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The Real Reason These Law & Order Actors Left The Franchise

TV producer and writer Dick Wolf quietly created a TV phenomenon when he brought "Law & Order" to NBC in 1990. With a novel format in which detectives investigate a crime in the first half of an episode that's prosecuted in the second half, "Law & Order" ran for 20 seasons and spawned six other police dramas, most notably the sensitive crimes-oriented "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," launched in 1999 and still going strong. 

As both series track a crime through the "law" and "order" channels, "Law & Order" shows necessarily require large casts to portray their various detectives, police administrators, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. And as both shows have been on for decades (they're two of the three longest-running primetime dramas in TV history), that means they've seen dozens of actors come and go with the franchise. So here's a look at some of the major cast upheavals in "Law & Order" history and the real reasons why these actors left the franchise.

Chris Noth couldn't get the money he was owed

Among all the many men and women who shot to fame by playing a good guy cop or crusading district attorney on a "Law & Order" series, Chris Noth was the first. First introduced in the pilot episode, Noth portrayed the show's first junior detective, the tough and swaggery Mike Logan. Despite the success of the show and the popularity of Noth's character, Detective Logan was written out in 1995, forcibly transferred to a Staten Island unit after he punched a politician on trial for murder. 

In reality, Logan had to leave because Noth had to leave, as producers let him go after five seasons with the series. The reason? Money. Scheduled contract renegotiations were about to begin, producer Dick Wolf told the Associated Press, and Noth would've been entitled to a "huge" salary bump if he were to stay on for a sixth season. According to Wolf, that raise would've been "impossible to grant." But according to the other side, Noth was okay with moving on to bigger and better things. "He's really sorry that they couldn't get it together, but he's had five great years, and his feeling is that it's time to move on," said Dolores Robinson, head of Noth's management team, and the actor did indeed go on to find success on TV shows like "The Good Wife" and "Sex and the City."

Fred Thompson had his eye on the White House

As the no-nonsense, straight-shooting District Attorney Arthur Branch, Fred Thompson was extremely believable as an authority figure and legal expert because he was both of those things in real life. In the 1970s, he served as counsel to U.S. senators during the investigation into President Richard Nixon's role in the Watergate break-in, and in 1977, he represented Tennessee Parole Board chair Marie Ragghianti in her wrongful termination suit after she stood up to corruption and bribery. In "Marie," the 1985 movie about the case, Thompson played himself, the first in a string of big shots in movies like "No Way Out," "Die Hard 2," and "Days of Thunder" before he took a break from acting to dabble in Tennessee politics. 

In 1994, he was elected to fill out the remainder of an outgoing senator's term, before serving his own six-year period in 1996. During the final months of his term in 2002, Thompson went back into acting, joining "Law & Order." The lawyer-turned-actor-turned-politician-turned-actor then pivoted to politics once more, leaving the show in 2007 to pursue the Republican nomination for president. After a poor showing in early primaries, Thompson dropped out of the race in 2008 and would return to acting a year later, but he never made another "Law & Order" appearance before his death in 2015.

Michael Moriarty fled to Canada

Like his co-star Fred Thompson, "Law & Order" cast member Michael Moriarty left a good role on the popular show for political reasons, although Moriarty's are much more complicated than a run for office. In 1993, U.S. attorney general Janet Reno sought to stop a trend of real-world crime she blamed on TV violence, and she spoke out in favor of legislation that would limit such graphic imagery on the small screen. Acting in good faith, Reno reached out to the TV industry for their input, and she met with "Law & Order" producer Dick Wolf, as well as Moriarty, who had played quiet and upstanding District Attorney Benjamin Stone since the show's inception in 1990. 

However, Moriarty was not as retreating as his TV counterpart. He was livid over Reno's proposals, especially as his show, "Law & Order," included very little violence — merely cops and lawyers talking about (and never glorifying) violent acts. Moriarty attempted to counter Reno's arguments by taking out anti-Reno ads in entertainment industry publications, hoping to build up a network of like-minded professionals. He wasn't quite able to do that, and, frustrated with the entire American entertainment complex, Moriarty quit "Law & Order" in 1994, and soon thereafter moved to Canada. 

