Created by Dick Wolf, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, often referred to as SVU, is a crime drama television series set in New York City, part of the seemingly endless Law & Order stable of shows. Typical episodes followed a group of detectives and their colleagues as they investigated and prosecuted sexually based offenses. Since the cancellation of the original Law & Order in 2010, SVU has since become the longest running scripted non-animated U.S. primetime TV series.
SVU has been nominated for and won numerous awards, including a 2006 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for Mariska Hargitay, which is the first and only Emmy ever won by a series regular on any Law & Order series.
The series was renewed for an 18th season which premiered in September 2016 on NBC.
Here are a few facts about SVU that you might now have known.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Facts
29. The end of an era
Christopher Meloni, played detective Stabler, was a staple on SVU since the show’s premiere in 1999. After more than 200 episodes Chris and NBC could not come to an agreement on a new contract and he left the series after the action packed season 12 finale.
The show was originally called Sex Crimes but NBC thought the title was a bit off-putting and Dick Wolf wanted it to be part of the Law & Order universe.
27. They’re Special
In 2016, a New York Times study found that, based on Facebook likes, SVU’s popularity was slightly higher in rural areas, but largely restricted to the eastern half of the country and was, in fact, the most popular in Albany, NY,
26. In the House
Steve Zirnkilton, the actor behind the voiceover in the opening credits (“in the criminal justice system…”) has actually served four terms in the Maine House of Representatives which makes him one of the few Congressmen who actually understands the criminal justice system.
Raul Esparza initially didn’t want to take the role of ADA Rafael Barba but did so as an acting “rebound” from a lackluster Broadway production. Nothing like a bad Broadway production to lower your standards enough to do a hit TV show.
24. Character Development
Each episode of Season 13 had 13 letters in the title. Season 14 had 14 letters. Season 15 has 15. And on through to Season 17. In Season 18, they realized that nobody really noticed and they gave up on being clever.
23. Celebrity Tapes
Celebrities who have made guest appearances on the show include Robin Williams, Hilary Duff, Hayden Pannetierre, Amanda Seyfried, Rooney Mara, Bradley Cooper, Martin Short, and Elizabeth Banks. They all played themselves. Celebrities are freaky.
22. Not Quite Fin-ished
Ice-T was only supposed to play the part of Fin for four episodes, but he liked it so much that he decided to keep hanging around. Apparently, it’s more fun to play a cop than to rap about them.
21. From O.G. to G.O.
In the African Yoruba language, Fin’s last name “Tutuola” means “The Gentle One.” Because when you look at Ice-T, you definitely think, “Gosh, that man looks gentle.”
20. Mother May I?
Mariska Hargitay keeps a picture of her actual mother on her character’s desk. If you’re investigating violent sex crimes, it’s always nice to think of home.
19. SVU? I Do!
Hargitay met her husband on the SVU set when he guest-starred as defense attorney Trevor Langan so now she’s a special victim of marriage.
18. State of Mind
Although the show is set in New York, for the first eleven seasons, it was actually shot in New Jersey. Bur, really, sex crimes don’t understand state lines.
17. Back to the Beginning
The show is now being shot at the studio that was formerly used by the main Law & Order franchise.
16. The Terrorists Keep Winning
After the events of 9/11, like almost every other show that came out at the time, NBC ordered the opening credits re-edited to remove images of the Twin Towers.
15. The Munchies
Richard Belzer has played the character of Detective John Munch on Homicide: Life on the Street, Law & Order, The X-Files, The Beat, Law & Order: Trial by Jury, Arrested Development, and The Wire. This is a record for the most different shows a single character played by the same actor has been on. John Munch would serve as the anchor for the most intense crossover episode of Law & Order ever.
14. From Lenny to Kenny
Former regular Chris Orbach, who played Ken Briscoe, is the son of Jerry Orbach, who played Lennie Briscoe on the original Law & Order. Ken Briscoe is Lennie Briscoe’s nephew.
13. The Cat’s still in the Bag
An episode of SVU that was “ripped from the headlines” dealt with a totally-not-Trump-but-like-it’s-definitely-Trump inspired character whose political campaign goes awry after several women come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct. The episode was set to air in late 2016 but was delayed several times before the election, and after Trump won, was taken off the schedule entirely. Dick Wolf “suspects” that it will air in the spring of 2017.
12. I Knew You Were Trouble
Taylor Swift is such a huge fan of the show that she named her cat Olivia Benson.
Mariska Hargitay used to insist on doing her own stunts until one of them left her with a partially collapsed lung. She doesn’t insist so much anymore.
10. Yes, and!
Kathy Griffin was Mariska Hargitay’s improv teacher at the Groundlings theater company in Los Angeles. Griffin later guest starred on an episode.
9. His Own Worst Enemy
Christopher Meloni, who played an NYPD detective on SVU, also simultaneously played inmate Chris Keller on the HBO prison drama Oz. “It wasn’t easy,” he said. “For about two or three years, I would wake up at 4:30, get in the van at 6, drive to Oz, kill people ‘til about noon, jump in the car, go to SVU, and go arrest people who murder people ‘til about two a.m.”
8. Cleaning Up
Peter Scanavino made his SVU debut as Johnny Dubcek, a janitor. Two seasons later, he became a cast regular as Dominick Carisi, a junior detective. Clearly it was the name that was holding him back.
7. Earned a seat
In fact, Scanavino guest starred on four of the five Law & Order series before finally landing his role as a series regular.
6. Playing Both Sides
Similarly, series regular Diane Neal, who played Assistant District Attorney Casey Novak, made her SVU debut two seasons earlier as a woman accused of raping a male stripper.
5. Proud Parents
SVU is the only prime-time drama to have been spun off from two different shows: Law & Order and through the character of John Munch from Homicide: Life on the Street.
4. Leight It Up
Warren Leight, writer and executive producer on SVU for four seasons, said that while the show tackled some big topics, they got the most pushback from the Catholic Church and the NFL, two organizations who are both fighting over who dominate Sundays.
3. Well Deserved
Cast members are often approached by survivors of sexual abuse, thanking them for accurately portraying these stories on TV and helping to raise awareness.
2. Fake News
SVU episodes are touted as being “ripped from the headlines” which actually means that the stories are “inspired” by recent headlines and not based on actual real events. Y’know, the way “Ice Ice Baby” was “inspired” by “Under Pressure.”
1. Basic Training
Mariska Hargitay, who plays Olivia Benson, was so moved by letters from assault victims that she became a trained rape crisis counsellor in real life.