Considered by some to be one of the best police procedural franchises out there, Law & Order has been delighting audiences since 1990. Its popularity has led to the creation of several spin-off shows, some more successful than others, sure, but all interesting in their own way for fans. Of course, though, none of the shows would be anything with stellar cast members.
Being the longest-running crime drama franchise in the world, it’s only natural for Law & Order actors to come and go, and we can’t blame them for it. Not everyone is willing or able to dedicate years of their lives to a project, after all. In other cases, characters might simply reach their conclusion.
That said, there are cast members who have been part of this franchise for an impressive amount of episodes, and they deserve all the recognition for it. So, here are the longest-running actors in all of the Law & Order shows.
15. Peter Scanavino
Starting this ranking off strong, we have Peter Scanavino with over 195 combined acting credits as Dominick “Sonny” Carisi, Jr. in Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Law & Order: Organized Crime. In the same role, Scanavino has also appeared in a crossover episode of Chicago P.D., but in case you didn’t know, this character was not the first that Scanavino played in the franchise. In 2009, the actor played the part of Jim Anderson in Law & Order, and in 2013 he made his debut in Special Victims Unit as Johnny Dubcek, before being called back to the show the following year to play Carisi.
14. Jesse L. Martin
In this franchise, Jesse L. Martin played Detective Ed Green. The character was introduced in the tenth season of Law & Order, in 1999, and Martin became a regular member of the cast until season 18, when he departed from the show. Of course, the original series is where most fans know him from, but Martin has also made appearances in the franchise’s spin-offs, Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and Law & Order: Trial by Jury. In total, the actor has been in 202 episodes.
13. Tamara Tunie
Tamara Tunie debuted in Law & Order in 1996, playing the role of Caroline Bennett in an episode of season seven. However, we all know her much better as the actress responsible for bringing to life Dr. Melinda Warner, the medical examiner introduced in season two of Special Victims Unit. Over the years, Tunie has also made appearances in crossover episodes in the Law & Order universe, namely, Trial by Jury in 2005, and Chicago Fire, in 2015, before eventually departing from the character in 2021. All things considered, the actress has 228 credits in the franchise.
12. Steven Hill
Sadly, Steven Hill lost the battle against cancer in 2016 but his impact on this franchise remains. The actor first appeared in Law & Order, in 1990, in the role of District Attorney Adam Schiff, a main character during the show’s first 10 seasons. In 2000, the actor also appeared in an episode of season one of Special Victims Unit, portraying the same character, which he left behind later that year. Overall, Hill has 230 acting credits in the Law & Order franchise.
11. BD Wong
Tied with Steven Hill is BD Wong, having appeared in exactly 230 episodes of Special Victims Unit. In the show, the actor played Dr. George Huang, an FBI psychiatrist introduced in its second season. Initially, his appearances were sporadic, but he graduated to the status of recurring cast member by the time season four rolled around. Unlike others mentioned in this article, Wong has not been credited in any crossover episodes of the franchise, to the disappointment of fans. To make matters worse, the actor said goodbye to his character in 2015, appearing for the last time in season 17 of the series.
10. Kelli Giddish
Kelli Giddish has over 260 acting credits in this franchise, but not only for the character we best know her for. Before landing the role of Amanda Rollins, a Special Victims Unit detective who first appeared in 2011, the actress played Dana Stipe in an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, in 2007, and Kara Bawson in an episode of Special Victims Unit that same year. Giddish has also been in episodes of Law & Order and Organized Crime playing Amanda Rollins, as well as in crossover episodes of Chicago P.D. and Chicago Fire.
9. Leslie Hendrix
In the shoes of the medical examiner, Dr. Elizabeth Rodgers, Leslie Hendrix has been in 263 episodes of this franchise. Her introductory episode took place in 1992, in season two of Law & Order, where she continued to show up until season 20. The actress was also part of several episodes in the first season of Special Victims Unit, and later, between 2001 and 2011, she made numerous appearances in Criminal Intent. Less notable is the fact that Hendrix’s character also made it into an episode of Trial by Jury, but considering the show’s short run, we couldn’t ask for much more.