Benjamin Bratt got too big for Law & Order

Certainly one of the biggest breakout stars in the long history of "Law & Order" and its many successful spinoffs is Benjamin Bratt. After portraying Detective Rey Curtis, a faltering family man with a tendency to lose his temper on suspects, Bratt ended his four-year tenure on the procedural juggernaut in 1999, moving on to a movie career full of commercial and critical hits such as "Miss Congeniality," "Traffic," "Piñero," "Despicable Me 2," "Coco," and "Doctor Strange." 

Shortly after his departure, Bratt became just one of five regular "Law & Order" cast members to earn an Emmy nomination. So how could he leave just when he had a good thing going? Bratt felt, albeit reluctantly, that it was time to go. "After four years I've felt like it was time to get back home to my family," Bratt said (via a statement published in the New York Post). Oddly enough, Bratt hadn't yet started a family when he said he left "Law & Order" to be with his family, as he married actress Talisa Soto in 2002, and they had their first kid together in 2003. In other words, Bratt's real reason for leaving the small screen probably had more to do with showing up on the big screen.

Jesse L. Martin had to enter a new stage

For decades, two New York entertainment institutions have provided a way for thousands of local actors to make a living: Broadway and the shot-on-location "Law & Order" franchise. Many New York actors appear on "Law & Order" while waiting for their big break on the Great White Way, while for Jesse L. Martin, Broadway led to "Law & Order." Following some smaller stage roles in the early '90s, Martin played HIV-afflicted college professor Tom Collins in the original production of the mega-hit "Rent." Then in 1999, Martin joined the cast of "Law & Order" as junior detective Ed Green, partnering up with Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) and replacing Rey Curtis (Benjamin Bratt). 

But nine years and nearly 200 episodes later, Martin decided it was time to leave TV and return to the theater. "It was pretty much time for me. I need to get back on stage before I get too scared to do it again," he told Entertainment Weekly. "And with that schedule, it would be really difficult for me to ever really get to do anything like that." However, Martin was scheduled to start shooting a Marvin Gaye biopic immediately after he finished "Law & Order" in the spring of 2008, a project that never came to fruition. In 2010, he got back to Broadway with a role in a production of Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice," but he didn't left TV behind, as he played Joe West on "The Flash."

George Dzundza didn't love New York

While it eventually become a well-oiled machine that would run for 20 seasons and hundreds of episodes, it took some time for "Law & Order" to work out the kinks. While the show's "law" component included a relatively fresh junior detective partnered with a grizzled senior detective from the get-go, the first pair didn't work out. Veteran character actor George Dzundza starred as Detective Max Greevey in the show's first season alongside Chris Noth as Mike Logan. At the end of that initial slate of episodes, Dzundza started what would become a frequent "Law & Order" tradition: He left the show because, as it found its voice and procedural format, it strayed from Dzundza's original notion of the series. 

"As the season went on, I saw that the stories were becoming more 'Dragnet'-like," he told Pop Entertainment. "I said no, this is not for me. This is not what I signed on to do. And, I had to take care of my family, frankly, as well." In addition to professional concerns, Dzundza also had personal issues with the show. He was tired of the commute from Los Angeles to the show's New York City-based production, which is totally understandable.

Leaving Law & Order was just business for Christopher Meloni

There are only a handful of truly classic police pairings in TV history. For example, there's Crockett and Tubbs of "Miami Vice," Cagney and Lacey on "Cagney and Lacey," and detectives Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler of "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit." For a long and complicated 12 seasons, these characters portrayed by Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni, respectively, busted dozens of New York City's worst offenders, until the emotionally driven Stabler retired off-screen at the beginning of Season 13, following his sixth on-the-job shooting. 

