S. Epatha Merkerson first appeared on “Law & Order” in 1991 as Mrs. Denise Winters in the episode “Mushrooms.” The next time she was on the show, it was as Lieutenant Anita Van Buren in 1993, and she had that role for 16 years (via Entertainment Weekly). When she left, she told EW that, “It’s a graceful way to go. It’s the end of my contract this year, and the storyline has been so perfect. I’ve given it my best for 16 years. It’s time to move on.” She’s now on “Chicago Med” with no plans to return to the “Law & Order” reboot (via Deadline).
Another longtime “Law & Order” actor had a similar situation. Jerry Orbach played NYPD Detective Lennie Briscoe for 12 years, but before he was the wise-cracking Briscoe, Orbach had a guest spot in Season 2 as Defense Attorney Frank Lehrman.
Jeremy Sisto was introduced in Season 18 of “Law & Order” as Detective Cyrus Lupo. “It’s a different kind of acting, this ‘Law & Order’ thing,” he told Today in 2007. “This is a very specific gig.” But it wasn’t his first time on set. He played lawyer Clint Glover in the Season 17 finale.
Other guest stars on “Law & Order” ended up on one of the spin-off shows.