|Homicide: Life on the Street and|
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit character
|First appearance||"Gone for Goode" (HLOTS)|
|Last appearance||"Forgive Us Our Trespasses" (HLOTS)|
"Fashionable Crimes" (SVU)
|Created by||Paul Attanasio|
|Portrayed by||Richard Belzer|
Joseph Perrino (teen)
David Rudman (Muppet)
|Other appearances||Law & Order|
Law & Order: Trial by Jury
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
|Nickname||Johnny (in childhood)|
Munchkin (as Baltimore detective)
|Title||Homicide Detective (HLOTS)|
Special Victims Unit Detective (SVU seasons 1–8)
Special Victims Unit Sergeant (SVU seasons 9–15)
Cold Case Sergeant (SVU season 14)
DA Investigator (SVU season 15- present )
|Occupation||BPD Detective (HLOTS)|
NYPD Detective (SVU)
NYPD Sergeant (SVU)
|Family||Pete Munch (father)|
Bernard Munch (brother)
David Munch (brother)
Andrew Munch (uncle)
Lee Munch (cousin)
|Spouse||Gwen Munch and other 3 ex-wives|
John Munch is a fictional character played by actor Richard Belzer. Munch first appeared on the American crime drama television series Homicide: Life on the Street on NBC. A regular through the entire run of the series from 1993 to 1999, Munch is a cynical detective in the Baltimore Police Department's Homicide unit, and a firm believer in conspiracy theories. He is originally partnered with Det. Stanley Bolander (Ned Beatty). Munch is based on Jay Landsman, a central figure in David Simon's true crime book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets.
On the cancellation of Homicide in 1999, Belzer was offered a regular role as Munch on the Law & Order spin-off titled Special Victims Unit. He appeared in the first fifteen seasons of that series from 1999 to 2014, and occasionally as a guest thereafter. On SVU, Munch becomes a senior detective in the New York Police Department's Special Victims Unit, and is first partnered with Brian Cassidy (Dean Winters), followed by Monique Jeffries (Michelle Hurd), and Fin Tutuola (Ice-T). In the ninth season premiere, Munch is promoted to the rank of Sergeant and occasionally takes on supervisory functions within the department. In season 14, Munch is temporarily reassigned to the Cold Case Unit, after solving a decade-old child abduction case in the episode "Manhattan Vigil." He returns to the squad in "Secrets Exhumed", in which he brings back a 1980s rape-homicide cold case for the squad to investigate. In the season 15 episode, "Internal Affairs", SVU Captain Donald Cragen (Dann Florek) informs Detective Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) that Munch has submitted his retirement papers, stating that a recent case (portrayed in the episode "American Tragedy") had "hit him hard". In the following episode, "Wonderland Story", Cragen and the squad throw Munch a retirement party, where past and present colleagues and family members celebrate his career. At the conclusion of the episode, Munch returns to the precinct to gather his belongings, where he and Cragen shake hands as Cragen remarks, "you had one hell of a run, Sergeant Munch." Munch has returned, post-retirement, to help his colleagues in the fifteenth-season finale "Spring Awakening" and the seventeenth-season episode "Fashionable Crimes".
The character of Munch has appeared in a total of ten series on five networks since the character's debut in 1993. Apart from Homicide and SVU, however, Belzer's performances as Munch were guest appearances or crossovers rather than regular or recurring appearances. With Munch's retirement in the character's 22nd season on television, he was a regular character on U.S television longer than Marshal Matt Dillon (Gunsmoke) and Frasier Crane (Cheers and Frasier), both of whom were on television for 20 seasons. Munch's return to help his friends in the SVU seventeenth-season episode "Fashionable Crimes" marks the 23rd season that the character has appeared on television in any capacity.
Munch first appeared as a central character in the TV series Homicide: Life on the Street, as a homicide detective in the Baltimore Police Department's fictionalized homicide unit, which debuted January 31, 1993. The character was primarily based on Jay Landsman, a central figure in David Simon's true crime book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, a documentary account of the homicide unit's operation over one year. However, Munch's storyline also touched on the book's depiction of the relationship between real-life detectives Donald Worden and David Brown, in which Worden was relentless in his tutelage/hazing of the younger detective but also genuinely wanted him to succeed and was impressed when the younger cop did excellent work. A storyline in the book involving Brown's cracking a very difficult hit-and-run homicide was included almost verbatim in the show's pilot.