The reason for Meloni's departure from "SVU," however, was a lot less personal and a lot more business driven. Reportedly, contract talks between the actor and producing studio NBC Universal fell apart in the spring of 2011. The parties couldn't reach a mutually agreeable deal, so Meloni walked, necessitating writers to come up with an exit plan without the actor's participation. However, about a decade later, Meloni returned to the franchise that made him a TV star. In 2020, he signed up to reprise his role as Det. Stabler in the "SVU" spinoff series "Law & Order: Organized Crime," a respectable hit that was quickly renewed for a second season.

B.D. Wong was fully awake

A part of "Law & Order: SVU" since almost the show's beginning, B.D. Wong joined the series in its second season as Dr. George Huang, an FBI agent-criminal profiler-forensic psychiatrist who is always good for an assist to the NYPD detectives. Wong held the role for 10 years, but he began testing the waters for other projects in 2011 when "SVU" producers allowed him the time and space to co-star in the pilot for a surreal, psychological police drama called "Awake." 

After Wong filmed his last episode as Dr. Huang, NBC picked up "Awake" — with Wong as therapist Dr. Jonathan Lee — as a midseason entry in its 2011-2012 schedule. Rather than pull double duty — a difficult task, what with the long shooting hours of the average TV series — Wong opted to move on and star on "Awake" only. In terms of long-term employment, Wong may have made a poor choice, as NBC canceled "Awake" after one season. The actor has returned to "SVU" occasionally in the years since, with Dr. Huang coming in as an NYPD consultant.

Dean Winters left the fictional police for fictional prison

Before he was Liz Lemon's sleazy, good-for-nothing, on-again, off-again boyfriend Dennis Duffy on "30 Rock," and before he was the personification of Mayhem in a series of popular Allstate Insurance commercials, Dean Winters was a working actor lucky enough to land roles on NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." Winters was a member of the long-running spinoff's original cast back in 1999, appearing in the first 13 episodes as the very green SVU investigator Brian Cassidy. Halfway through that first season, however, Cassidy disappeared, with the believable explanation that working such grisly, depressing, and harrowing cases proved too much for the detective, and he'd transferred to the narcotics division. 

However, the real reason that Winters left was because he was simultaneously portraying inmate Ryan O'Reily on HBO's "Oz," and he couldn't juggle the roles any longer. "I had to leave because I had a contract with HBO, and there was a bit of a dispute," Winters told The A.V. Club. And so, Winters returned to "Oz," but he also came back to "SVU" in a guest-star capacity several times between 2012 and 2019.

Stephanie March and Raul Esparza went as far as they could go on Law & Order

"Law & Order" and "Law & Order SVU" are by definition "police procedural" shows. This means each and every episode follows a tried-and-true formula in which detectives and lawyers carefully go through the process of investigating, solving, and prosecuting a crime. While that makes for extremely reliable television to the point that even a show about horrific murders can be comforting, it may get a little bit boring for the actors to do essentially the same thing with their character each week for years on end. 

And in 2003, after three years of portraying fictional Assistant D.A. Alexandra Cabot, actress Stephanie March decided she was ready for something else. "I have zero complaints about 'Law & Order.' It was a fantastic work experience and I really miss the people quite a bit," March told TV Guide in 2004. "But, you know, you get to a point where you feel like, as a character, you kind of said everything you can say. And then it becomes quite redundant." 

One of March's successors, Raul Esparza, who portrayed Assistant D.A. Rafael Barbra from 2012 to 2018, left for similar reasons. "I've done six seasons, I felt like it was time to go," Esparza told Entertainment Weekly. "I had explored a lot of what I thought Barba was about."

It was an old problem for Richard Belzer and Dann Florek

Few people have played one character for as long — or as memorably, or on as many different series — as Richard Belzer portrayed Detective John Munch. Belzer and the droll, black-clad Munch will forever be intertwined, what with appearances on "Law & Order," "Arrested Development," "The X-Files," "The Wire," and "Homicide: Life on the Street," where the character originated. When "Homicide" ended its run in 1999, producers of the then-new "Law & Order: SVU" imported the character, where he investigated awful crimes for 17 years. So why would "SVU" get rid of one of the most famous personalities in TV history? For the sake of realism. 

