March 21, 2021
More than 400 episodes and 22 seasons aired, “Law and Order: SVU” is undoubtedly a success story. Now, more than 20 decades since its first episode, the creators reflect on the secret behind its prosperity.
When Dick Wolf’s “Law and Order: SVU” first premiered on September 20, 1999, not everyone, including the creators, was confident it would be successful. However, with 22 seasons and over 30 awards, the series has undoubtedly broken barriers.
The NBC procedural television show has stayed relevant for more than 20 years, but its longevity is no coincidence, according to its primary cast and creators. A lot of deliberate effort was put into making it one of the most-watched shows.
A portrait of some of the cast of "Law and Order: SVU" on September 10, 2019 | Photo: Getty Images
HIRING THE RIGHT CAST
When the show was launched, it was essential to Wolf and producers Peter Jankowski and Judy McCreary to pick the right cast, and choosing the lead star to be Mariska Hargitay played a huge role in its success. Hargitay recalled in an interview:
“I didn’t know a lot about sexual assault or domestic violence back then, but I knew I’d never connected to a script more.”
A portrait of some of the cast of "Law and Order: SVU" on set on November 22, 2019 | Photo: Getty Images
That was the starting point for the show as Hargitay, who plays Captain Olivia Benson, told Wolf that the part was meant for her during the audition. For Tamara Tunie and Isabel Gillies, and Stephanie March, it was the same magical feeling with the script.
Another factor that has influenced the show’s ratings over the years is the several A-list celebrities with guest appearances.
Apart from getting the right cast, Wolf was keen on having an overall feminine presence on the show, given that it was focused on shining the light on violence against women and getting the necessary justice.
He chose to have a majorly-female writing room and on the creative team generally. Executive producer Julie Martin explained that her work on the series was the first time in her career she wasn’t the only woman in a show.
THE SECRET INGREDIENT
Although hiring the right actors alongside a largely-female creative team was essential in bringing the captivating storyline to life, the one rule that amounts to the success of the show was Wolf’s instruction about the difference in perspective.
The 74-year-old creator reportedly wanted each character in the series to have a different point of view. It was why Benson and Detective Stabler, played by Christopher Meloni, worked well as partners despite having different personalities.
CELEBRITY GUEST STARS
Another factor that has influenced SVU’s ratings over the years is the several A-list celebrities with guest appearances. Some notable stars included Elizabeth Banks, Henry Winkler, Jane Krakowski, and Ludacris.
Of the original cast, here are some stars who have left the series. Meloni exited after season 12 and is set to star in a new spinoff. March, who played A.D.A. Alexandra Cabot, left after season 5 and returned for seasons 10-13 before her final exit.