RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And now for a little "Law and Order." It's the popular franchise with many spinoffs that once seemed in danger of taking over the entire television spectrum.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Each episode begins in the criminal justice system and goes on to feature shocking crimes solved by wise-cracking, hard-boiled cops.
MONTAGNE: One of them, Sergeant John Munch, is turning in his badge tonight on "Law and Order: SVU." Actor Richard Belzer has played the anti-establishment detective with the dark-tinted glasses for more than two decades.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LAW AND ORDER: SVU")
RICHARD BELZER: (as Detective Munch) Guy puts a chunk down on a $3 million condo that's never going to be built, and he's not going to get any of his money back.
ICE-T: (as Detective Tutuola) I could see that making a guy a little nutty.
BELZER: Right. So, he starts obsessing about the ills of the world and kills two birds with one hammer.
MONTAGNE: Classic Munch: dry, a little edgy, quick to point out a conspiracy. The character has been on TV for more consecutive seasons than psychiatrist Frasier Crane from the sitcoms "Cheers" and "Frasier," and even longer than "Gunsmoke's" Matt Dillon.
INSKEEP: And Richard Belzer says it's going to be tough parting ways.
BELZER: It's very emotional, after 15 years on one show, and then seven on the other as the same character.
INSKEEP: Those two shows - "Homicide" and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" - are just the bookends of Munch's TV life. His character started on the detective show set in Baltimore, and went on to become almost ubiquitous.
BELZER: "Homicide," "Law & Order," "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," "Law and Order: Trial by Jury," "The X Files," "Arrested Development," "The Beat," "The Wire" - how many is that? Eight?
MONTAGNE: A Munch Muppet even fought crime on the PBS children's show "Sesame Street," tracking down a fugitive letter M.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SESAME STREET")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Hey, captain.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Look at this. What?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I found the letter M.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Where? Where?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Right here.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: This isn't the letter M. It's a duck.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: I am a mallard.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Hm-hmm. That's right. And mallard starts with the letter M.
INSKEEP: Apparently, the Springsteen lyric should have been 57 channels and Munch is on, but now he's gone.
BELZER: The waves of emotion from the fans, it's just really turned me for a loop in a very sweet way.
INSKEEP: The actor says he is not sure if he's going to watch the final episode of "Law and Order: SVU" that includes him. He says he may follow it on Twitter.
MONTAGNE: Belzer says the show's writers left just enough of an opening for Munch that it is possible he could show up in some police precinct or DA's office down the line.
INSKEEP: And we have one more note of a passing this morning: veteran baseball umpire Wally Bell died of a heart attack this week. He was 48. He'd been on the job for 21 seasons, most recently calling the Pittsburgh-St. Louis playoff series. He'd worked a World Series and several All-Star games. And last night in Detroit, before the Tigers-Red Sox game, the stadium paused for a moment of silence. The umpires for the game stood in a missing man formation, with a space in the line of umpires where Wally Bell might have been. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.