Barry Levinson, co-creator and executive producer of Homicide, said Belzer was a "lousy actor" during his audition when he first read lines from the script for "Gone for Goode", the first episode in the series. Levinson asked Belzer to take some time to reread and practice the material, then come back and read it again. During his second reading, Levinson said Belzer was "still terrible", but that the actor eventually found confidence in his performance.
Munch appeared as a regular character in every season, and in almost every episode, of Homicide. After Homicide: Life on the Street concluded its seventh season in May 1999, the character transferred into the Law & Order universe as a regular character on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (both Homicide and the original Law & Order had crossed-over numerous times before, and Munch had featured centrally in each crossover). It is explained that Munch had retired from the Baltimore Police Department, taken his pension as a Maryland state employee, and moved to New York to join a sex crimes investigation unit, where he was eventually given a promotion to sergeant.
Munch joined the BPD's homicide unit in 1983. During the fourth-season premiere of Homicide: Life on the Street, he signs up to take a promotion exam in hopes of becoming a sergeant, but a "comedy of errors" prevents him from showing up for it. In the first episode of the ninth season of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, it is revealed that he passed the NYPD sergeant's exam, having taken it on a bar bet, and earned his promotion. In that scene, his shield number is clearly visible: 0231. He is temporarily promoted to commanding officer of the Special Victims Unit following Cragen's temporary reassignment, but is depicted as happily relinquishing control back to him, commenting upon Cragen's return, "This job sucks." He kept his rank, however, as he is still referred to as Sergeant in later episodes. He is temporarily put in charge again when Cragen is suspended after the detectives mishandle a case.
Munch makes a cameo appearance on a fifth season episode of The Wire. Munch can be seen at Kavanaugh's Bar arguing with the bartender over his tab by referencing his experience running a bar (he opened The Waterfront Bar in Homicide). He appears in "Unusual Suspects", the third episode of the fifth season of The X-Files—the episode is set in 1989, when Munch was still at the Baltimore Police Department.
Though his age is never directly stated on Homicide, a few clues are presented pointing to it. In the episode "Kaddish", Munch talks about his high school years and looks at a yearbook from 1961. In the episode "Full Court Press", Munch says: "Going to high school was no day at the beach for a teenage Jew in the '50s". Because first grade began at age six and high school ended in 12th grade in Maryland during this time, it is likely Munch was born in 1944, the same year as Belzer. Munch is described, however, as being 48 years old in the 2000 SVU episode "Chat Room". To be 48 at the time this episode took place, Munch would have been born circa 1951, depending on when his birthday falls. Also noteworthy is a seventh season episode of Homicide in which the ongoing conflict between Munch and Det. Stuart Gharty (Peter Gerety) culminates. After a confrontation inside the Waterfront bar, Gharty asks Munch how old he was in 1970, during the Vietnam War, to which Munch responds "Eighteen", putting the year of his birth circa 1951.
SVU and Homicide have Munch growing up in different places. In Homicide, he is a native of Maryland and attended high school in Pikesville, which has a large Jewish community. Munch said that he took many field trips to Ft. McHenry as a child, which would likely only happen were he to live in the area. In SVU, however, Munch tells Det. Olivia Benson that he grew up on the "Lower East Side". Munch also tells Det. Fin Tutuola (Ice-T) that he "came back from Baltimore" after his fourth marriage broke up. In Homicide, he says he attended Pikesville High School for four years. His grandfather worked in the garment business. Munch worked with him in the early 1960s.
