Senior Member of "Law & Order" Cast Will Leave After This Season

S. Epatha Merkerson will wrap up 16 years on the show

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for HBO
    Actress S. Epatha Merkerson, senior member of NBC's "Law & Order," is leaving the show after 16 years of playing police Lt. Anita Van Buren.

    New York's favorite lieutenant is hanging up her belt after protecting the streets on NBC's "Law & Order" for 16 years.

    S. Epatha Merkerson is the crime drama's senior member, and is leaving after the show's current 20th season, according to a person close to Merkerson who spoke on the condition of anonymity, as the person wasn't authorized to comment on cast changes, reported the AP.

    She joined the cast in 1993 playing New York police Lt. Anita Van Buren, a determined supervisor in a Manhattan police precinct who oversees two detective characters (currently played by co-stars Jeremy Sisto and Anthony Anderson).

    Van Buren's story line turned to her personal life this season as she fights cancer, which might play into her leave from the show.

    Merkerson told Entertainment Weekly, which first reported her planned leave, that this story line doesn't necessarily mean death.

    "How ever they decide to take her out, it'll be worthy of the character," said Merkerson. "Either way, it'll be great for me because I get to act it."

    The 57-year-old actress played Reba the Mail Lady on "Pee-wee's Playhouse." She won Emmy, Golden Globe, and Screen Actors Guild awards for her performance in the 2005 HBO film "Lackawanna Blues." She also won an NCAAP Image Award in February for her role on "Law & Order."

    While Merkerson preps for her leave, "Law & Order" is still waiting to find out if it will return to the airwaves next season. If renewed, it would be television's longest-running drama. For now, it's tied with "Gunsmoke," which ran from 1952 to 1961.