On the screen, Munch retired from his tireless police job, having reached the NYPD's age limit. "In the real world, which we try very hard to simulate, NYPD has mandatory retirement before your 63rd birthday," "SVU" showrunner Warren Leight told ScreenerTV. "You can't have 65-year-old guys running after guys. It is a hard and fast rule." That's also why "Law & Order" character-turned-"Law & Order: SVU" character Captain Donald Cragen (Dann Florek) mostly disappeared after 15 seasons. He'd simply gotten too old for the force.

Danny Pino took too many bites out of crime

Nick Amaro, as portrayed by Danny Pino, was a latter-day addition to "Law and Order: SVU," a cop with a tough guy facade that hid an overwhelming amount of empathy. He dutifully partnered up with Mariska Hargitay's Olivia Benson for five seasons before actor and character moved on. Pino was a solid addition to the cast, as "Law & Order: SVU" brass knew he was the guy who get the job done. When he joined the show in 2011, he was already a seasoned veteran of police procedurals, having had extended runs on "The Shield" and "Cold Case." And while that experience prepared Pino for "Law & Order: SVU," it might also be what led to his exit from "SVU" (in which Amaro survives a shooting and moves out of New York for a more peaceful life). "Danny did seven years of 'Cold Case' and 'The Shield' and then four years here," "SVU" showrunner Warren Leight told Entertainment Weekly. "Even last year, he was beginning to want to spread his wings a little."

Philip Winchester's Law & Order exit was a creative decision

Actor Philip Winchester joined the extended TV universe of series created by Dick Wolf in 2016, appearing on all three of the "One Chicago" series — "Chicago P.D.," "Chicago Justice," and "Chicago Med" — before moving over to the main cast of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" in 2018 as Assistant District Attorney Peter Stone.

In March 2019, just after "Law & Order: SVU" was renewed for a record-setting 21st season (per Variety), Winchester announced on Twitter that neither he nor his character would be a part of the series moving forward. "Sadly for me, Peter stone and his 'the facts don't care about your feelings' attitude will not be returning," the actor wrote. It would seem he left the show because his character's story was finished. Stone's exit, and assumed resignation, came after a dramatic and harrowing plot arc involving the legal official making some questionable and unethical choices motivated by his personal feelings for Benson.

Jamie Gray Hyder's character was written out, and she wasn't happy about it

When the 21st season of "Law and Order: SVU" got underway in the fall of 2019, a new character was in the mix: Katriona "Kat" Tamin," a prickly, temperamental former undercover vice unit cop whom Detective Olivia Benson enlists to help out in the special victims unit. The following season, Tamin was promoted to detective. For two seasons, actor Jamie Gray Hyder was part of the main cast of "SVU" as Tamin, following a stint in the latter seasons of HBO's popular supernatural drama "True Blood."

Detective Tamin was the first LGBTQ-identifying officer on the show and the second LGBTQ character on "SVU" in a decade. Just before the debut of the show's 23rd season, and referencing a news report from Deadline, Hyder announced her exit from "Law and Order: SVU" with a statement on Instagram in September 2021. "It is with a heavy heart that I confirm Kat's departure from the squad room," Hyder wrote. The reason the actor left the show: The character was eliminated, and Hyder wasn't pleased. "The decision was made above my pay grade, and wouldn't have been my choice, but hey — that's show biz for ya," she explained.

Demore Barnes isn't quite sure why Law & Order let him go

Appearing in nearly two dozen episodes of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and one installment of "Law & Order: Organized Crime," actor Demore Barnes portrayed Deputy Chief Christian Garland of the NYPD's Special Victims Unit. Following runs on well-received cable dramas like "Titans" and "American Gods" (and appearances on the "SVU"-linked "Chicago Med" and "Chicago Justice" as a different character), Garland brought out the gravitas, authority, and drive in his character, who had a special drive in targeting serial assaulters.

