Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Law & Order Star With The Most Original Series Episode Appearances

From 1990 to 2010, NBC's "Law & Order" was the crème de la crème of television crime dramas — spawning multiple spinoffs, including TV's other procedural juggernaut, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," which is still going strong today. With the recent return of the original series, many fans have been going back to rewatch some of the older "Law & Order" episodes featuring legendary cast members like Sam Waterston, Jerry Orbach, Chris Noth, Jesse L. Martin, Benjamin Bratt, S. Epatha Merkerson, Steven Hill, Dann Florek, and countless others. Which makes us wonder, out of all these "Law & Order" heavyweights, who has actually shown up in the most episodes over the years?

While most would immediately think it's one of the former leading detectives, like Martin's Ed Green or Orbach's Lennie Briscoe, let's look back at those who used to regularly appear on the series. The answer is simple — lawyers and commanding officers. While different cops were known to come and go during the heyday of "Law & Order," most of the people playing district attorneys and captains or lieutenants would often stay on and be featured in numerous episodes and seasons. This includes Waterston's character, Executive Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy; Florek's Captain Donald Cragen; Hill's District Attorney Adam Schiff; and Merkerson's Lieutenant Anita Van Buren, to name a few.

So, out of all the NYPD brass and famous faces, who actually holds the title for most "Law & Order" episode appearances ever? And exactly how many did they appear in?

S. Epatha Merkerson has the most Law & Order episode appearances

Appearing on the show from 1993 to 2010, S. Epatha Merkerson is the titleholder for most "Law & Order" episode appearances of all time with 391 (via IMDb). Her character, Lieutenant Anita Van Buren, became commanding officer of the 27th Precinct during the show's 4th season, replacing Dann Florek's Captain Donald Cragen.

Merkerson originally appeared on "Law & Order" in 1991 as a side character named Denise Winters, who lost her son to an accidental gunshot wound. After impressing producers and going on to become Van Buren, she would eventually nab the record for longest-running cast member of the original series, as well as the longest-running Black character on primetime TV (via NPR).

As for Merkerson's runner-up, it was none other than Sam Waterston — who is still appearing on "Law & Order" to this very day as Jack McCoy in the show's ongoing revival. Since first appearing in 1994, Waterston has been credited for 374 episodes. This ultimately means that with a little patience and another "Law & Order" season or two, he could one day pass Merkerson.