Richard Belzer by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage.com
Hey there, and welcome to Beam Me Up, my blog about... whatever happens to be obsessing (or irking) me at the moment. Today's topic: the apparent phasing out of the inimitable Richard Belzer as the conspiracy-theory-spouting, comic-relief-providing Sergeant John Munch on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Let me start off by saying that I love all things Law & Order - I've watched all three series since their inceptions (I'm ignoring the whole Trial by Jury fiasco, 'cause its five minutes on the air were regrettably forgettable). SVU has been the franchise's powerhouse in recent years - and, let's be honest, the most consistently entertaining L&O to boot.

Part of what makes it so darn good is the fascinating, complex variety of personalities that comprise the cast. Which brings me to the topic at hand. Has anyone else noticed a distressing lack of Munchitude this season? He did have that brief story arc in the very first epi, when he temporarily took over for Captain Cragen.... But according to an inside source over at SVU, Munch's appearances have been cut from 22 episodes last season to a mere 13 this year. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm enjoying me some Adam Beach - I mean, he's certainly handsome, and let's not forget young. But what gives - is Fin now officially paired off with him? And where exactly has everyone's favorite curmudgeon been?

Granted, Detective Lake qualifies more as eye candy. But Munch is one of those fan favorites whose appeal just can't be denied. In fact, Belzer is up for a "Favorite Scene Stealing Star" People's Choice Award this year. And Munch isn't just a compelling character: He's a TV institution. Detective John Munch first appeared in Homicide: Life on the Streets, one of the grittiest, most gripping crime shows ever to air, back in 1993. After Homicide ended in '99, he was "transferred" from Baltimore up to New York and joined the cast of SVU. What's more, Richard Belzer as Detective Munch has also guested on oodles of other series (8 and counting, to be precise), including The Simpsons, Arrested Development, The X-Files and, most recently, The Wire.

The point is: Munch is not an expendable character. While the producers have clearly been tweaking the formula over at SVU as of late, what with the emphasis on the lead characters' personal lives rather than the criminal cases, hopefully replacing Munch with Lake is not part of the plan. Because that really would be a crime.

Am I right here or what, people? And to the folks over at SVU: We want our Munch!

UPDATE I just got off the phone with Richard Belzer, who had this to say: "I'm mystified by the cutback and incredibly flattered by the reaction of the fans. People are saying, 'Where are you? You weren't on last week.' It's happening a lot. New York is dense with people, so when I walk down the street, it's a lot of fun, because people come over to me and stop me. It's very heart-warming, actually." When I asked him why he thinks this is happening, he said, "I don't know. I honestly don't know."