Barnes, as Garland, replaced the previous SVU deputy chief, William Dodds, as portrayed by busy character actor Peter Gallagher. He lasted a little longer than his predecessor, dismissed from "Law & Order: SVU" in 2021 after two seasons. Garland was written out, but Barnes wasn't clear on the reasons. "I didn't totally know why this has happened," he said in an Instagram recording, adding that he was "so very proud to have played the first Black deputy chief in SVU history."

Richard Brooks made room for more female characters

As longtime fans of "L&O" may have noticed, the series is a bit of a boys' club in its earliest seasons. The primary cast from Seasons 1 through 3 consisted entirely of men: George Dzundza (and later Paul Sorvino and Jerry Orbach), Chris Noth, and Dann Florek handling the law side of the equation, and Michael Moriarty, Steven Hill, and Richard Brooks holding down the order part. NBC sought to correct this skewed depiction of the New York Police Department and District Attorney's Office at the end of Season 3 by dismissing Brooks and Florek and bringing aboard S. Epatha Merkerson and Jill Hennessy to deliver a more nuanced (and accurate) portrait.

 Brooks' Paul Robinette returned to "L&O" as a guest star on three episodes between 1996 and 2006 and also reprised the role in a 2017 episode of "Chicago Justice" where he faced Philip Winchester's Peter Stone shortly before that character moved to "SVU." Brooks has also appeared in countless other series, including "Firefly," "Being Mary Jane," "The Flash," and "Bosch."

Jill Hennessy was burned out

Having assumed the assistant district attorney role in the wake of Richard Brooks' departure, Jill Hennessy's Claire Kincaid proved a skilled partner to District Attorney Ben Stone (Michael Moriarty) and later, Executive Assistant D.A. Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) for three seasons beginning with Season 4. However, by Season 6, Hennessy appeared to be experiencing the same sort of burnout that many of the actors who replaced her ran into — the character had essentially grown stale and repetitive. "It is the one part that is the most limited," she told the Morning Call in 2006. "And that's why you've seen such a revolving door with that character in particular. There's just not any way to write it with more facets."

Claire exited the series in dramatic fashion in "Aftershock," which marked the conclusion of Season 6. While escorting Detective Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) from a bar, she's killed when a drunk driver strikes her car. Hennessy's concerns over being typecast — one of the other reasons she cited in the Morning Call interview for departing "L&O" — appear to have gone unfounded, as she's worked steadily on TV and in features, playing the lead in the 2000s series "Crossing Jordan," plus roles in episodes of "City on a Hill," an episode of "Yellowstone" and in the Sony "Spider-Man" universe film "Madame Web."

Carey Lowell wanted more time with her daughter

Following Claire Kincaid's shocking death, former defense attorney Jamie Ross assumed the role of assistant district attorney in Season 7 of "Law & Order." Played by former Bond girl Carey Lowell, Jamie's tenure as a main character was short-lived; an ugly custody battle with her husband (Keith Szarabajka) over their daughter prompted her to leave the D.A.'s office at the end of Season 8 in order to spend more time with her daughter and a new husband. However, Jamie returned to the "L&O" franchise on several occasions, including a two-episode stint on "Trial by Jury" which saw her promoted to judge, and later on the revived "L&O" when she's linked to the murder of one of her former clients.

Lowell's reason for leaving "L&O" echoed her character's circumstances: she also wanted to spend more time with her own daughter, Hannah Dunne, who has become an actress in her own right with appearances in series like "Mozart in the Jungle." Formerly married to actors Griffin Dunne and Richard Gere, Lowell continues to act, most notably in episodes of "Bull" and "Blue Bloods," and also oversees her own ceramics company.

Elisabeth Rohm and Angie Harmon felt that their characters had grown stale

Echoing Jill Hennessey's observation that the Assistant D.A. position on "Law & Order" is a somewhat rote character: Angie Harmon, who played Abbie Carmichael from Seasons 9 to 11, and Elisabeth Rohm, who played Serena Southerlyn, in Seasons 12 through 15. In separate interviews, both actors said that they felt that their roles had become stale. "I loved the show," said Harmon to Cinema Confidential. "It just kind of got to the point where... the character can't grow any do anything else." Harmon also cited her desire to work in movies as a reason for her departure.