Munch's childhood was not a happy one. He and his brother were physically abused by their father, who had bipolar disorder. One night, after getting a beating "for being a wiseass", Munch told his father that he hated his guts. That was the last thing he ever said to his father before his father committed suicide; for years afterward, he believes that his father's death was his fault. Munch has an uncle, Andrew (Jerry Lewis), who suffers from depressive pseudodementia. Andrew is found by Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) living as a transient in Manhattan, and is subsequently reunited with his nephew. Andrew, however, reacts badly to his antidepressant medication, which triggers a mania that results in his taking a personal vendetta against a suspected rapist/murderer SVU is investigating, eventually killing the man by pushing him in front of a subway train. Andrew refuses to plead insanity and take further medication, and says goodbye to his nephew one last time before being sent to prison. In a deleted scene from the third season of Homicide, Munch mentions to both Meldrick Lewis (Clark Johnson) and Tim Bayliss (Kyle Secor) that he had an uncle who lived up north but was unsure of what became of him – this is presumably Andrew. Munch is affected by the death of a young girl who lived near him when he was a teenager; he feels guilty for not noticing that she was being abused by her mother, who eventually killed her, despite seeing the girl every day when he came home from school. In the 14th-season SVU episode "Twenty-Five Acts", it is mentioned that Munch's mother is living in a retirement community.
During the late 1960s and the early 1970s, he was an occasional reporter and music reviewer for the alternative magazine The Paper. Although he considered himself to be a "dangerous radical" due to his left-wing views, conspiracy theories and involvement with anti-Vietnam War protests, the FBI believed that he was a dilettante and posed no threat.
Munch's partner at the start of Homicide is Stanley Bolander (Ned Beatty), an experienced police detective with more than 20 years under his belt. The two are partners through the show's first three seasons until Bolander is first suspended and then retires. Despite the tremendous amount of grief the two give each other, Munch respects him and counts him as a dear friend.
In SVU, Munch is first partnered with Brian Cassidy (Dean Winters), whom he thinks of as a kind of younger brother, alternately poking fun at him and imparting (often questionable) advice on life and women. When Cassidy leaves the precinct in 2000, Munch is briefly partnered with Monique Jeffries (Michelle Hurd), but when she too leaves the precinct he is paired with her replacement, Odafin Tutuola (Ice-T). He and Tutuola get off to a rough start, but gradually come to like and respect each other. After Munch is shot by a suspect during a trial, the dialogue he shares with Tutuola in the hospital demonstrates the regard and respect the characters have gained for one another. When Tutuola gets frustrated over a potential witness being unable to testify due to relapsing on heroin, Munch mentions a former partner who took cases that personally, and who eventually committed suicide as a result.
In Homicide, along with Tim Bayliss (Kyle Secor) and Meldrick Lewis (Clark Johnson), Munch is co-owner of "The Waterfront", a bar located across the street from their Baltimore police station. This is referenced in season 5 of The Wire, in episode 7, titled "Took". Munch is speaking to a bartender at Kavanaugh's as journalist Gus Haynes walks in. The camera pans by him as he says the lines, "Rodney, you can't press a regular for his whole tab. It just isn't done. I used to run a bar, I know how these things work, remember?" Haynes is portrayed by Clark Johnson.
In SVU, Munch takes the Sergeant's exam on a bar bet, passes, and is promoted to that rank. As sergeant, he is called upon to take charge of the unit on a number of occasions when Cragen is relieved of duty. Following the events of the season 15 episode "Internal Affairs", Cragen informs Benson that Munch has submitted his retirement papers. Munch officially retires in the episode "Wonderland Story", showing up to his retirement party in a white tuxedo as his friends bid him goodbye (it is announced that he will become a special investigator in the DA's office). Tutuola presents him with a going-away gift from the squad, a shadow box containing all the badges he carried as a police officer in both Baltimore and New York. As the episode concludes, Munch is at his desk in the squad room, packing his personal items into a box. He has a brief flashback to "Gone for Goode", the Homicide series premiere, in which he sat at his desk to go through a pile of mug shots. The phone rings, and he answers it "Homicide, I mean SVU"; he then puts the caller on hold and leaves with his box.
