Performers crossing over in the Law and Order universe

A power franchise since 1990, the world of Law & Order has seen its fair share of performers grace the screen, many who have appeared as multiple characters in the Law & Order universe.

Its opening is iconic. The music notes. The classic voice providing the intro, laying the groundwork for what the series is about. From the flagship Law & Order to the upcoming Christopher Meloni led Law & Order: Organized Crime -- and everything in between -- memorable faces have highlighted the last 30 years of Dick Wolf's television world.

The three main shows in the Law & Order universe -- the original, Criminal Intent, and SVU -- have totaled 1129 episodes (and counting). Law & Order: Criminal Intent had the shortest stint of this trio, lasting 10 seasons and 195 episodes. The original Law & Order made it an astounding 20 seasons and 456 episodes, a feat surpassed by SVU, which is currently at 21 seasons and 478 episodes.

With so much content that has been produced during this span, it's only logical that producers and casting directors have dipped into the same talent pool to bring back a performer as the years pass. Even as the three shows, along with other short-lived forays like Trial by Jury and Law & Order: LA, reside in the same universe, these performers have played different characters, sometimes even in the same series. There have even been instances where performers play a criminal then come back years later as a series regular, working on the "right" side of the law.

Is this a Law & Order multiverse we're living in? Does Detective Benson (Mariska Hargitay) not remember that she once arrested the man who has now joined her unit as a detective? I won't have these answers here today -- though I do believe it must be a multiverse that Law & Order is living in. Instead, we will look at a few notable performers who over the years have made their mark as multiple characters in the Law & Order world.

*Warning: Possible spoilers ahead

The regulars

Diane Neal may be best known as A.D.A. Casey Novak on Law & Order: SVU, appearing in over 100 episodes as this character between the years of 2003 and 2011.

Only two years prior to her run as Novak, however, Neal first appeared in this television universe. Neal played Amelia Chase in the episode titled "Ridicule" and, as it turned out, was one of the criminals in the episode. To come back a few years later as an assistant district attorney is quite the feat. And to have no one in the squad remember you is even cooler! (On a side note, Paige Turco also appears in this episode and shows up ten years as a different character.)

Neal also appeared as Novak in an episode of Law & Order: Trial by Jury

Being a criminal is also helpful when you want to become a detective in New York. This is the case for one Peter Scanavino, who has played Dominick Carisi Jr. since 2014. Before he was solving crimes with his current unit, however, Scanavino was hopping around the Law & Order universe. 

Scanavino played four different characters across four shows, starting with Trial by Jury. He then made it over to Criminal Intent and had an appearance on the original series in 2009. Then, a year before making it into the SVU unit, Scanavino was getting arrested by his now-boss Benson. A wild ride for Carisi and it's good to see he was able to put his haunted -- and busy -- past behind him in order to solve crimes. 

Even Jerry Orbach started off as another character, appearing as an attorney before making detective. 

The real MVP

One performer has hopped from world to world in the Law & Order universe, making waves and disrupting the lives of characters along the way.

He is Pablo Schreiber and he has played six different characters across three different shows, appearing in a total of 13 episodes. 

Way back in 2005, Schreiber made his Law & Order debut on Criminal Intent, popping up two years later in the same series as a different character. In between, he landed a role on the original series and did so again in 2008.

Schreiber's most notable role occurred on SVU. His second role on the series, in fact. Schreiber had a 2007 appearance in which he was ultimately cleared of the crime the episode focused on and was even on track to get his life together.

He never appeared again as this character. Instead, fans were treated as Schreiber's turn as William Lewis, a character he would reprise over the course of eight episodes in 2013-14. Lewis was the bane of SVU's existence, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake, and tormented Benson until he met his demise. 

Schreiber gave memorable turn after memorable turn within this universe so much so that his portrayal of Lewis is one of the more iconic villain roles of the series. 

A few other notables

Given these shows have been on the air for so many years, plenty of guest stars have done one-episode appearances. Names like Robin Williams, Alec Baldwin, and Carol Burnett.

Recurring characters are also highlight, playing judges (Judith Light), lawyers, priests, and activists (looking at you Daveed Diggs and Leslie Odom Jr.) in many episodes.

And others altogether are like the performers previously discussed: making appearances in the Law & Order world while playing different characters.

Topping this list is current Stranger Things star David Harbour. Harbour, much like the others, has appeared in the original (1999, 2008), Criminal Intent (2004, 2009), and SVU (2002). 

Bettering Harbour's five episodes was the late, great Reg E. Cathey. Cathey appeared in seven episodes over the years, four of which were as the character Barry Querns. (Not sure if this was intentionally done by the writers or not, but Cathey's character in Oz was named Martin Querns. Long lost relatives across worlds?)

As an added bonus, Cathey also appeared in Homicide: Life on the Street, the very show in which Richard Belzer originated the role of John Munch. (Suddenly, so many "six degrees" threads are unraveling). 

Also a veteran of Homicide: Life on the Street, Gloria Reuben, too, made the jump into the Law & Order world. She played two different characters on SVU, with a three-episode stint as Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Danielson between 2007 and 2011.

It wasn't across the pantheon of shows, but Hayden Panettiere played two different characters within the SVU world. (This was prior to the entire "save the cheerleader, save the world" phenomenon took off). 

This are just a handful, of course. SVU tends to have the most crossovers, mostly because it's been on the longest (and also the series I've seen the most episodes of). Who are some of your favorite performers that have had multiple roles in this television universe? Talk about your favorites below.

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*Update: Caught an end of a 'Law & Order' episode to see Dallas Roberts, who played Greg Yates in four episodes of 'SVU' (and two episodes of 'Chicago P.D.', to boot). After looking, seems he made two other appearances as different characters in 'Law & Order', plus an appearance in 'Criminal Intent' and on other appearance as a different character in 'SVU'.

I have a feeling this blog could go on forever with performers playing different characters in the 'Law & Order' universe.