Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (or Law & Order: SVU) is an American television drama that aired on Syndication since September 20, 1999. This was a spin-off series of Law & Order.
On March 29, 2019, Syndication renewed "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" for a record-breaking 21st season, making it the longest-running primetime live action TV series in history.
Based out of the New York City Police Department's 16th precinct in Manhattan, New York, the show delves into the dark side of the New York underworld as the detectives of a new elite force, the Special Victims Unit (SVU for short), investigate and prosecute various sexually-oriented crimes including rape, pedophilia, and domestic violence. They also investigate the abuses of children, the handicapped and elderly victims of non-sexual crimes who require specialist handling.
All the while trying to balance the effects of the investigation on their own lives. Its stories also touch on the political and societal issues associated with gender identity, sexual preferences and equality rights.
While the victim is often murdered, this is not always the case and victims frequently play prominent roles in episodes.
The unit also works with the Manhattan District Attorney's office as they prosecute cases and seek justice for SVU's victims and survivors with precision and a passion to win and bring closure to the intense investigations.
The series often uses stories that are "ripped from the headlines" or based on real crimes and such episodes take a real crime and fictionalize it by changing some details.
Main (Current) Edit
- Mariska Hargitay as Lieutenant Olivia Benson (Season 1-current)
- Kelli Giddish as Detective Amanda Rollins (Season 13-current)
- Ice-T as Detective Odafin "Fin" Tutuola (Season 2-current)
- Peter Scanavino as Detective Dominick "Sonny" Carisi, Jr. (Season 16-current)
- Phillip Winchester as ADA Peter Stone (Season 19-current, guest)
Past Main Cast Edit
- Christopher Meloni as Detective Elliot Stabler (season 1-12)
- Richard Belzer as Detective (later Sergeant) John Munch (season 1-15)
- Dann Florek as Captain Donald Cragen (season 1-15, guest season 16)
- Michelle Hurd as Detective Monique Jeffries (season 1-2)
- Adam Lake as Detective Chester Lake (season 9, recurring season 8)
- Danny Pino as Detective Nick Amaro (season 13-16)
- Stephanie March as ADA Alexandra Cabot (season 2-5 and 11, recurring season 10, 13 and guest season 6)
- Diane Neal as ADA Casey Novak (season 5-9, recurring season 13, guest season 12)
- Michaela McManus as ADA Kim Greylek (season 10)
- B.D. Wong as Dr. George Huang (season 4-12, recurring season 2-3, guest season 13-15, 17)
- Tamara Tunie as Dr. Melinda Warner (season 7-12, recurring season 2-6 and season 13-17)
- Raúl Esparza as ADA Rafael Barba (season 15-19, recurring season 14)
- Sam Waterston as Jack McCoy
- Alana De La Garza as Connie Rubirosa
Seasons overview Edit
The idea for "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" originated with the 1986 "preppie murder" case of Robert Chambers, who strangled Jennifer Levin, a woman that he dated and later murdered during what he claimed was consensual "rough sex" in Manhattan's Central Park.
The crime inspired Dick Wolf to write the story for the season one episode of "Law & Order" titled "Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die". However, even after writing the episode, the case continued to haunt Wolf, who wanted to go deeper into the psychology of crimes to examine the role of human sexuality.
The original title of the show was "Sex Crimes", reflecting the sexual nature of the crimes depicted on the show. Initially, there was concern among the producers that, should "Sex Crimes" fail, identifying the new show with the "Law & Order" franchise could hurt the original show.
Additionally, Ted Kotcheff wanted to create a new series that wasn't dependent upon the original series for success. However, Wolf felt that it was important and commercially desirable to have "Law & Order" in the title, and initially proposed the title of the show be "Law & Order: Sex Crimes".
However, Barry Diller (then head of Studios USA) was concerned about the title and it was changed to "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" to reflect the actual unit of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) that handles sexually based offenses that are especially heinous.
The first episode, "Payback", premiered on NBC on September 20, 1999.
