Richard Belzer is leaving ‘Law & Order: SVU’

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What a long, long, long, long trip it's been. With 15 seasons under his belt, Richard Belzer is leaving "Law & Order: SVU" and taking Sergeant John Munch with him.

The final scene of "SVU's" Oct. 9 episode saw Captain Cargen (Dann Florek) tell Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) Munch had put in his papers, but that "nothing changes, except what has to." (Like our hearts breaking. We will all be changed after that.)

69-year-old Belzer actually took on the role of Munch in 1993, in NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Streets." Then from there, he moved on to "SVU," and went on to guest on "The X Files," "The Beat," "Law & Order," and "Law & Order: Trial By Jury" -- all as Munch. In total, he racked up more than 450 TV appearances as the character.

But fear not: if you're worried the character will make his exit with a surprise sudden tragedy, you don't need to. According to The Huffington Post, we'll see a retirement party on the Oct. 16 episode, and a source has confirmed that Munch will have recurring spots on the series.

Belzer is the second major cast member to leave the series in the last two years (the first being Christopher Meloni who played Benson's long-time partner, Det. Elliot Stabler, in 2011). This begs the question: is it time to bid adieu to the long-running series? With 15 seasons under their belt, viewers have seen just about everything -- including Benson herself suffering at the hands of rapist/murder William Lewis (Pablo Schreiber) in the season premiere. Is there anywhere for the series to go without going too far, or becoming too gruesome?

If the show begins to introduce new detectives and new officers, yes. Part of "SVU's" early appeal was watching Benson and Stabler struggle with the job itself; with the victims, with the suspects, and learning how to cope with what they saw. If newer, younger recruits got a chance at learning the ways of the Special Victims Unit, we could watch as Benson mentors them; helping them as they overcome the struggles associated with a very tough gig.

Otherwise, they'll be nowhere else to go than the path most upsetting: more and more upsetting scenarios (which have a place on TV, absolutely -- but would belong more on cable than on network television), or the end of the road.

What do you think?

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