8. Jerry Orbach
Jerry Orbach started out by playing the defense Attorney Frank Lehrman in a one-off episode in season two of Law & Order. A season later, the actor came back as Detective Lennie Briscoe, a character he continued to portray on the show until 2004. Over the years, Orbach also got to bring Briscoe to life in a few crossover episodes in Criminal Intent, Trial by Jury, and Special Victims Unit, which combined make for a total of 280 acting credits in the franchise. Interestingly, the actor has also voiced the same character in three Law & Order video games.
7. Richard Belzer
Richard Belzer’s John Munch made his first appearance in Homicide: Life on the Streets, back in 1993, but it wasn’t until 1996 that he made it into Law & Order. The character then went on to become make a few appearances in the show, but Special Victims Unit is where he truly got to shine within the franchise, becoming a series regular until season 15. He also made an appearance in Trial by Jury, but in 2016, Belzer played Munch for the last time in an episode of Special Victims Unit’s 17th season, making it his 331st appearance in the franchise.
6. Christopher Meloni
Christopher Meloni has been in 339 episodes of the franchise as Detective Elliot Stabler. His debut happened in the pilot of Special Victims Unit, where he was a main character up until season 12 before departing from the show. In 2021, however, Meloni brought Stabler back to our screens, making occasional appearances in the show, as well as beginning his own journey as a main character in Organized Crime.
5. S. Epatha Merkerson
In this franchise, we know S. Epatha Merkerson as Lieutenant Anita Van Buren, but that’s not how she started off. The actress made her debut in Law & Order as Mars. Denise Winters, in season one, before being called back for season four to play Buren. From then on, she became a regular on the show until season 20 and has also been in two crossover episodes of Criminal Intent and Trial by Jury. Overall, Merkerson has 393 acting credits in the franchise.
4. Dann Florek
Currently, with 404 episodes under his belt, Dann Florek is the fourth longest-running actor in the Law & Order universe, appearing for the first time in the plot of the original series. After being a regular in the show for three seasons, his character, Donald “Don” Cragen left, reappearing later in Special Victims Unit. In 1998, Florek also graced us with his acting in Exiled: A Law & Order Movie, and in 2022, he reprised his role to be in two episodes of Organized Crime.
3. Sam Waterston
Introduced in the fifth season of Law & Order, Sam Waterson’s District Attorney Jack McCoy became a series regular, with the actor continuing to play the part to this day. Besides the original show, Waterson has also portrayed the character in a few episodes of Special Victims Unit and Trial by Jury, and, much like Florek, he appeared in Exiled: A Law & Order Movie. In the franchise, the actor currently has 407 acting credits, although he has also brought McCoy to life outside of it, in two episodes of Homicide: Life on the Sreet.
Ice-T is best known for his portrayal of Odafin “Fin” Tutuola, introduced in the second season of Special Victims Unit, however, the actor’s debut in the franchise actually happened two years prior, as Seymour “Kingston” Stockton in Exiled. When he landed the role of Tutuola, though, he never looked back and has been in a series regular ever since — with the occasional appearance in other spin-offs, of course, such as Law & Order and Organized Crime. In the franchise, Ice-T currently has 520 acting credits, but he has also been in a few crossover episodes outside of it, in Chicago P. D.
1. Mariska Hargitay
Mariska Hargitay takes the cake as the longest-running cast member on the Law & Order franchise. She made her first appearance in the 1999 pilot episode of Special Victims Unit, titled “Payback,” and has been playing Olivia Benson ever since. Combining all of Hargitay’s acting credits in the show, as well as her appearances in some other Law & Order spin-offs, she currently has over 550 episodes under her belt. Hargitay has also appeared as Olivia Benson in crossover episodes in shows outside of the franchise, such as Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D.
While 550+ is already an impressive amount of episodes to be in, this number will undoubtedly keep increasing, as the character is going nowhere anytime soon.