First premiering on September 20, 1999, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU) has grown to become one of the longest-running crime dramas on primetime television. The show follows a team of detectives in New York City who specialize in sexual crimes and bring perpetrators to justice. Initially, the show starred Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay as Detective Elliot Stabler and Detective Olivia Benson, respectively. The show turned out to be a huge hit, even exceeding the original Law & Order in the ratings. So, take a look at these behind-the-scenes facts about the beloved show.
Richard Belzer Is A Busy Man
Back in 2016, Richard Belzer, who plays Detective John Munch returned to SVU after taking a two-season hiatus. However, his character isn't originally a product of SVU. The character can be traced back to Homicide: Life on the Street and goes well beyond that.
John Munch is the only character to be played by a single actor and has appeared on more than ten different television shows. Some of the most notable include The Wire, The X-Files, 30 Rock, Arrested Development, and more. There was even a Muppet version of John Munch which was featured in the special Law & Order: Special Letters Unit.
Mariska Hargitay's Lung Collapsed On Set
In 2009, Mariska Hargitay was filming a scene when she is chasing down the episode's antagonist when she felt a pain in her chest. At the time, she ignored the pain, only to learn that her right lung was 50% collapsed. Luckily, she was able to have surgery and fix the problem, however, it gave her a new appreciation for life.
She commented, "[After my lung collapsed] all those old fears about my mom and my grandfather [both of whom died relatively young] came shooting up." With a child of her own, she realized she had so much to live for and needed to pay better attention to her health.
Christopher Meloni Did Not Want Stabler And Benson To Be Romantically Involved
Detective Benson and Stabler's relationship on the show is one of the main reasons audiences fell in love with it. Their chemistry was undeniable, which always left audiences wondering why the two never became romantically involved. The two were involved with other people in the office, so why not each other?
Well, Christopher Meloni was completely against the possibility of the two partners ever becoming intimate. In 2015, he mentioned that a hookup " "would be the death knell of that relationship. I think they needed to keep that line taut and very clear … Keep the tension, never cross it."
A Nod To The Green Mile
One episode of SVU was clearly influenced by the film The Green Mile. In the episode, the detectives are trying to figure out where the bad guy is holding his victims. During the process, they discover that the character is somewhat claustrophobic.
Running out of time, they have no choice but use his weakness against him, and presume to lock him in a cupboard with no light until he talks. This is directly inspired by the prison film The Green Mile.
It Was Originally Called Something Else
For some time, the show had a more NSFW title. NBC had reservations about that title and felt that it might be aggressive in terms of recruiting advertisers or maintaining a strong viewership. So, they decided to use the name of the real-life NYPD unit who focused on these offenses.
They also saw it as an opportunity to make it a part of the Law & Order universe which worked out in the end. On changing the name, Dick Wolf, the creator of the franchise, stated, "We're going to be covering a wide range of crimes and Special Victims Unit just seems more inclusive."
Some Significant Actors Have Had Cameos On The Show
If you recognize some of SVU's guest stars from the red carpet, it's most likely because they are married to one of the stars. The most recognizable guest star is most likely Mariska Hargitay's husband, Peter Hermann, who plays the recurring character named Trevor Langan.
In the show, Langan is the lawyer that helped Benson adopt her son, Noah. ironically, the two even met on the set of the show back in 2001. Even Ice-T's wife, Coco has appeared on the show in three different episodes.
The Man Behind The Iconic Voice-over Is A Former Politician
At the beginning of every episode of SVU, there is a voice-over that explains who the Special Victims Unit are and what they do. It's a staple of the program, with countless fans knowing the entire opening by heart. The man behind the voice is Steve Zirnkilton., who was first hired as a bit player in the Law & Order pilot.
However, Wolf liked his voice so much, that he decided to make him a permanent part of the franchise. Not only does Steve Zirnkilton do voice-over work, but he is also a former politician, serving eight years as a Republican in Mane's House of Representatives.
Ice-T Was Only Hired For Four Episodes
Although Ice-T is a staple character on the show, that wasn't the showrunner's original intention. Before becoming an actor, Ice-T had a career as a rapper that was rather controversial, such as when he released the song "Cop Killer" with his band Body Count.
However, after first acting in Dick Wolf's series New York Undercover, he was hired on again for a role in the Law & Order TV movie. After Dean Winters left SVU, Ice-T was brought in for four episodes as Detective Odafin "Fin" Tutuola and has been there since.
Christopher Meloni Was Juggling Shows
Although you may not have known, Christopher Meloni was starring in Oz in 1997 while working on Special Victims Unit at the same time. However, because of his dedication to SVU, he eventually left Oz because he felt that he couldn't handle both shows simultaneously.
Meloni ended up missing Oz more than he thought and returned to the show the next season. He later explained that working on both shows was well worth the emotional and physical toll he went through.
Shot In New Jersey
Although the show takes place in New York City, with many of the exterior shots being filmed on the streets, that wasn't the case for the interior shots. For the first eleven years of the program, many of the interior shots such as the inside of the precinct were actually shot in their indoor studio in New Jersey.
