'Law and Order': S. Epatha Merkerson to leave franchise

law-order-epatha-merkerson.jpgAt the end of the current season of "Law & Order," actress S. Epatha Merkerson will say goodbye to her role as Lt. Van Buren, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Merkerson, who lives in Maryland and commutes to New York City for filming, has played Van Buren on "Law & Order" for 16 years.

Though NBC has no comment on the exit, fans are already speculating on the way Van Buren may be written off, especially because the character was diagnosed with cancer this year.

Merkerson's contract comes to an end this season, so it's a natural time for her departure. The fate of "Law & Order" itself hangs in the balance at the moment, as it has yet to be picked up for a 21st season. If renewed, "Law & Order" will break the record currently held by "Gunsmoke" for the longest-running prime-time TV drama.

Follow Zap2it on Twitter and Facebook and @cadlymack on Twitter for the latest TV, movie and celebrity news.

Photo Credit: NBC