08 July 2012

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (often abbreviated to Law & Order: SVU or justSVU) is an American police procedural crime drama television series set in New York City, where it is also primarily produced. In the style of the original Law & Order, episodes are often "ripped from the headlines" or loosely based on real crimes that have received media attention. Created and produced by Dick Wolf, the series premiered on NBC on September 20, 1999 as the first spin-off of Wolf's successful crime drama, Law & Order. The show concluded its 13th season on May 23, 2012 and has aired 295 original episodes to date.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit originally centered almost exclusively around the detectives of the Special Victims Unit in a fictional version of the 16th Precinct of theNew York City Police Department. As the series progressed, additional supporting characters were added as allies of the detectives in the Manhattan District Attorney's office and the Medical Examiner's office. Typical episodes follow the detectives and their colleagues as they investigate and prosecute sexually based offenses. The show starred Christopher Meloni as Detective Elliot Stabler and Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson for its first twelve seasons until the former left the cast, unable to come to an agreement on his contract.[1][2][3]
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has been nominated for and won numerous awards, including the 2006 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for Hargitay, the first Emmy to be received by a regular on any Law & Order series.
On May 9, 2012, NBC renewed Law & Order: Special Victims Unit for a 14th season.[4]Season 14 is set to premiere with a two-part episode on September 26, 2012.[5]




[edit]History and development

The idea for Law & Order: Special Victims Unit originated with the 1986 "preppie murder" case of Robert Chambers, who strangled Jennifer Levin, a woman he dated who he later killed during what he claimed was consensual "rough sex" in Manhattan'sCentral Park. The crime inspired Dick Wolf to write the story for the season oneepisode of Law & Order titled "Kiss the Girls and Make them Die". Even after writing the episode, however, the case continued to haunt Wolf, who wanted to go deeper into the psychology of crimes to examine the role of human sexuality.[6]
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, shouldSex 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 was not dependent upon the original series for success. Wolf felt, however, that it was important and commercially desirable to have "Law & Order" in the title, and he initially proposed the title of the show be Law & Order: Sex CrimesBarry Diller, then head of Studios USA, was concerned about the title, however, 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.[7] The first episode, "Payback", premiered on NBC on September 20, 1999.[8]
Executive producer Neal Baer left Law & Order: SVU as show-runner at the end of thetwelfth season, after eleven years (seasons 2–12) on the show as show-runner, in order to sign a three-year deal with CBS Studios.[9] Baer was replaced by former Law & Order: Criminal Intent executive producer/show-runner Warren Leight.[10]


SVU shooting on location in Central Park at night
Many exterior scenes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit are filmed on location in New York City, Dick Wolf's hometown, throughout all five of New York City's boroughs. As the NYPD encounters varied law enforcement challenges on a daily basis, the backdrop provides the writers a supply of ideal locations to choose from.[11]
When searching for a place to film the interiors of the show, the producers found that there were no suitable studio spaces available in New York City. As a result, a space was chosen at NBC's Central Archives building in nearby North Bergen, New Jersey, which had sat empty for some time, and featured air-conditioning, adequate parking, and 53,000 square feet (4,900 m2) of stage area.[12] The Archives building was used for police station and courtroom scenes,[13] with various other locations in Hudson County used for other scenes, such as a scene shot at the Meadowlands Parkway in Secaucus in 2010. The production left New Jersey for New York in 2010, however, when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie suspended the tax credits for film and television production for the Fiscal Year 2011 to close budget gaps.[14] The show moved into the studio space at Chelsea Piers that was occupied by the original Law & Order series until its cancellation in May 2010.[15][16]
Fort Lee, New Jersey served as the filming location for Detective Elliot Stabler's residence in Queens, New York.[13]

[edit]Broadcast history

The show originally aired on Monday nights at 9:00 pm ET for the first nine episodes, from September 20 through November 29, 1999. It was then shifted to Friday nights at 10 p.m. ET on January 7, 2000, and remained in that time slot through the end of season four on May 16, 2003. Beginning with the season five premiere on September 23, 2003, SVU moved to Tuesday nights at 10:00 pm ET. NBC airs repeats at 10:00 pm ET on Saturdays and previous episodes are shown on the USA Network on Tuesdays in a marathon between 6:00 pm and 8 pm ET, Fridays between 2:00 pm and 8 pm and in marathons on most Sundays, times varying.
With the September 23, 2009 premiere of the eleventh season, the series vacated its Tuesday 10 pm ET slot because NBC began a prime-time weeknight Jay Leno series. The new time slot became Wednesday nights at 9:00 pm ET on NBC, with CTV still airing SVUon Tuesdays at 10:00 in Canada.[17] After the 2010 Winter Olympics on March 3, 2010, the time slot for SVU changed again to Wednesdays at 10 pm ET, where it stayed until the twelfth season.[18] In the 12th season, SVU moved back to 9:00 pm to lead in the newest Law & Order spinoff, Law & Order: Los Angeles[19], until it was pulled from the network in January 2011 to be retooled.[20] SVUmoved back to 10:00 pm on January 12, 2011 until the end of the 13th season.[21]
With season 14, SVU will be moving back to 9:00 pm after a two-hour season premiere event on September 26, 2012.[5]

