mourne until he first met Mac in the second season. Their friendship and eventual romantic relationship would help Harm, who didn't realize the similar appearance of the two characters until later in the series.

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