Executive producer Neal Baer left Law & Order: SVU as showrunner at the end of season twelve, after eleven years (seasons 2–12) on the show, in order to sign a three-year deal with CBS Studios. Baer was replaced by former "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" showrunner Warren Leight.
In March of 2015, it was announced that Warren Leight signed a three-year deal with Sony Pictures Television, that will allow him to work on SVU one more season, its seventeenth. Leight joined the show in season thirteen.
It was announced on March 10, 2016 that original "Law & Order" veteran producer Rick Eid would take Leight's place as showrunner starting in season 18.
Creator Dick Wolf commented to The Hollywood Reporter, "I'm extremely pleased that Rick had decided to rejoin the family and hope that he will be here for years to come."
During post-production of season 18, following the announcement that "SVU" was renewed for a nineteenth season, it was revealed that Rick Eid departed the series. He will be taking over another Dick Wolf/NBC series, "Chicago P.D.."
It was announced on May 25, 2017 that original "Law & Order" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent "showrunner Michael S. Chernuchin would be reprising his role starting on season nineteen.
Chernuchin was also co-creator and executive producing showrunner of "Chicago Justice", another Wolf-related show that was canceled by NBC at the end of the 2016–17 TV season.
Casting for the lead characters of "Law & Order: SVU" occurred in the spring of 1999. Dick Wolf (along with officials from NBC and Studios USA) were at the final auditions for the two leads at Rockefeller Center. The last round had been narrowed down to seven finalists.
For the female lead, Detective Olivia Benson, actresses Samantha Mathis, Reiko Aylesworth and Mariska Hargitay were being considered. For the male role, Detective Elliot Stabler, the finalists were Tim Matheson, John Slattery, Nick Chinlund and Christopher Meloni.
Hargitay and Meloni had auditioned in the final round together and, after the actors left, there was a moment of dead silence, after which Wolf blurted out, "Oh well. There's no doubt who we should choose—Hargitay and Meloni."
Wolf believed that the duo had the perfect chemistry together from the first time he saw them together, and they ended up being his first choice. Garth Ancier (then head of NBC Entertainment) agreed and the rest of the panel assembled began voicing their assent.
The first actor to be cast for the show was Dann Florek. Florek had originated the character of Captain Don Cragen in the 1988 pilot for "Law & Order" and played the character for the first three seasons of the show until he was fired on the orders of network executives, who wanted to add female characters to the show's all-male primary cast.
However, Florek maintained a friendly relationship with Wolf and went on to direct three episodes of the original series (as well as to occasionally guest star on the show).
Shortly after Florek reprised his role for "Exiled: A Law & Order Movie", he received a call to be on "Sex Crimes". Initially reluctant, he eventually agreed to star on the show as Cragen on the assurance that he would not be asked to audition for the role.
Shortly after the cancellation of "Homicide: Life on the Street", Richard Belzer heard that Benjamin Bratt had left "Law & Order".
Belzer requested his manager to call Wolf and pitch the idea for Belzer's character from "Homicide", Detective John Munch to become the new partner of Jerry Orbach's character, Detective Lennie Briscoe since they had previously teamed up together in three "Homicide" crossovers.
Wolf loved the idea, but he had already cast Jesse L. Martin as Briscoe's new partner, Detective Ed Green. However, the idea was reconfigured to have Munch on "Law & Order: SVU" instead.
Since the character of Munch was inspired by David Simon's depiction of Detective Sergeant Jay Landsman and developed for Homicide by Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson, the addition of Munch to the cast required the consent of all three.
The appropriate agreements were reached and, while Fontana and Levinson agreed to waive their royalty rights, contracts with Simon required that he be paid royalties for any new show in which Munch is a main character; as a result, Simon receives royalties every time Munch appears in an episode of the show.
Dean Winters was cast as Munch's partner, Brian Cassidy, at the insistence of Belzer. Belzer looked at Winters as a sort of little brother, and told Wolf, "Well, I'll do this new show of yours, SVU, only if you make Dean Winters my partner."
