S. Epatha Merkerson to leave <i>Law & Order</i> While a long-running NBC series could break the record this fall with its 21st season, it seems they will be without one of their longtime actresses. According to The Hollywood Reporter, S. Epatha Merkerson is leaving Law & Order after this current season.

The site reports that the actress, who has starred in 19 seasons of the series 20-season run and appeared in nearly 400 episodes, asked producers to be released from her contract. Merkerson told the producers right before filming was scheduled to begin on the season finale, so her character could get a proper send-off.

It was also said that Law & Order's record-breaking 21st season is in limbo right now, due to the network's off-network licensing deal with TNT. The current deal states that TNT is not obligated to pick up the show after this current 20th season and the licensing fee helps offset rising production costs for the show. The site also reports that a deal may be struck, since TNT recently made an offer to NBC.

If Law & Order would continue with a 21st season, it would break the record for longest-running drama held by the CBS mainstay Gunsmoke.