[edit]Casting and characters

Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay starred in Law & Order: SVU for the first 12 years together.
Casting for the lead characters of Law & Order: Special Victims Unitoccurred in the spring of 1999. Dick Wolf, along with officials from NBC and Studios USA were at the final auditions for the two leads atRockefeller Center. The last round had been narrowed down to seven finalists. For the female lead, Detective Olivia Benson, actressesSamantha MathisReiko Aylesworth, and Mariska Hargitay were being considered. For the male role, Detective Elliot Stabler, the finalists were Tim MathesonJohn SlatteryNick Chinlund, andChristopher 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 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.[22] Eleven years after being cast, the two actors had become among the highest-paid lead actors on a drama, with each earning nearly $400,000 per episode, a salary that TV Guide said was exceeded only by House'Hugh Laurie.[23]
The first actor to be cast for the show was Dann Florek. Florek had originated the character of 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 all male primary cast. He maintained a friendly relationship with Wolf, however, 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 forExiled: A Law & Order Movie, he received a call to be on Sex Crimes.[24] 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.[25]
Shortly after the cancellation of Homicide: Life on the StreetRichard Belzer heard that Benjamin Bratt had left Law & Order. Belzer called his manager and instructed his manager to call Wolf and pitch the idea for Belzer's character from HomicideJohn Munch, to become Lennie Briscoe's new partner since they had previously teamed in three Homicide crossovers. Wolf loved the idea, but had already cast Jesse L. Martin as Briscoe's new partner. The idea was reconfigured, however, to have Munch on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit instead.[25] Since the character of Munch was created by David Simon and adapted for Homicide by Tom Fontana andBarry 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 that Munch is a main character in; as a result, Simon receives royalties every time Munch appears in an episode of the show.[26]
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."[25] 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: Special Victims Unit was only initially meant to be a few episodes, Winters was forced to leave when it was time to film Ozagain.[27] The void left by Winters' departure was filled for the remainder of the season by Michelle Hurd as Detective Monique Jefferies, a character who Wolf promised that, despite starting out as a minor character with one scene in the pilot, would eventually develop. The character did not develop, however, and doubts surfaced about whether Jefferies was the right character to be Munch's permanent partner. Hurd left the show at the beginning of the second season to join the cast of Leap Years.[28] 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: Special Victims Unit, but he 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.[29]
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. She stayed with the series for three seasons, however, and left when she believed she had reached the natural conclusion of the character's development. She would later reprise the character as a guest appearance in the sixth season 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: Special Victims Unit in the third season before being cast as Cabot's replacement, Casey Novak, in the fifth season. Neal remained with the show through the end of the ninth season,[30] after which she was replaced by Michaela McManus. March returned to the show in the tenth season (after McManus' departure from the cast) whenNeal Baer proposed Cabot receive a character arc to revitalize the second part of the season, which would continue through season eleven.[31][32]
Tamara Tunie was cast as Medical Examiner Melinda Warner in season two after working with Wolf previously on New York UndercoverFeds, and Law & Order. Warner was initially a recurring character but became a regular character in the seventh season, and Tunie was added to the opening credits at that time.[33] 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, she also appeared on the Fox espionage-themed drama series 24, in the recurring role of CTU Acting Director Alberta Green. B. D. 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.[34]
After he starred in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and guest starred as Detective Chester Lake in the eighth season, Wolf felt thatAdam 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 the role was a "dream role", the character proved unpopular with fans who felt that he was designed to gradually write out either Richard Belzer or Ice-T and, feeling there were too many police characters on the show, Beach left the show after only one season.[35] 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 show's tenth season. McManus remained with the series only half a season, however, before departing for unspecified reasons.[36]
Paula Patton joined the cast as A.D.A. Mikka Von. She replaced Stephanie March.[37] However, Patton dropped out after one episode to film Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, and was replaced by Melissa Sagemiller in the recurring role of A.D.A. Gillian Hardwicke.[38][39]
Before the end of Season 12, 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.[40] At the end of season twelve, Christopher Meloni departed the cast, 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 cast.[41] The second major departure to be announced in 2011 was that of BD Wong. On July 17, 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."[42]In response to these departures, two new main actors were hired and several changes were made to the recurring cast.
In June 2011, it was announced that Kelli Giddish and Danny Pino would join the cast as new series regulars.[3] 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.[43] The launch of Season 13 was marked with a retooling of the show that Warren Leight referred to as "SVU 2.0".[44]Changes that accompanied this included Tamara Tunie being bumped from the main cast to a guest starring role and recurring actorJoel de la Fuente 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[45].