List of assignments
- Detective, Baltimore PD Homicide (1983–May 5, 1995)
- Senior Detective, Baltimore PD Homicide (October 20, 1995 – May 21, 1999)
- Senior Detective, NYPD 16th Precinct (Special Victims Unit) (September 20, 1999 – May 22, 2007)
- Sergeant–Detective Squad, NYPD 16th Precinct (Special Victims Unit) (September 25, 2007 – October 16, 2013)
- Special Investigator, New York County District Attorney's Office (October 16, 2013–Present)
- Acting Commanding Officer, NYPD 16th Precinct (Special Victims Unit) (September 25, 2007)
- Acting Commanding Officer, NYPD 16th Precinct (Special Victims Unit) (November 11, 2009)
- Sergeant–Detective Squad, NYPD Cold Case Squad (October 31, 2012 – February 13, 2013)
- Detective (Baltimore PD)
- Detective 1st Grade (NYPD)
- District Attorney Special Investigator (New York County DA)
Homicide: Life on the Street:
- Detective Stanley Bolander (Ned Beatty) (January 31, 1993 – May 5, 1995)
- Detective Megan Russert (Isabella Hofmann) (January 5, 1996 – May 17, 1996)
- Detective Mike Kellerman (Reed Diamond)
- Detective Tim Bayliss (Kyle Secor)
Law & Order: SVU:
- Detective 3rd Grade Ken Briscoe (Chris Orbach)
- Detective 3rd Grade Brian Cassidy (Dean Winters) (September 20, 1999 – February 4, 2000)
- Detective 3rd Grade Monique Jeffries (Michelle Hurd) (February 11, 2000 – October 20, 2000)
- Detective 2nd/1st Grade Odafin "Fin" Tutuola (Ice-T) (October 20, 2000 – May 22, 2007)
Awards and decorations
The following are the medals and service awards worn by NYPD Detective Munch, as seen in "Alternate".
|American Flag Breast Bar|
|World Trade Center Breast Bar|
|NYPD Excellent Police Duty|
|NYPD Firearms Proficiency Bar|
Munch is Jewish, but once commented that the only thing he and Judaism had in common was that he "didn't like to work on Saturdays." He indicates that he is familiar with Jewish prayers, and eventually says Kaddish at the end of an episode of Homicide of the same name in memory of a Jewish murder victim. He is familiar with common Yiddish words and phrases. Munch interacts with an Orthodox Jewish witness, using one Yiddish word, farshteyn ("understand"), and referring to the twelve Israelite tribes from the Bible. The man remarks that Munch must be Jewish and, consequently, agrees to help him out of a fraternal connection. After the interaction, Munch reciprocates by offering the man a ride back to the Riverdale neighborhood in The Bronx. He identifies his ethnic background as Romanian.
He has a younger brother named Bernie who owns a funeral parlor; he at one point jokes that he occasionally "throws him some business". He mentioned another brother who is in the drywall business. His brother David attended his farewell roast. His cousin, Lee, acts as his accountant—and the accountant for The Waterfront—when he lives in Baltimore.
Munch has been described as a stubborn man who can "smell a conspiracy at a five-year-old's lemonade stand". Munch can often be seen lecturing his co-workers on a variety of conspiracy theories, which he views as obvious truths. In the SVU pilot episode, he rants about a supposed government cover-up in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. However, Munch does not seem to believe all conspiracy theories; in The X-Files episode "Unusual Suspects"—a cross-over episode with Homicide—Munch dismisses the Lone Gunmen's claims of a government plot to expose Baltimore residents to a hallucinogenic gas.
At the onset of Homicide, he had been divorced twice, but by the seventh season he had had a total of three ex-wives, until marrying Waterfront bartender Billie Lou Hatfield; each one of the previous three is "beautiful, spoiled, and none of them matched John Munch intellectually". Before leaving Baltimore, Munch had divorced Billie Lou, having discovered, after less than one day of marriage, that she has been having an affair with a member of his own precinct. In one episode, a police psychiatrist notes that despite his cynicism regarding marriage, Munch still believes in true love, and is pained by the fact he has not found it.