This happened after Governor Chris Christie ended favorable tax treatment for a television production. Today, they use the studio that was formerly used by the original Law & Order franchise.
Acting As A Guest Before Becoming A Star
Understandably, many of the lead actors in Special Victims Unit had to have acted as a guest star in one of the shows in the Law & Order universe. Only then can they be considered to be a member of the main cast on SVU.
Pete Scanavino, who plays Sonny Carisi, is the only member of the Law & Order cast to have had a guest-starred in four of the five Law & Order show before landing a permanent role.
Mariska Hargitay Is Fluent In Five Languages
When Detective Olivia Benson speaks to people in Spanish on the show, she didn't just memorize a few lines of Spanish for the scene; she's fluent in the language. Hargitay's mother, Jayne Mansfield, reportedly had an impressive IQ of 149 and spoke five different languages.
As a result, Mariska herself also speaks five languages and is fluent in English, Spanish, Hungarian, French, and Italian. Furthermore, her husband spent most of his childhood in Germany and didn't learn English until he was ten years old. Undoubtedly, their children will speak multiple languages as well.
Hargitay And Meloni Met At Their Audition
Even though the two had incredible chemistry from the beginning, they were strangers until they first met during their audition. Before going into the audition, Hargitay had heard that a friend-of-a-friend would be auditioning and the two of them should meet.
So, when she met Meloni, she assumed he was the friend-of-the-friend and the two hit it off. They were then paired together for auditions and knocked it out of the park. Even though there were four other people auditioning, the producers knew that they had found their Detective Benson and Stabler.
There's A Pattern To Episode Titles
Even though they're never shown on screen, every episode pf SVU has a title and followed a particular pattern. Although they weren't consistent during season one, by the end, all of the titles were just one word.
Writers slowly established a routine, and from the 13th to the 17th season, episode titles were each two words and had as many letters as the season they were in. For example, the series premiere of season 13 was titled "Scorched Earth," which is 13 letters in total.
Fans Did Not Like Peter Scanavino's Character At First
Peter Scanavino entered the show as Detective Sonny Carisi, and he wasn't well-received by audiences in the beginning. Luckily for Scanavino's, as the show went on, his character was written to be a much softer and more likable character, but that's not to say it wasn't rough at first.
Recalling fan's initial reactions, he toldThe Hollywood Reporter that "It was my first TV show, but I've also done a lot of plays and I've been panned in plays, but you don't let it affect you. You can't get bogged down in that. You have to bet on yourself, bet that what you're doing is good."
Meloni Left After Negotiations Fell Through
An original cast member and co-star of the show, Christopher Meloni left Special Victims Unit in 2011 after 12 seasons. While many people assumed that he had grown tired of the show and wanted to try something new, the real reason was due to contract negotiations.
When Meloni was asked by Andy Cohen why he decided to leave, Meloni responded saying "When negotiations broke down." Apparently, Meloni wanted a pay raise at the time and the network didn't approve it. Hargitay, on the other hand, stayed on the show.
Some Guest Stars Have Been Oscar Winners
Like all other Law & Order shows, SVU has had some incredibly impressive guest stars sprinkled throughout its seasons. Actors such as Kal Penn, Sarah Paulson, and Carol Burnett among others have graced the show with their presence, along with numerous Academy Award winners.
One of the most memorable guest stars, however, was Robin Williams, playing master-manipulator Merritt Rook, who wanted revenge for the death of his wife and unborn child. Other Oscar winners include Whoopie Goldberg, Jeremy Irons, Olympia Dukakis, Patricia Arquette, and more.
"Ripped From The Headlines" Can Be Misleading
Much like the original Law & Order, episodes of SVU are advertised as being "ripped from the headlines." This leads a lot of people to believe that the stories are based on real events, but that's not necessarily true. It really means that the plot lines are inspired by news headlines and the rest of the episode is essentially fiction.
Their goal isn't to adapt news stories or make them as accurate as possible, far from it. Of course, they still run into issues, such as the 2016 episode "Unstoppable," which featured a presidential candidate and was delayed before the election.
The Show Has Had Issues With The Catholic Church And The NFL
Of course, some audiences have found the show to be offensive and inappropriate, but the show has also had issues with some major organizations such as the Catholic Church and the NFL. When Warren Leight was a showrunner from season 13 to 17, there were two stories that aired about NFL players, which the NFL did not find to be amusing.
The Catholic Church also lashed out against the show after they did several episodes about incidents occurring within the organization. According to Leight, those two establishments are "exceptionally good [at] keeping on top of anything that makes them look bad."
Mariska Hargitay Has Become An Activist Because Of The Show
Inspired by her characters' experiences and what the show stands for, Mariska Hargitay has become an advocate for victims and survivors. Working on the show for so many years, she has been exposed to real assault statistics as well as first-hand stories.
So, to try and help, Hargitay became a trained crisis counselor and founded the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2004. The foundation's goal is to provide assistance to victims, prevent future violence, and try to expedite the process of testing kits that have been backlogged.