Jack McCoy

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Jack McCoy
Law & Order character

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First appearance"Second Opinion"
"Entitled" (SVU)
Last appearance"Last Dance"
Portrayed bySam Waterston
In-universe information
SpouseEllen (divorced)
Unnamed ex-wife
ChildrenRebecca McCoy
RelativesUnnamed nephew
Unnamed great-niece
Linc (grandson)
Unnamed granddaughter
SeasonsL&O: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23
SVU: 1, 9, 11, 19
TBJ: 1

John James McCoy is a fictional character in the television drama Law & Order. He was created by Dick Wolf and Michael S. Chernuchin and has been portrayed by Sam Waterston during the show's original run from 1994 to 2010 and again from 2022 until his retirement in 2024. He is the longest-tenured character on the show, appearing in 18 seasons. He has appeared in 400 episodes of Law & Order, four episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, two episodes of Law & Order: Trial by Jury, two episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street, and the made-for-TV movie Exiled.[citation needed]

Waterston's performance as McCoy on the New York–based series was so popular that it resulted in him being declared a "Living Landmark" by the New York Landmarks Conservancy, along with fellow longtime series cast member Jerry Orbach (who portrayed the popular police detective Lennie Briscoe for almost 12 years).[1][2][3]

Character overview[edit]

McCoy is introduced as Executive Assistant District Attorney by Adam Schiff (Steven Hill) in the season five premiere episode "Second Opinion". He has been nicknamed "Hang 'em High McCoy".[4] He describes himself as a "junkyard dog".[5] He is well-respected in the legal community, once referred to as "the top of the legal food chain" by a rival attorney during a trial.[6]

Following the 17th season (2006–2007), McCoy is appointed interim district attorney, taking over from Arthur Branch (Fred Thompson). McCoy's appearance on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit on the November 13, 2007, episode "Blinded", marked his first appearance in the Law & Order universe as district attorney.

Law & Order originally ceased production in 2010, but McCoy (though not seen) was still occasionally mentioned as being the Manhattan DA in the spin-off series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in several episodes through 2011. A reference to "the new DA" in a 2013 SVU episode would indicate that McCoy had moved on from the position presumably sometime in 2012; his replacement was unnamed. However, McCoy was the DA again as of 2018, showing up in the SVU episode "The Undiscovered Country". In 2022, he appeared as the DA in the revival of the original Law & Order, with ADAs Nolan Price (Hugh Dancy) and Samantha Maroun (Odelya Halevi) working under him.[7]

Waterston made his final appearance as McCoy in the 2024 episode "Last Dance". In the episode, a case in which a politically connected tech billionaire is charged with murdering a woman he had raped years earlier earns McCoy the enmity of New York City Mayor Robert Payne (Bruce Altman), who threatens to destroy his career and those of Nolan and Maroun unless they back off from calling his son as a witness, which would reveal the younger Payne's extramarital affairs. McCoy prosecutes the case himself and wins a guilty verdict; he then resigns as DA so the Governor will appoint an interim successor, thus denying the vindictive Payne the chance to run him out of office and replace him with a lackey who would fire every ADA on his staff.[8][9]

Personal life[edit]

McCoy was abused by his father, an Irish Chicago policeman who had also beat Jack's mother, and who eventually died of cancer.[10] McCoy says that his determination and unyielding work ethic are a byproduct of having been harshly punished by his father for losing at anything.[10] He also revealed that his father was a racist who once hit him for dating a Polish girl.[11] McCoy disliked his father, calling him a "son-of-a-bitch"; however, he admits he could have easily become like him.[11]

While not an Irish nationalist, he cares enough about his Irish heritage to be offended by a suspect's father's insinuation that two murder suspects committed the crime because of their "Irish temper".[12]

McCoy has been divorced twice (one ex-wife having been a former assistant) and has an adult daughter, Rebecca, with first ex-wife Ellen. One of his ex-wives left him because he worked too many late nights.[13] A gossip columnist writes that McCoy has not seen or spoken to his daughter since 1997, and McCoy receives an envelope containing pictures of his daughter.[14] In one episode, he mentions that Rebecca (Jamie Schofield) has taken a job in San Diego, and that she drove up to Los Angeles to meet him there for dinner while he was attending a conference on official business.[15] In the season 22 finale, it is revealed that he has a grandson named Linc. In the season 23 episode "Unintended Consequences", McCoy mentions that he has a 14-year-old granddaughter. He also has a nephew, which indicates that he has at least one sibling.[16] By 2008, his nephew has had a young daughter.[17]

McCoy has a reputation for having romantic affairs with his female ADAs.[18] The ADAs with whom McCoy had affairs included Sally Bell (Edie Falco), who later became a defense attorney;[19] Diana Hawthorne (Laila Robins); and Claire Kincaid (Jill Hennessy).[10][20] McCoy also had a romantic relationship with his frequent courtroom adversary, defense attorney Vanessa Galiano (Roma Maffia).[21] Defense attorneys have used his sexual history against him.[22]

McCoy was raised Catholic, but describes himself as a "lapsed Catholic".[23] McCoy was educated by the Jesuits.[24] On several occasions, religion has been the subject of various cases. In the episode "Thrill", in which two teenaged boys are accused of killing a man for fun, McCoy finds his case particularly complicated when one of the suspects confesses the crime to his uncle, a priest. When the confession tape is labeled privileged, McCoy ignores the bishop's request to preserve the sacrament of reconciliation and instead tries to use the tape as evidence. When Detective Rey Curtis (Benjamin Bratt) tries to dissuade McCoy from doing so, reminding him that he is a Catholic, McCoy responds, "Not when I'm at work."[25]