[edit]Series overview

"In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous. In New York City, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad known as the Special Victims Unit. These are their stories."
          –Opening narration spoken by Steven Zirnkilton[46]
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit follows the detectives of New York City Police Department's Manhattan Special Victims Unit, based out of the 16th precinct, as they investigate sexually based offenses. Originally the show focused around the senior detectives, Elliot Stabler and John Munch, and their partners, Olivia Benson and Brian Cassidy. The detectives were supervised by veteran CaptainDonald Cragen and received support from Detectives Monique Jeffries and Ken Briscoe.[46] When Cassidy transferred to Narcotics after thirteen episodes, Jeffries partnered with Munch until the beginning of the second season, when Munch was permanently partnered with Detective Fin Tutuola.[47][48] The unit did not receive a full time assistant district attorney until the second season, whenAlexandra Cabot was assigned to work with the detectives.[48] After Cabot's departure in season five, she was replaced by Casey Novak and Kim Greylekbefore returning to the series in season ten.[49][50][51]
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit focuses on crimes of a sexual nature. While the victim is often murdered, this is not always the case, and victims often play prominent roles in episodes. The series frequently uses stories that are "ripped from the headlines" or based on real crimes. Such episodes take a real crime and fictionalize it by changing the details.[52]


Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has concluded its thirteenth season. Each season consists of 19 to 25 episodes; each episode lasts approximately forty minutes (sixty minutes including commercials).
SeasonEpisodesOriginally airedDVD Release
Season premiereSeason finaleRegion 1Region 2Region 4
122September 20, 1999May 21, 2000October 21, 2003February 28, 2005January 20, 2005
221October 20, 2000May 11, 2001September 27, 2005November 21, 2005March 6, 2006
323September 28, 2001May 17, 2002January 30, 2007July 23, 2007August 1, 2007
425September 27, 2002May 16, 2003December 4, 2007September 10, 2007November 21, 2007
525September 23, 2003May 18, 2004September 14, 2004June 16, 2008July 2, 2008
623September 21, 2004May 24, 2005April 1, 2008September 22, 2008December 3, 2008
722September 20, 2005May 16, 2006July 29, 2008February 16, 2009March 4, 2009
822September 19, 2006May 22, 2007February 17, 2009April 13, 2009June 3, 2009
919September 25, 2007May 13, 2008May 26, 2009August 31, 2009September 30, 2009
1022September 23, 2008June 2, 2009September 22, 2009December 28, 2009February 4, 2010
1124September 23, 2009May 19, 2010September 21, 2010February 22, 2011[53]December 1, 2010
1224September 22, 2010May 18, 2011September 27, 2011[54]December 6, 2011[55]December 7, 2011
1323September 21, 2011May 23, 2012September 25, 2012[56]N/AN/A
14[4]N/ASeptember 26, 2012[5]TBAN/AN/AN/A


Out of the seven two-part crossovers in the Law & Order franchise, Special Victims Unit had three – two with Law & Order and one withTrial by Jury. The following is a list of crossover episodes with the two aforementioned series.
  • Season 1, Episode 15: "Entitled" – Aired February 18, 2000
    • Guest Characters – Abbie Carmichael, Lennie Briscoe, Eddie Green, Jack McCoy & Adam Schiff from Law & Order
  • Season 6, Episode 20: "Night" – Aired May 3, 2005
    • Guest Characters – Tracey Kibre, Arthur Branch & Hector Salazar from Law & Order: Trial by Jury
  • Season 7, Episode 2: "Design" - Aired September 27, 2005

[edit]Russian adaptation

In 2007, the Russian production company Studio 2B purchased the rights to create an adaptation of Law & Order: Special Victims Unitfor Russian television. Titled Закон и порядок: отдел оперативных расследований (Law & Order: Division of Field Investigation), the series stars Alisa Bogart as Major Olga Bobrova. The series follows a unit of investigators in Moscow whose job it is to investigate crimes of a sexual nature. The series airs on NTV and is produced by Pavel Korchagin, Felix Kleiman, and Edward Verzbovski and directed by Dmitry Brusnikin. The screenplays are written by Sergei Kuznvetsov, Elena Karavaeshnikova, and Maya Shapovalova.[57]