Rohm also expressed a need to expand her creative horizons, telling Today that "I didn't have anything else that I could offer this character." However, producer Dick Wolf allowed her to craft her own departure, which saw Southerlyn come out as gay shortly after she was dismissed by District Attorney Arthur Branch. In a 2022 interview with the Wrap, Rohm said that she appreciated the final showcase, as it confirmed an element of the character she'd hinted at throughout her tenure. "It was exciting to have them acknowledge, for me, things I'd been playing secretly as a character throughout the years because it was so personal," she said.

Jerry Orbach's health declined

One of the longest-running characters on "Law & Order," streetwise Detective Lennie Briscoe, makes his debut in Season 3 and remains on duty for 12 seasons while turning up on episodes of the "L&O" franchise series "Special Victims Unit," "Criminal Intent," "Trial by Jury," and even crossovers with "Homicide: Life on the Street." Beloved by audiences for Briscoe's world-weary persona and cagey crime-solving skills, Orbach's turn as Briscoe earned him an Emmy nomination and four Screen Actors Guild nominations, as well as "Living Landmark" status along with Sam Waterston's Jack McCoy from the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

Orbach, who was an acclaimed Broadway star and character actor prior to his "L&O" tenure, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1994. He underwent treatment for the next decade before ultimately retiring from "L&O" in 2004, though remained active as Briscoe in a supporting capacity for a spin-off series, "Trial by Jury." Orbach filmed two episodes of the latter series before dying of prostate cancer at the age of 69 on December 28, 2004.

Vincent D'Onofrio and Kathyrn Erbe were stressed out

"Criminal Intent" differs from its sister programs in the "L&O" universe because it left the crime-solving to two characters — detectives Robert Goren (Vincent D'Onofrio) and Alexandra Eames (Kathryn Erbe) — instead of dividing the action between a larger cast. Carrying the weight of the series for nearly nine seasons proved a near-impossible task for the leads, both of whom eventually stepped away from the series for extended periods of time before returning for the show's final eight episodes.

In an interview with Dax Shepard for his podcast, Armchair Expert (via Uproxx), D'Onofrio detailed the toll that the series took on his personal life. "You're never home," he said. "You never see your wife. You don't have any friendships except with people on the set. You're doing 23 episodes and working 18 hours a day." The stress of that schedule and other issues caused D'Onofrio to collapse on the set during Season 4; producers then divided some of the action among other actors, including former "L&O" lead Chris Noth.

Erbe also staggered under the series' pressures. "Originally when we started, we worked 18 hours a day, five days a week," she told the AV Club. "I honestly thought I was going to have a heart attack, just from the wear and tear of sleeping four hours of interrupted sleep and then coming to work for 16 hours." She joined D'Onofrio in stepping away from the series in Season 9 and returning as a lead in Season 10.

Paul Sorvino wanted to sing

Jerry Orbach's Lennie Briscoe was brought aboard the 27th Precinct to replace Paul Sorvino, who starred as Sergeant Phil Cerreta in Seasons 2 and 3. Sorvino was himself a replacement, stepping into partner with Mike Logan (Noth) after George Dzundza ended his tenure as Sgt. Max Greevey in the show's debut season. But Sorvino only lasted two seasons as Cerretta before exiting the program after Season 3's "Prince of Darkness," in which he's shot by a gun dealer played by future "Breaking Bad" star Mark Margolis. Left permanently injured by the shooting, Cerretta makes a final appearance on the following episode, "Point of View," before his transfer to an administrative position at another precinct.

In a 1992 interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Sorvino stated that his departure from the series was prompted by his desire to pursue a singing career, which he exercised through performances with the New York City Opera and other theater companies across the United States. Sorvino, whose film career included roles in "Goodfellas" and "Nixon," died of natural causes at the age of 83 on July 25, 2022.