He once stated that he and his first wife, Gwen, had sex once after their divorce. Her first on screen appearance is the Homicide episode "All Is Bright", in which she is played by Carol Kane. Gwen shows up at The Waterfront bar to inform Munch her mother has died. As the two catch up, he agrees to arrange for the funeral of Gwen's mother despite the fact that his ex-mother-in-law loathed him and did everything in her power to disrupt her daughter's marriage to him. Near the end of the episode, Munch performs a touching toast to his former mother-in-law in one of the few times his cynical façade slips. Kane next returns as Gwen in "Zebras", the season 10 finale of SVU, and is portrayed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. While working with Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) in the season four episode of Homicide, "For God and Country", a crossover with Law & Order, Munch loses badly to Briscoe in a pool game and learns Briscoe had briefly dated, and had sex with, Gwen. Distraught, he gets drunk and proclaims that he forgives Gwen and still loves her. Despite this, he and Briscoe become quite good friends—their interaction in the two following crossovers between Homicide and Law & Order, as well as in a crossover between Law & Order and SVU, is generally friendly (Belzer originally pitched to Dick Wolf that Munch join Law & Order as Briscoe's new partner, but the role had already been filled by Ed Green, played by Jesse L. Martin).
While Munch could never be accused of being sentimental, his cynical façade has occasionally slipped, revealing a deep compassion—especially for children—born from his unhappy childhood. When Munch emerges unscathed from an ambush shooting during a third season episode of Homicide that left three of his colleagues in the hospital, he tries to laugh it off, but he later breaks down in tears. In the second season of SVU, after solving a case dealing with an abusive mother who put her daughter in a coma, Munch tells Benson that when he was in high school, one of his neighbors killed her daughter, and that for years he felt guilty for failing to recognize that the girl needed help.
Munch is a staunch believer in individual rights and occasionally finds that something he has to do in the line of duty goes against his sense of morality. A particularly disturbing experience for him was having to see patients on dialysis have their kidney transplants denied.
In the third season episode of Homicide, "Law and Disorder", Munch is suspected by Detective Tim Bayliss of having murdered Gordon Pratt (Steve Buscemi), the suspect in the shooting of three homicide detectives, including Munch's partner Stanley Bolander. Munch had motive, opportunity, an unconfirmed alibi, and never actually denies killing Pratt, but Bayliss refuses to question Munch further or test his service weapon to determine if it has been fired recently. He closes the case, informing his shift commander that there is insufficient evidence to charge anyone.
A 2007 news item notes that the character of Munch "has slowly disappeared from [SVU's] plotlines", and quotes Belzer as saying "[i]t's mystifying to me," admitting his feelings to be "slightly hurt". Following season nine, in which Munch appeared in just over half of the episodes, Belzer reiterated his mystification at the development, but also seemed to want to tone it down: "It's like yanking the tonsils out of the gift horse if I complain too much. I've been lucky over the years [...] c'est la vie: I'm not starving."
Although Homicide and Law & Order: SVU officially share the same continuity, they provide conflicting accounts of Munch's childhood, and SVU rarely mentions Munch's past as a Baltimore detective. Four regular actors from Homicide (Peter Gerety, Callie Thorne, Michael Michele, Andre Braugher) and two recurring ones (Clayton LeBouef, Željko Ivanek), whose characters regularly interacted with Munch on that series, have appeared as different, unrelated characters on SVU, sometimes sharing scenes with Munch. In Braugher's first appearance on SVU as Attorney Bayard Ellis, however, there is an implicit nod towards the shared continuity between the shows when Munch greets Braugher's character as if he knows him. "There's a glimmer of [recognition]," as Braugher described the meeting.
There were three specific examples of consistent continuity between the two shows, all related to Munch's personal life. One is Munch's amicable divorce from Gwen, who has appeared in episodes of both Homicide and SVU as portrayed by actress Carol Kane. Homicide: The Movie features Munch's temporary return to assist the Baltimore Homicide Unit when his friend and BPD boss – former BPD Lieutenant Al Giardello – has been shot, with dialogue acknowledging that Munch is currently assigned to the Special Victims Unit in New York. The two shows come together for Munch's retirement, when his SVU party is attended by Homicide BPD Detective Meldrick Lewis (Clark Johnson) and two ex-Mrs. Munch-es, Gwen and Billie Lou Hatfield (Ellen McElduff), who were both introduced as characters on Homicide.
