S. Epatha Merkerson as Anita Van Buren, "Law & Order"
Merkerson has been with this 20-year-old NBC series longer than any other actor, but she didn’t start out as Lieutenant Van Buren. In the show’s first season, she guested as the mother of a boy who’d been accidentally shot; when the producers were re-casting the squad chief for season four, they remembered her performance. Van Buren is TV’s longest-running black character. "If you told me [growing up] that I’d be playing a cop," Merkerson (who was a teenager in riot-rocked Detroit) told People, "I would have laughed in your face."