Entertainment Weekly television critic Ken Tucker has praised Law & Order's creator Dick Wolf for putting McCoy at the center of "some of the best episodes of the immortal series' 19th season."[26] Tucker elaborates how the character, riding "herd over a couple of stubborn young bucks — assistant DAs Mike Cutter (Linus Roache) and Connie Rubirosa (Alana de la Garza) — McCoy argues, bellows orders, and croaks with outrage when his charges disobey his legal advice."[26]

District attorney's office timeline[edit]

Time period Executive assistant district attorney (EADA) Assistant district attorney (ADA) District attorney (DA)
1994–1996 Jack McCoy Claire Kincaid Adam Schiff
1996–1998 Jamie Ross
1998–2000 Abbie Carmichael
2000–2001 Nora Lewin
2001–2002 Serena Southerlyn
2002–2005 Arthur Branch
2005–2006 Alexandra Borgia
2006–2007 Connie Rubirosa
2008–2010 Michael Cutter Jack McCoy
2022–2024 Nolan Price Samantha Maroun

Appearances on other TV shows[edit]

  • Homicide: Life on the Street
    • Season 6
      • Episode 5: "Baby, It's You"
    • Season 7
      • Episode 15: "Sideshow"
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
    • Season 1
      • Episode 15: "Entitled"
    • Season 9
      • Episode 7: "Blinded"
    • Season 11
      • Episode 21: "Torch"
    • Season 19
      • Episode 13: "The Undiscovered Country"
  • Law & Order: Trial by Jury
    • Episode 1: "The Abominable Showman"
    • Episode 8: "Skeleton"


Seasons Years Episodes
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24
5 1994–95
6 1995–96
7 1996–97
8 1997–98
9 1998–99
10 1999–2000
11 2000–01
12 2001–02
13 2002–03
14 2003–04
15 2004–05
16 2005–06
17 2006–07
18 2008
19 2008–09
20 2009–10
21 2022
22 2022-23
23 2024
Seasons Years 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24


  1. ^ Hiltbrand, David (January 4, 2004). "Jerry Orbach Gets His Due on the Sidewalks of New York". The Boston Globe. Mulberry Street, New York City. Knight Ridder. Archived from the original on May 26, 2004. Retrieved April 12, 2013.
  2. ^ Barron, James (September 28, 2000). "Public Lives". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 27, 2015.
  3. ^ "Living Landmarks Honoree List". New York City: The New York Landmarks Conservancy. 3 July 2023.
  4. ^ "Trophy". Law & Order. Season 6. Episode 12. January 31, 1996. NBC.
  5. ^ "Justice". Law & Order. Season 10. Episode 5. November 10, 1999. NBC. Then you can impress on your client that he's dealing with a junkyard dog.
  6. ^ "Chosen". Law & Order. Season 13. Episode 11. January 15, 2003. NBC.
  7. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (December 16, 2021). "Sam Waterston Returns To 'Law & Order', Will Reprise Jack McCoy Role In NBC Revival". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved December 16, 2021.
  8. ^ "Last Dance". Law & Order. Season 23. Episode 5. February 22, 2024. NBC.
  9. ^ Longeretta, Emily (February 22, 2024). "How Sam Waterston's Jack McCoy Exited 'Law & Order'". Variety. Retrieved February 23, 2024.
  10. ^ a b c "Aftershock". Law & Order. Season 6. Episode 23. May 22, 1996. NBC.
  11. ^ a b "In Vino Veritas". Law & Order. Season 17. Episode 17. November 3, 2006. NBC.
  12. ^ "Wannabe". Law & Order. Season 5. Episode 16. March 15, 1995. NBC.
  13. ^ "Patient Zero". Law & Order. Season 14. Episode 3. October 8, 2003. NBC.
  14. ^ "Fame". Law & Order. Season 17. Episode 1. September 22, 2006. NBC.
  15. ^ "Excalibur". Law & Order. Season 18. Episode 18. May 21, 2008. NBC.
  16. ^ "Loco Parentis". Law & Order. Season 10. Episode 10. January 5, 2000. NBC.
  17. ^ "Bottomless". Law & Order. Season 18. Episode 4. January 16, 2008. NBC.
  18. ^ Fish, Stanley (August 2, 2010). "'Law & Order' Probably Doesn't Like You". The New York Times. Archived from the original (Blog) on December 15, 2010.
  19. ^ "Second Opinion". Law & Order. Season 5. Episode 1. September 21, 1994. NBC.
  20. ^ "Under the Influence". Law & Order. Season 8. Episode 11. January 7, 1998. NBC.
  21. ^ "Ill-Conceived". Law & Order. Season 14. Episode 10. December 3, 2003. NBC.
  22. ^ "Missing". Law & Order. Season 12. Episode 14. February 6, 2002. NBC.
  23. ^ "Good Faith". Law & Order. Season 17. Episode 17. March 30, 2007. NBC.
  24. ^ "Angel". Law & Order. Season 6. Episode 8. November 29, 1995. NBC.
  25. ^ "Thrill". Law & Order. Season 8. Episode 1. September 24, 1997. NBC.
  26. ^ a b Tucker, Ken (December 19, 2008). "TV: Sam Waterston's bark keeps giving Law & Order its bite". Entertainment Weekly. No. 1026. p. 49.