[edit]U.S. television ratings

SVU premiered on a Monday in 1999. After the November 29 episode, the show was moved to Friday nights where it found its audience and following its first and second seasons became a Top 20 show, dominating the phenomenon of the so-called Friday night death slot. Beginning with the fifth season, the show was aired on Tuesdays to compete with CBS' Judging Amy and ABC's NYPD Blue. In its later years, SVU consistently outperformed Law & Order in the Nielsen ratings for first run episodes until the latter ended in 2010.
Seasonal rankings (based on average total viewers per episode) of Law & Order: SVU.
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.
SeasonEpisodesTimeslot (EST)Season premiereSeason finaleTV seasonRankingViewers
(in millions)
122Monday 9:00 p.m. (1999)
Friday 10:00 p.m. (2000)
September 20, 1999May 19, 20001999–2000#3312.18[58]
221Friday 10:00 p.m.October 20, 2000May 11, 20012000–01#2913.1[59]
323September 28, 2001May 17, 20022001–02#1415.2[60]
425September 27, 2002May 16, 20032002–03#1614.83[61]
525Tuesday 10:00 p.m.September 23, 2003May 18, 20042003–04#2112.72[62]
623September 21, 2004May 24, 20052004–05#2313.46[63]
722September 20, 2005May 16, 20062005–06#2413.78[64]
822September 19, 2006May 22, 20072006–07#3811.94[65]
919September 25, 2007May 13, 20082007–08#3011.33[66]
1022September 23, 2008June 2, 20092008–09#3310.11[67]
1124Wednesday 9:00 p.m.
Wednesday 10:00 p.m.
September 23, 2009May 19, 20102009–10#448.81[68]
1224Wednesday 9:00 p.m. (2010)
Wednesday 10:00 p.m. (2011)
September 22, 2010May 18, 20112010–11#478.84[69]
1323Wednesday 10:00 p.m.September 21, 2011May 23, 20122011–12#677.59[70]
14TBAWednesday 9:00 p.m.[71]September 26, 2012[5]TBA2012–13N/AN/A

[edit]Awards and honors

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has received many awards and award nominations. Mariska Hargitay has twice been nominated for aGolden Globe Award and won once in 2005.[72]
The show has been nominated numerous times for the Emmy AwardMariska Hargitay has been nominated for the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series category 8 years in a row beginning in 2004 and won the Emmy in 2006. Christopher Meloni was nominated for the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series category in 2006. Robin Williams was nominated in the Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series in 2008. The series was nominated in the category Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for Jane Alexander andTracy Pollan in 2000, Martha Plimpton in 2002, Barbara Barrie in 2003, Mare Winningham and Marlee Matlin in 2004, Amanda Plummerand Angela Lansbury in 2005, Marcia Gay Harden and Leslie Caron in 2007, Cynthia Nixon in 2008, Ellen BurstynBrenda Blethyn, andCarol Burnett in 2009, and Ann-Margret in 2010. The series won the award for Plummer in 2005, Caron in 2007, Nixon in 2008, Burstyn in 2009, and Margret in 2010.[citation needed]

[edit]DVD releases

Universal Studios Home Entertainment released Law & Order: Special Victims Unit on DVD encoded for regions 1, 2 & 4.
TitleEp#Release dates
Region 1Region 2Region 4
The Complete 1st Season22October 21, 2003February 28, 2005January 20, 2005
The Complete 2nd Season21September 27, 2005November 21, 2005March 6, 2006
The Complete 3rd Season23January 30, 2007July 23, 2007August 1, 2007
The Complete 4th Season25December 4, 2007September 11, 2007November 21, 2007
The Complete 5th Season25September 14, 2004June 16, 2008July 2, 2008
The Complete 6th Season23April 1, 2008September 22, 2008December 3, 2008
The Complete 7th Season22July 29, 2008February 16, 2009March 4, 2009
The Complete 8th Season22February 17, 2009April 13, 2009June 3, 2009
The Complete 9th Season19May 26, 2009August 31, 2009September 30, 2009
The Complete 10th Season22September 22, 2009December 28, 2009February 3, 2010
The Complete 11th Season24September 21, 2010February 22, 2011[73]December 1, 2010
The Complete 12th Season24September 27, 2011[74]December 6, 2011[75]December 7, 2011

[edit]Online releases

Seasons 1 and 5–12 are available for purchase Amazon Video on Demand and on Apple iTunes as well as Sony's PSN service in both HD and standard formats in the United States.
Seasons 1–12 are also available on Netflix's Watch Instantly feature, and available on Hulu Plus. DVDs of seasons 1–12 are also available for rent.


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