The cast of Law & Order: SVU is undergoing yet another major shakeup, with franchise veteran Dann Florek set to depart the procedural this season.
Florek, who has played Captain Donald Cragen for 15 seasons, confirmed on Twitter that he filmed his final episode last week. Florek originated the role on the original Law & Order in 1990, but was fired from the series after three seasons due to an order from NBC to add more female cast members. Cragen’s last appearance marks his 401st episode in the long-running franchise, more than any other character.
“Friday was the last day 4 Cragen/Florek. It was a sweet send off! But he’ll live on in syndication land 4 evah,” he wrote.
Dann Florek’s departure comes two months after another veteran, Richard Belzer, left the series. Belzer, who played Detective — and later Sergeant — John Munch, made his final appearance in the season 15 episode “Wonderland Story.” The character first appeared on Homicide: Life on the Streets in 1993, and after the series was canceled in 1999, he moved to Law & Order: SVU. He has also appeared in the original series and its short-lived spinoff Law & Order: Trial by Jury.
The character of John Munch has spanned two decades and is the only fictional character played by a single actor to appear in 10 different TV series.
Belzer, however, has hinted that he will return for guest appearances.
Showrunner Warren Leight said of Belzer’s departure, “In the real world, which we try to very hard to simulate, NYPD has mandatory retirement before your 63rd birthday. And we were trying to figure out how to deal with it. The reason NYPD does it is because you can’t have 65-year-old guys running after guys. It is a hard and fast rule.”
Although Munch’s age was never directly stated, clues in Homicide: Life on the Streets, put his birth year around 1950 or 1951 (Belzer is 69 in real life). As for Captain Cragen, Florek turned 63 in May.
Dann Florek’s departure leaves Mariska Hargitay as the last remaining original member of the Law & Order: SVU cast. Ice-T (Odafin “Fin” Tutuola) joined the series in the second season, taking over for Michelle Hurd (Monique Jeffries). B.D. Wong (George Huang) also joined in the second season, but left in 2012 to star in the now-canceled fantasy drama Awake. Wong made guest appearances in seasons 13 and 14.
Christopher Meloni exited the series at the end of season 12 after he failed to come to terms on a new contract with Universal. He was replaced by Kelli Giddish (Amanda Rollins) and Danny Pino (Nick Amaro).
Season 15 of Law & Order: SVU premiered September 25. The series returns January 8, 2014.