Appearances and crossovers
The character has spanned over 20 years and 23 seasons of network television. Along with his main cast roles on Homicide and SVU, Munch has also appeared as a character in other TV series, movies, talk shows, albums and comic books:
- Homicide: Life on the Street—119 out of 122 episodes in the series
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit—241 out of 324 episodes in the series
- Homicide: The Movie—television movie
- Law & Order—four episodes: "Charm City", "Baby, It's You" (part 1), "Sideshow (Part 1)", and "Entitled (Part 2)"
- Arrested Development—one episode: "Exit Strategy"
- The X-Files—one episode: "Unusual Suspects"
- The Beat—one episode: "They Say It's Your Birthday"
- Law & Order: Trial by Jury—one episode: "Skeleton (Part 2)"
- The Wire—one episode: "Took"
- 30 Rock—two episodes: "¡Qué Sorpresa!", the characters are watching an SVU episode, with dialogue written and action shot specifically for 30 Rock. Richard Belzer also appears as the actor playing Munch in "Last Lunch", part one of 30 Rock's series finale, when Jenna Maroney lands a guest role on SVU as a corpse.
- Jimmy Kimmel Live!—one episode: October 7, 2009. Richard Belzer was interviewed as himself, then does an impromptu scene as Munch with Kimmel and Joel McHale.
- Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt—one episode: "Kimmy Goes to the Doctor!", the characters are watching a fictional Law & Order spinoff episode on their television.
- A Muppet version of Munch appeared in the Sesame Street sketch "Law & Order: Special Letters Unit" where he was portrayed by David Rudman.
- Munch makes a cameo appearance on the 1993 Paul Shaffer album The World's Most Dangerous Party.
- An artwork version of Munch appears in the 2016 comic book Spider-Man/Deadpool #6.
- An unseen Munch is mentioned, by Detective Chief Inspector John Luther, as an NYPD SVU contact on episode 5 of the UK crime drama Luther. Notably, DCI Luther is played by Idris Elba, who played Stringer Bell in the HBO drama The Wire, where Munch previously cameoed.
Munch has become the only fictional character, played by a single actor, to physically appear on 10 different television series. These shows were on five different networks: NBC (Homicide: Life on the Street, Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Trial by Jury, and 30 Rock); Fox (The X-Files and Arrested Development); UPN (The Beat); HBO (The Wire) and ABC (Jimmy Kimmel Live!). Munch has been one of the few television characters to cross genres, appearing not only in crime drama series, but sitcom (Arrested Development), late night comedy (Jimmy Kimmel Live!) and horror and science fiction (The X-Files).
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- "Internal Affairs". Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Season 15. Episode 4. October 9, 2013. NBC.
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- "Stalked". Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Season 1. Episode 8. November 22, 1999. NBC.
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- "The City That Bleeds". Homicide: Life on the Street. Season 3. Episode 12. January 27, 1995. NBC.
- "Parts". Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Season 6. Episode 22. May 17, 2006. NBC.
- "Law and Disorder". Homicide: Life on the Street. Season 3. Episode 15. February 24, 1995. NBC.
- "Flight". Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Season 12. Episode 15. February 2, 2011. NBC.
- "Russian Love Poem". Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Season 1. Episode 12. January 21, 2000. NBC.
- "Belzer Wants More Episodes". Contact Music. December 11, 2007. Retrieved April 6, 2012.
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- Stanhope, Kate (November 1, 2011). "Andre Braugher on SVU: "He May Be the Enemy, But He's Not a Villain". TV Guide. Portland, Oregon: NTVB Publishing. Retrieved November 14, 2011.
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- "Jimmy Kimmel Live, Season 7, 130 : Joel McHale, Richard Belzer, KISS". WJLA-TV. Internet Archive. Retrieved 2017-04-19.
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There was a Law & Order star, Richard Belzer, in a fake spin-off.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-08-22. Retrieved 2016-07-04.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)