Wolf did make Winters Belzer's partner, but he was contractually obligated to his other show at the time, the HBO drama "Oz". Since the role on "Law & Order: SVU" was only initially meant to be a few episodes, Winters was forced to leave when it was time to film "Oz" again.
Winters returned for the Season 13 finale, "Rhodium Nights", reprising his role as Cassidy. He also appeared (as Cassidy) on the two-part Season 14 premiere "Lost Reputation"/"Above Suspicion." He subsequently became a recurring character into season 15.
The void left by Winters's departure was filled for the remainder of the season by Michelle Hurd as Detective Monique Jeffries, a character who Wolf promised that (despite starting out as a minor character with one scene in the pilot) would eventually develop. Hurd left the show at the beginning of the second season to join the cast of the TV series, "Leap Years".
Munch's permanent partner came in the form of rapper-turned-actor Ice-T, who had previously worked with Wolf on "New York Undercover" and "Exiled".
Ice-T originally agreed to do only four episodes of "Law & Order: SVU", but quickly gained affection for the ensemble nature of the cast. He relocated to New York City before his four-episode contract was up and remained with the show as Munch's permanent partner, Detective Odafin "Fin" Tutuola.
Initially, the show focused exclusively on the police work of the detectives in the Special Victims Unit of the 16th precinct, with members of the District Attorney's office occasionally appearing as guest roles crossing over from the original "Law & Order".
From season two onwards, the format was changed to be more faithful to the original "Law & Order" concept by including court cases.
Stephanie March had little television experience before being cast on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, nor did she watch much TV. Nevertheless, March was cast as Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cabot at the beginning of season two but still believed that, due to the grim nature of the series, it would be short-lived.
March stayed with the series for three seasons and left when she believed that she had reached the natural conclusion of the character's development. She would later reprise the character as a guest appearance in season six and as a regular character on the short-lived Wolf series, "Conviction" where she was promised more to do.
Diane Neal had previously guest starred on "Law & Order: SVU" in season three before being cast as Cabot's replacement, Casey Novak in the fifth season. Neal remained with the show through the end of season nine, after which she was replaced by Michaela McManus.
March returned to the show in the tenth season (after McManus' departure from the cast) when Neal Baer proposed Cabot receive a character arc to revitalize the second part of the season, which would continue through season eleven.
Tamara Tunie was cast as medical examiner Melinda Warner in season two after working with Wolf previously on "New York Undercover", "Feds" and "Law & Order". She was initially a recurring character, but became a regular character in season seven, and Tunie was added to the opening credits at that time.
When initially cast as Warner, Tunie was appearing as attorney Jessica Griffin on the CBS daytime soap opera "As the World Turns".
From 2000 to 2007 (and again briefly in 2009), she appeared on both series simultaneously. In 2002, Tunie also appeared on the Fox espionage-themed drama series "24" in the recurring role of CTU Acting Director Alberta Green.
BD Wong was asked to film four episodes as Dr. George Huang, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) forensic psychiatrist and criminal profiler on loan to the Special Victims Unit. After his four episodes, he was asked to stay on with the show.
After he starred in "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" and guest starred as Detective Chester Lake in the eighth season, Wolf felt that Adam Beach would be a good addition to the cast and asked him to be a permanent member beginning with the ninth season.
Although Beach felt that the role was a "dream role", the character proved to be unpopular with fans who felt that he was designed to gradually write out either Richard Belzer or Ice-T. Feeling that there were too many police characters on the show, Beach left the show after only one season.
Michaela McManus was originally felt to be too young for the role of an Assistant District Attorney (ADA) before being cast as ADA Kim Greylek in the tenth season. However, McManus (who was months removed from a recurring role on the series "One Tree Hill") remained with the series only half a season before departing for unspecified reasons.
Paula Patton joined the cast as ADA Mikka Von, replacing Stephanie March, but she dropped out after one episode to film "Mission: Impossible Ghost - Protocol" and was replaced by Melissa Sagemiller in the recurring role of ADA Gillian Hardwicke.