Dennis Farina wanted to produce

Replacing a character and actor as iconic as Jerry Orbach's Lennie Briscoe was a tall order, but the producers of "Law & Order" found a performer who had the right amount of street smarts to follow in Briscoe's footsteps. Dennis Farina, who had been a real police detective in Chicago for nearly two decades before turning to acting, was cast as the sharp-dressed Joe Fontana in Seasons 15 and 16. Fontana partnered with Jesse L. Martin's Ed Green after Briscoe's retirement and also briefly teamed with junior Detective Nick Falco (Michael Imperioli). However, Fontana himself retired in the Season 16 episode "Invaders," which also marked the final appearance of Annie Parisse as Assistant D.A. Alexandra Borgia.

Today quoted a statement from Farina's spokesperson in 2006, which said that the actor was leaving the drama to pursue other projects, including ones developed by his own production company, You're Faded Films. These included the indie drama "The Last Rites of Joe May," which gave the actor a rare lead as a down-on-his-luck hustler. He also remained a busy character actor on series like "New Girl" (as Nick Miller's wayward dad) and "Luck." He died of a pulmonary embolism at the age of 69 on July 22, 2013.

Anthony Anderson joined for just one season

In Season 18, Jesse L. Martin ended his nine-season run on "L&O" with the episode "Burn Card," which saw his character, Detective Ed Green, leave the 27th Precinct over his indictment in a shooting case. His replacement, Detective Kevin Bernard (Anthony Anderson), was actually one of the internal affairs officers that investigated Green's involvement in the case. Bernard became Detective Cyrus Lupo's partner for the next two-and-a-half seasons until NBC pulled the plug on "L&O" in 2010. When the network revived the series, Anderson reprised his role as Bernard, this time paired with Jeffrey Donovan's Detective Frank Cosgrove.

However, Anderson's return to "L&O" was short-lived. TVLine reported in 2021 that the actor had signed a single-season contract with the series, and Deadline confirmed that his final appearance came with the Season 21 finale, "Black and Blue." Anderson cited his desire to work on his own projects in a 2022 interview with Entertainment Tonight, stating, "I wanted to go off and create more shows like 'Black-ish,' create things that I have ownership in, and do something a little bit different."

Steven Hill tired of the schedule

Though usually cited as one of the six original cast members of "Law & Order," Emmy-nominated actor Steven Hill's Adam Schiff wasn't the first New York district attorney to appear on the series. Roy Thinnes played D.A. Alfred Wentworth in the 1988 pilot episode but was contractually obligated to another program when "Law & Order" finally went to a series. Producer Dick Wolf then brought aboard Hill, who was best known for his season-long run on "Mission: Impossible" to play Schiff; the actor would remain with the series until departing in Season 10. At the time, he was the last original cast member still standing from the debut season.

Hill was 78 years old when Season 10 concluded in 2000 and decided to bring his acting career to an end. According to "L&O" producer Dick Wolf (via the Daily Express) Hill said that exhaustion was his primary decision to step away from the series, as well as the weekly commute from New York's suburbs to filming locations in Manhattan. Hill died of cancer at the age of 94 on August 23, 2016.

Annie Parisse welcomed her gruesome exit

The end of Season 15 on "L&O" saw yet another changing of the guard in the district attorney's office when Arthur Branch fired Assistant D.A. Serena Southerlyn and replaced her with Alexandra Borgia. Though smart, professional, and dogged in her pursuit of justice, Alexandra's tenure ran for just 33 episodes — the shortest of any Assistant D.A. on the series. In the Season 16 conclusion, "Invaders" — the same episode that saw Dennis Farina's Joe Fontana announce his retirement — Alexandra is kidnapped by a crew of home invaders who impersonate drug enforcement administration agents. She's later found in an abandoned car, beaten, and dead from asphyxiation.

In an interview with Newsday, Parisse explained that she had asked to leave the show in order to pursue new roles. "I like the adventure of going from job to job to job," she explained. She also noted that while many viewers found her character's demise gruesome, she enjoyed the chance to act in an intense emotional scene. "People always tell me, 'That was terrible what they did to you,'" she said. "I try to comfort them by telling them I had a really good time doing it."

