Richard Belzer says goodbye, Munch: TV’s longest-serving cop retires

Richard Belzer, who has played Munch on 10 different shows over two decades, is moving on from 'Law & Order: SVU' now that Munch turned in his retirement papers.

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Actors Dann Florek (l.) and Richard Belzer from 'Law & Order: SVU' attend the NBC Network 2013 Upfront at Radio City Music Hall, Monday, May 13, 2013, in New York.

Sgt. John Munch — TV’s longest-serving live-action character — is retiring. Without a flashy sendoff.

Richard Belzer, who has played Munch on 10 different shows over two decades, is moving on from “Law & Order: SVU” now that Munch turned in his retirement papers at the end of Wednesday’s episode.

The only characters who have spent so many continuous seasons on TV are the cartoons on “The Simpsons.”  But Munch is real. Or at least based on a real person.

He’s the brainchild of “The Wire” creator David Simon, who first introduced him on NBC’s “Homicide: Life on the Street.” Munch was based on Baltimore homicide Det. Jay Landsman, one of the central characters in Simon’s book that inspired the series.

Landsman has already retired. Munch outlasted him. His character moved from “Homicide” to “Law & Order” when “Homicide” was canceled. He was partnered through the years with characters and actors as varied as Brian Cassidy (played by Dean Winters) and Fin Tutuola (Ice-T).

Over the years, Munch appeared on “Law & Order,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “Law and Order: Trial By Jury,” “Homicide,” “The X-Files,” “The Beat,” “Sesame Street,” “The Wire,” “Arrested Development,” “30 Rock,” and “Homicide: The Movie.”

NBC didn’t send out a release about his exit. Belzer, who was traveling, was not immediately available for comment.

“Sergeant Munch is retiring from the NYPD, so Richard Belzer will no longer be a series cast member,” a show spokeswoman said in an email. “While there are no immediate plans for Belzer to return, the way Munch’s storyline ends leaves the door open for him to work with the SVU squad in the future.”

And that’s that. Munch transferred from Baltimore to the NYPD for this?

Belzer, 69, got less screen time in his recent years, but said he was hesitant to complain.

“It’s like yanking the tonsils out of the gift horse if I complain too much,” he was quoted as saying in “Law and Order Special Victims Unit: The Unofficial Companion,” released in 2009. “I’ve been lucky over the years … I’m not starving.”

There is one consolation: Ubiquitous “Law & Order” reruns. Somewhere in the world, at any given moment, Munch is peeling the sheet back on a corpse.

Happy retirement.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.