Detective John Munch

Detective John Munch, a fictional character played by actor Richard Belzer, is now the longest running character in a dramatic series currently on TV. Munch has made crossover appearances in a number of different television series' fictional universes.

Detective Munch first appeared as a homicide detective in a fictional police department in Baltimore as a central character in the TV series Homicide: Life on the Street, which debuted January 30, 1993. In that show, the character was based on detective sergeant Jay Landsman. [1] After Homicide: Life on the Street concluded its seventh season in May of 1999, John Munch retired from the Baltimore Police Department, took his pension, and moved to New York to join a sex crimes investigation unit. He appeared in the premiere of the first of Wolf Films spinoffs, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Although Munch was established as an interesting, three-dimensional character in the ensemble Homicide (in which he was depicted as a cynical conspiracy theorist), his move to SVU has stripped him of some of the character's defining characteristics; the size of his role has decreased over the years. On SVU, Munch is now mostly an information gatherer, but is occasionally involved in undercover operations. His main talent seems to be picking up on minutiae that no one else notices, and being more well versed in literature and politics than his younger colleagues. In addition to downsizing his role, SVU has made several changes to Munch's biography.


Though his age was never directly stated on Homicide, a few clues were presented pointing to it. In the season five episode "Kaddish," Munch talks about his high school years and looks at a yearbook from 1961. In "Full Court Press," Munch said "Going to high school was no day at the beach for a teenage Jew in the '50s." Because first grade began at age five and high school ended in eleventh grade in Maryland during this time, it is likely Munch was born in 1944, the same year as Richard Belzer. Munch was described, however, as being 48 years old in the season one SVU episode "Chat Room." In order to be 48 at the time which this episode took place, Munch would have been born within a year of 1952, depending on when his birthday falls. Also noteworthy is a 7th season episode of Homicide in which the ongoing conflict between Munch and Detective Stuart Gharty (Peter Gerety) culminates. After a confrontation inside the Waterfront bar, Gharty asks Munch how old he was during that period of the war (1968), to which Munch responds "eighteen", putting the year of his birth circa 1950.

SVU and Homicide also have Munch growing up in different places. He is a native of Maryland on Homicide and attended high school in Pikesville, which has a large Jewish community. Also, Munch said in "A Many Splendored Thing" that he took many field trips to Ft. McHenry as a kid, which would likely only happen were he to live in the area. In the season two SVU episode "Legacy," Munch tells Detective Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) that he grew up on the "lower east side." Munch said to Detective Odafin Tutuola (Ice-T) in that same season that he "came back from Baltimore" after his marriage broke up, suggesting that he is originally from New York.

According to the season seven episode "Painless," Munch's father committed suicide, and Munch still regrets that he told his father he "hated his guts" just before the tragedy occurred; for years afterward, he believed that it was his fault. (Coincidentally, Belzer's father also killed himself.) The season 8 episode "Uncle" reveals that Munch also has an uncle, Andrew (Jerry Lewis), who had been diagnosed with Depressive pseudodementia. The elder Munch was found by Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) living as a transient in Manhattan, and was subesquently reunited with his nephew. Andrew, however, took a personal vendetta against a suspected rapist/murderer SVU was investigating, eventually killing the man. Andrew refused to plead insanity and take medication, and said goodbye to his nephew one last time before being sent to prison. Munch was also affected by the death of a young girl that lived near him when he was younger — he blamed himself, at least partially, for not noticing that she was being abused by her mother, despite seeing her every day when he came home from school.

Munch has admitted to using drugs prior to becoming a cop, and has said that he disagrees with drug prohibition.

In the first episode of Homicide, Munch becomes frustrated while attempting to interview a suspect and mentions that he has been a 'murder police' for ten years. His partner at the start of the series was Stanley Bolander (Ned Beatty), an experienced police detective with more than twenty years under his belt. The two were partners through the show's first three seasons until Bolander was first suspended and then retired. Despite the tremendous amount of grief the two gave each other, Munch always respected him and counted him as a dear friend.

In SVU, he was first partnered with Brian Cassidy (Dean Winters), whom he thought of as a kind of younger brother, alternately poking fun at him and imparting (often questionable) advice on life and women. When Cassidy left the precinct in 2000, Munch was briefly partnered with Monique Jeffries (Michelle Hurd), and then with Tutuola. He and the gruff, uncompromising Tutuola got off to a rough start, but gradually came to like and respect each other.