Before the end of season twelve, Mariska Hargitay asked for a lighter workload. As a way of writing her out of certain episodes, a plan to have her character promoted to a supervisory role was discussed.
At the end of season twelve, Christopher Meloni left the show, unable to come to terms with his contract. Warren Leight became the new showrunner during this same year and signed on before he knew that Meloni would be leaving the show.
The second major departure to be announced in 2011 was that of BD Wong. On July 17th, Wong announced on Twitter that, "I actually do not return for season 13, I am jumping to Awake! It's awesome!" Wong added, "I don't know if or when I'll be back on SVU! It was amazing to have such a cool job for 11 years and to be a real NY Actor."
Wong reprised his role as Dr. Huang in season 13's episode "Father Dearest." In response to these departures, two new main actors were hired, and several changes were made to the recurring cast.
In June of 2011, it was announced that Kelli Giddish and Danny Pino would join the cast as new series regulars. Weeks later, it was announced that Stephanie March and Diane Neal would be reprising their roles as ADA Alexandra Cabot and ADA Casey Novak, respectively.
The launch of season 13 was marked with a retooling of the show that Warren Leight referred to as "SVU 2.0".
Changes that accompanied this included Tamara Tunie's being bumped from the main cast to a guest starring role and recurring actor Joel de la Fuente's not appearing for the first time since 2002.
Of the latter change, Warren Leight said, "those scenes [which featured Fuente] can be dry" and hired Gilbert Gottfried as a more comedic replacement.
In addition to these changes, Linus Roache became a recurring cast member in his role of Michael Cutter (whom he played on Law & Order"; on "SVU", former Executive ADA Cutter serves as the Bureau Chief for ADAs attached to the Special Victims Unit.
In season 14, Raúl Esparza joined the cast in a recurring capacity as ADA Rafael Barba and prior to the season 15 premiere, Esparza was promoted to a series regular.
Also in season 15, Belzer left the cast in the fifth episode, "Wonderland Story", in which Sgt. Munch retired from the NYPD and took a job in the DA's office as an investigator.
Later on in the season, Captain Cragen announced his departure from the NYPD, which made newly promoted Sgt. Benson the temporary squad commander. In leaving the cast, Florek ended a 400-episode run as Captain Cragen.
In season 16, Peter Scanavino joined the series, first in a recurring role for episodes 1–3 and then promoted to the main cast in episode 5, with Kelli Giddish, Danny Pino, Ice-T and Raúl Esparza no longer appearing in every episode.
On May 20, 2015, it was revealed that Danny Pino would be leaving the cast after the season 16 finale "Surrendering Noah".
In August 2017, it was announced that Philip Winchester would recur in season 19 as ADA Peter Stone (his character from "Chicago P.D." and "Chicago Justice"), who is the son of Benjamin Stone, the first ADA on the original "Law & Order" series.
It was later also announced that Brooke Shields was enlisted to assume a major recurring role starting in season 19.
On February 7, 2018, Raúl Esparza left the series after six seasons and his role was taken over by Winchester. Upon being renewed for its 21st season, it was announced that Winchester would be leaving the series after the 20th season.
U.S. TV ratings Edit
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit premiered on Monday, September 20, 1999. After nine episodes, the show was moved to Friday nights, where it found its audience and following its first and second seasons became a Top 20-overall show, overcoming the "Friday night death slot" phenomenon. Beginning with the season five, the show aired on Tuesdays to compete with Syndication' Judging Amy and Syndication's NYPD Blue. In its later years, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit consistently outperformed Law & Order in the Nielsen ratings for first run episodes until the latter's cancellation in 2010.
In 2016, a New York Times study of the 50 TV shows with the most Facebook Likes found that SVU's popularity was "atypical: generally slightly more popular in rural areas and the Black Belt, but largely restricted to the eastern half of the country. It's most popular in Albany, N.Y.; least in Colorado and Utah".
Note: Each U.S. network television season starts in late September and ends in late May (with the exception of the second and tenth season), which coincides with the completion of May sweeps.