Law & Order: Why Jeffrey Donovan Is Leaving the Series, Explained



  • Law & Order is a beloved and long-running show with a total of 65 seasons when considering all spin-offs and upcoming shows.
  • Jeffrey Donovan, who played Detective Cosgrove, will not be returning for the 23rd season due to undisclosed creative reasons.
  • Fans are upset about Donovan’s departure and are concerned about the future of the show without him. His absence can be felt as early as season 23’s first episode, which aired on January 18.

Law & Order is one of NBC’s longest-running shows of all time. Even after the show’s cancelation in 2010 and revival in 2022, with the two spin-offs (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: Organized Crime), there are 49 total seasons after combining every season.

With the four past series, that total ranks up to 65 total seasons. Plus, there is already work being done on another spin-off based in Toronto. It shows how beloved the franchise is from a viewer and production standpoint. Now, the revived Law & Order is finally on the road for its 23rd season after production delays. Already, there is a massive change going into the new season. The lead for the series, Jeffrey Donovan, is confirmed not to return for the 23rd season.

Updated Jan. 22, 2024: This article has been updated with new information regarding Jeffrey Donovan’s character, Frank Cosgrove, on Law & Order.

Donovan was been part of the revived show since 2022, at the start of the 21st season. He played the tough “bad cop” Senior Detective Frank Cosgrove for the 21st and 22nd seasons of Law & Order. Cosgrove quickly became a fan favorite alongside his partner, Shaw (Mehcad Brooks). But why is Donovan leaving the show after only two years? What could have led to this decision? Is there any drama involved? Nothing of the sort has been uncovered just yet, but here is what we know about the situation.

Why Is Jeffrey Donovan Leaving the Show?

The exact reasoning is still unclear. At least, it has yet to be properly confirmed by Donovan himself or anyone else working on Law & Order. However, TV Line reported that Donovan was “let go for creative reasons” and that the search for a new series lead is underway. Fans are led to believe that the producers were already looking for a replacement before the news of Donovan’s departure.

If you remember from last season, Donovan’s character, Detective Cosgrove, was shot and injured while he was with his partner Shaw in a combined missing person and murder case. While Cosgrove didn’t die from the injury, it made a massive impact on his life and how he sees his job, so much so that he reconsiders his position in law enforcement. After having a near-death experience in a relatively dangerous career, this would have anybody reconsider their position, leaving them to wonder if risking their lives is worth it.

Because of these events, it is what fans are led to believe that the showrunners were already planning on writing Donovan’s character off. Some have even considered the possiblity of having the character retire from his position, leaving a new detective to replace Cosgrove. Maybe Donovan caught wind or this, or at least was told about the creative direction for the 23rd season, ultimately leaving to ease the transition. He is not the first actor to leave Law & Order after its renewal, so maybe there is something more behind Donovan’s absence. As we stated before, the word-for-word reasoning by the actor himself is still unknown. But we will keep everyone updated as more news follows.

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What Happened to Frank Cosgrove?

Warning — Spoilers for Law & Order Season 23

Unfortunately, Jeffrey Donovan didn’t return for one last on-screen appearance in Law & Order. In the season 23 premiere, “Freedom of Expression,” the character of Frank Cosgrove is unfortunately written out of the series in a single conversation. Detective Vincent Riley, played by newcomer Reid Scott (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), sparks some small talk with Detective Shaw, his new partner. In as little as two sentences, Cosgrove is affirmed to be a “great cop,” even though he “got jammed up” during his time on the force. From there, Cosgrove is given no mention in the rest of the episode, effectively shutting his character out of the series.

Seeing that Riley has now become Shaw’s new partner, it’s more than fair to assume that he’s become the de facto replacement for Cosgrove for the rest of the season. He’s an aggressive counterpart to Shaw’s coolheadedness, and his character will likely play a key role throughout the rest of the season in the absence of Cosgrove.

What Could This Mean for Season 23?

For obvious starters, somebody else will lead the series for season 23. Who that will be is still up in the air, with Reid looking to be the most notable option. But the rest of the cast will likely remain throughout the 23rd season. Those in the cast include Mehcad Brooks, Odelya Halevi, Sam Waterson, Hugh Dancy, and Camryn Manheim, who are set to return to Law & Order.

The season was postponed for months due to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Now that the strikes have been resolved, the script writing is back in session, as season 23 officially premiered on January 18. Because of the new creative direction and Donovan’s absence, the plot for the next season has yet to be determined.

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To say that fans are unhappy about this news would be an understatement. According to the Express, fans are “sharing their anguish over Jeffrey’s exit on X,” with some even stating that they will not watch the show anymore due to Donovan’s departure. Other comments express how much they will miss his presence on the show. There is always that risk of losing viewers for a show when one of the lead actors leaves or when replacing an actor for creative reasons.

It is sad to see Jeffrey Donovan leave Law & Order, especially since he is a great actor who only began his time with the series in 2022. His brief time in Law & Order will hold a special place in our hearts, and we can only hope for the best as he continues his career. At the same time, we cannot help our curiosity and concern about how season 23 will go now that Donovan is no longer part of it.

In the meantime, the other two Law & Order spin-offs are being renewed for new seasons as well. Perhaps Donovan will make a guest appearance at some point on them. New episodes of Law & Order will air every Thursday, before becoming available on Peacock the following day.

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