Dianne Wiest hated her own performance

When Steven Hill decided to retire from his 10-season run as District Attorney Adam Schiff in 2000, the producers of "Law & Order" brought aboard an equally formidable actor to take his place. Two-time Oscar winner Dianne Wiest joined the cast of "L&O" as Interim D.A. Nora Lewin in the first episode of Season 11 and presided over New York County cases for the next two seasons. During that period, Lewin brought aboard Serena Southerlyn to replace Angie Harmon's Abbie Carmichael when the latter left the D.A.'s office in Season 11 and appeared in two episodes of "SVU" and a single turn on "Criminal Intent."

But Wiest herself departed "L&O" at the end of Season 12 and was replaced by Fred Dalton Thompson's Arthur Branch in Season 13. According to Wiest, the decision to leave the series was her own. In an interview with the Kansas City Star in 2016, she said that she was unhappy with her performance on the series. "It was a great show but not the type of thing I'm any good at," she said. "I was just totally miserable and asked to leave, and they were happy to get rid of me."

Adam Beach thought that one season was enough

Golden Globe-nominated actor Adam Beach guest starred as Detective Chester Lake on two Season 8 episodes of "SVU" before joining the cast in Season 9. The first First Nations detective in the series' long network history, Chester partnered with Fin Tutuola (Ice-T) after Detective John Munch was promoted to sergeant, and proved to be a smart cop, but with a complicated secret life. A member of the Vidocq Society, a real-life group of investigators who parlayed their expertise into solving cold cases, he became embroiled in a sexual assault case involving another officer as well as a murder, which led to his departure at the end of Season 9.

Beach also left the series at the end of Season 9; according to The Hollywood Reporter, he had signed a one-year contract to play Chester, and both he and producer Dick Wolf decided against re-upping for a second year. The in-demand character actor soon moved on to steady work in features ("Suicide Squad," "The Power of the Dog") and episodic TV ("Nancy Drew").

Many factors contributed to Kelli Giddish's departure

Few exits from the "L&O" universe have left viewers as surprised as Kelli Giddish's departure from "SVU" in 2022. Giddish, who played Detective Amanda Rollins on the drama, announced that year that she would be stepping down from the series after 12 seasons. Her departure announced in Season 24's midseason finale, "And a Trauma in a Pear Tree," is marked by Rollins' marriage to Assistant D.A. Sonny Carisi (Peter Scanavino) and a new teaching job at Fordham University. 

Giddish made public that she was leaving "SVU" prior to the launch of Season 24 with a fairly sunny statement that expressed her appreciation for her time on the series. While she gave no concrete reason for her departure, coverage in Variety noted that the decision was based in part on several factors, including a decision made by higher-ups at Wolf Films and salary negotiations that appeared to have run aground. The trade publication also observed that series star and executive producer Mariska Hargitay had pushed to keep the actress on board but failed to reverse the decision.

Jeff Goldblum doubted that CI would return

Though nearly all of the series in the "Law & Order" franchise experienced some degree of cast turnover, "Criminal Intent" appears to undergo the most lineup changes in the shortest amount of time. During its 10-season network run on NBC and the USA Network between 2001 and 2011, every single series regular departed the series for good or for extended periods of time; even star Kathryn Erbe, who, as Detective Alexandra Eames, remained the sole original cast member through the whole series run, is absent for much of Seasons 3 and 9.

When Eames and partner Robert Goren left in Season 9, their replacements were Jeff Goldblum and Saffron Burrows as Detective Zack Nichols and Serena Stevens, respectively. But Goldblum, who began as a replacement for the departing Chris Noth in Season 8, seemed to get cold feet about his new assignment. He announced his departure from "CI" at the end of Season 9, with his representation telling Variety that he left "due to the uncertainty" over the show's future, which at the time of his announcement (late summer) was still unconfirmed by its new home at USA Network. When the show did return for its 10th and final season, both D'Onofrio and Erbe were back as Goren and Eames.