David James Elliott did not jump ship; he was forced to walk the plank. Elliott, who plays Navy attorney Cmdr. Harmon "Harm" Rabb Jr. on JAG, is leaving the show when it concludes its 10th season in May.

Elliott, 44, has already signed a series-development deal with ABC. "David left, and we wish him well," JAG creator

Donald Bellisario says. "His contract was up, and we never expected it to go on. We had to cut costs. [So] we started doing episodes with less of David, and it became obvious to him that we were not going to renegotiate."

Elliott's manager says CBS never responded to his client's salary request for another season, but "David loves CBS. [The role] had run its course. He has made a lucrative deal with ABC."

That said, there may not even be another season. CBS won't announce its fall lineup — including JAG's fate — until May, but Bellisario has made a preemptive strike by adding a new attorney to anchor the show. Chris Beetem, a 32-year-old As the World Turns veteran, joined the cast Feb. 18 as Lt. Gregory Vukovic and has already been signed for a potential 11th season.

"We want a younger, hipper JAG," Bellisario says. JAG attracts nearly 10 million viewers on average, but only a quarter of them are in the 18- to 49-year-old demographic coveted by advertisers.

One character who won't be swept overboard is Lt. Col. Sarah "Mac" MacKenzie, played by Catherine Bell. "It was always intended that Catherine would be [on] the show next season but [Elliott] would not," says Bellisario, who promises a surprise in May that will wrap up the relationship between Mac and Harm. But don't pick out wedding gifts just yet.