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The Law & Order Actor That Quit The Show By Fax

Any series with a run that spans decades is bound to have its share of off-screen idiosyncrasies, gossip, and drama, and Dick Wolf's original "Law & Order" series is no exception. When it debuted in September 1990, the procedural's willingness to lean into the grittier and grayer elements of crime, law enforcement, and the justice system — as well as its more realistic (and occasionally ripped from the headlines) storylines — garnered it a large and devoted following.

Over three decades later, that following is still in place, this time in the form of fans of the series' most successful spin-off, "Law & Order: SVU," now in its 23rd season. Over the years, incredible ADAs, detectives, police captains, and recurring defense lawyers have come and gone. Some have left willingly than others, and some have exited in a particularly dramatic fashion.

The latter is certainly the case for an actor that helped make the original series what it was, Michael Moriarty, who played Executive Assistant District Attorney Ben Stone in nearly 90 episodes (via IMDb). As Stone, Moriarty breathed life into the show's conscientious and diligent face of the prosecution and acted as a precursor to Sam Waterston's Jack McCoy. By 1994, however, the actor was ready to leave, and he did so in an unexpected way. 

Michael Moriarty left the show after four seasons

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter from May 2015, "Law & Order" executive producer Dick Wolf said the moment actor Michael Moriarty quit show in 1994 was unforgettable. He recalled, "The fax came in the middle of the night to California, which means that [Moriarty had] been up all night [in New York]. It was like, 'I can't continue.' It was things like the 'Nazification of television' and everything else with Janet Reno." By "everything else with Janet Reno," Wolf was referring to Moriarty's very public reaction to Reno — also very publicly — calling out the show for being violent (via UPI). 

In 2015, Moriarty told Money Into Light about his departure from the show, "I had decided to leave America around the end of that time. Both the East and West Coasts, meaning New York and Hollywood, ostracized me after my public indictment of Attorney General Janet Reno." The actor went on to share that he had put up an advertisement in major trade publications The Hollywood Reporter and Variety announcing his exit from "Law & Order."

Much like his character, Moriarty felt compelled to follow his convictions. Luckily, Wolf knew exactly who to call on to replace the character Warren Littlefield called "the moral heart of the show" while in conversation with Wolf. The executive producer told THR when Littlefield said "there's no way" the show could work without Moriarty, he responded with "Sure there is. I've got two words for you: Sam Waterston." 

Fans of the series had little trouble adjusting to Waterston's equally strong-willed and conscious-driven DA Jack McCoy, who went on to star in 368 episodes of the original series, two episodes of "Law & Order: Trial by Jury," and four episodes of "Law & Order: SVU" (via IMDb).