In Homicide, along with Tim Bayliss (Kyle Secor) and Meldrick Lewis (Clark Johnson), Munch was co-owner of "The Waterfront," a bar located across the street from their Baltimore police station.

Up until the 7th season of SVU, Munch had never been seriously injured on the job (despite a few close scrapes in Baltimore). In the episode "Raw," Munch was shot in the buttocks by a white supremacist while a trial was taking place.

Personality and Worldview

Munch is Jewish (his comments on the show seem to indicate that he is a Reform Jew), but once commented that the only thing he and Judaism had in common was that "he didn't like to work on Saturdays." Nevertheless, he sometimes is sensitive to antisemitic jokes.

He has a brother named Bernie who owns a funeral parlor; he once joked that he occasionally "throws him some business."

Munch's investigative style is based around a meticulous attention to detail, which is similar to his partner Fin. During one investigation, he was watching a security video tape, where he noticed that part of the evidence had been cut. In another, he noticed that two suspects had nodded at each other, and another looked as though "he had just had sex."

Munch has been described as a stubborn man who can "smell a conspiracy at a five-year-old's lemonade stand."

At the onset of Homicide, he had been divorced twice, but by the seventh season he had had a grand total of three wives, until marrying his fourth, Billie Lou, during the final Homicide episode; each one of the previous three was "beautiful, spoiled, and none of them matched John Munch intellectually." Billie Lou had been hired as a bartender at the Waterfront and thus became part owner by marrying Munch. We learn during the early seasons of SVU that Munch has divorced his fourth wife as well, and never shies away from cracking sarcastic divorce jokes. A psychiatrist, however, has noted (correctly, it seems) that despite his romantic troubles, Munch still believes in true love, and is crushed by the fact he has not found it. He apparently still cares for Gwen, his first wife. He once stated that they had sex once after their divorce. He arranged 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. While working with New York detective Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) on a case, Munch lost badly to Briscoe in a pool game, partly because he couldn't get over the fact that Briscoe had briefly dated (and slept with) Gwen. He went on to get quite drunk and proclaimed that he forgave Gwen and still loved her.

While Munch could never be accused of being sentimental, his cynical façade has occasionally slipped, revealing a deep compassion borne from his unhappy childhood. He is particularly good with children and female victims.

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. His dedication to his job usually wins out, however.

Crossovers and Appearences

The character has spanned over 14 years. Along with 122 episodes of Homicide and 158+ episodes of SVU, Munch has also appeared as a character in eight episodes of six other series:

  • Law & Order - 4 episodes: "Charm City (Part 1)", "Baby, It's You", "Sideshow" and "Entitled (Part 2)".
  • The X-Files - 1 episode: "Unusual Suspects"
  • The Beat - 1 episode: "They Say It's Your Birthday"
  • Law & Order: Trial by Jury - 1 episode: "Skeleton (Part 2)"
  • Arrested Development - 1 episode: "Exit Strategy" (Belzer also appeared in episode "S.O.B.s", but as himself.)
  • Sesame Street - 1 episode: "Law & Order: Special Letters Unit" (He appeared as a Muppet version of the character, still named Munch.)

The character is also slated to appear on a new, yet to be titled French equivelant of Law & Order: SVU.
Munch also appeared in the 2000 made-for-TV-movie Homicide: Life Everlasting.
Munch's appearance on Sesame Street, which aired August 14, 2006, made him the only fictional character played by a single actor to appear on eight different television shows. These shows were on four different networks: NBC (Homicide: Life on the Street, the Law & Order shows), FOX (The X-Files, Arrested Development), UPN (The Beat), and PBS (Sesame Street).

John Munch is one of the most prolific characters on television; his appearances on so many different TV series is a record in television.


  • Munch speaks Russian, Yiddish, and Greek.
  • He was a straight A student in everything but the sciences and Spanish.
  • His mother was over-protective.
  • Munch is a conscientious objector. During the draft in the Vietnam War, he and a close friend researched all the necessary materials to ensure they would not have to serve. Munch gained CO status, but his friend was shamed into accepting the draft and was sent over as a medic. His friend died in Vietnam.
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