After attending State University of New York at Purchase, Jay O. Sanders made his off-Broadway debut in a 1976 production of Shakespeare's Henry V. Three years later, he graduated to Broadway in Loose Ends. Sanders' first major film role was Charles Rawlings, the husband of novelist Marjorie Rawlings (Mary Steenburgen) in Cross Creek (1980). He went on to spend a year in the role of feckless resident physician Dr. Gene Pfeiffer in TV's After MASH (1982). He later portrayed Steven Kordo in the 1987-88 (and last) season of the serialized prime time weekly Crime Story. In the 1990s, Jay O. Sanders played real-life "political prisoner" Terry Anderson in the made-for-TV film Hostages (1993), and was also seen in such theatrical features as JFK (1991) and Angels in the Outfield (1994). Bit roles in such Hollywood comedies as For Richer or Poorer and The Odd Couple II helped keep Sanders a familiar face to moviegoers between frequent independent roles. Meanwhile, the busy character actor also found steady work narrating audio books and television shows such as Nova and Wide Angle. In 2011 he joined the cast of Law & Order: Criminal Intent as Captain Joseph Hannah, but by then the show was in its tenth and final season. Guest appearances on such high-profile television series' as Pan Am, Blue Bloods, and Person of Interest were quick to follow.
- Spent two years of his childhood in Bogota, Colombia, where his father was in the Peace Corps.
- After leaving the Peace Corps, his father was Executive Director of Cleveland's famed Karamu House.
- Was a member of the first four-year graduating class from SUNY Purchase.
- First professional job after college was as Westmoreland in a 1976 Public Theatre production of Henry V, opposite Meryl Streep.
- Made his Broadway debut in the play Loose Ends in 1979.
- Appeared opposite his wife, Maryann Plunkett, in a 1993 Broadway production of Saint Joan.
- Has narrated dozens of audio books and episodes of Nova and Wide Angle.
- Joined Law & Order: Criminal Intent in the 10th and final season as Captain Joseph Hannah.