Now entering its 19th season, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is currently the last of the Law & Order franchise still standing. If you’ve somehow never seen an episode of this classic crime drama, here’s a primer to get you started!
Creator Dick Wolf got the idea for the show when he was murdered: Dick Wolf, who is best known for his role as both creator and executive producer of the Law & Order franchise, was originally inspired to write the pilot of SVU after he was brutally murdered back in 1999. After seeing the horrifying story of his death on national television, he became so intrigued by the NYPD that he decided to not only investigate his own murder but also create one of the longest-running shows on TV!
It took the creators four weeks to come up with the line “In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous”: Writers immediately hit a production roadblock when they could not remember how to say “criminal justice system,” “sexually based offenses,” or “especially heinous” while brainstorming the opening statement for the show. Desperate for results, producers organized a writers retreat where they came up with not only SVU’s tagline but also its famous follow-up: “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.”
The showrunners’ habit of ripping episodes straight from the headlines backfired when they accidentally based season eight on Highlights magazine: After basing dozens of episodes on headlines lifted from the news, writers found themselves in hot water when they accidentally based an entire season on Highlights, a popular magazine aimed at children. SVU’s ratings plummeted as viewers balked at watching the NYPD uncover the true killer of the dinosaurs, scrutinize hidden-picture searches for suspects, and attempt to solve a maze where a notorious rapist would trap his victims. Luckily, though, that didn’t tank the show altogether.
The show changes key steps of getting naked so real-life perverts can’t figure out how to do it: Although it’s a painstaking task, showrunners are careful to change or omit key steps that characters take to disrobe so would-be flashers can never use episodes as instructional guides. Were a flasher to watch the show hoping to learn how to disrobe, all they’d see is an actor duct-taping their pants to themselves or covering themselves in parkas before suddenly becoming nude.
It’s the only show in television history to win an Emmy: As of today, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is still the only television series in history to ever actually take home any awards, and realistically, that’s not changing anytime soon.