Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (often abbreviated to Law & Order: SVU or just SVU) is an American crime drama television series created by Dick Wolf for NBC. It stars Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson, the lead detective of the Special Victims Unit located in a fictionalized version of the New York City Police Department.[1] Christopher Meloni played the other lead detective, Elliot Stabler, until departing from the series after 12 seasons.[2][3][4] Law & Order: Special Victims Unit follows the style of the original Law & Order in that episodes are often "ripped from the headlines" or loosely based on real crimes that have received media attention.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Also known as
  • Law & Order: SVU
  • SVU
Created byDick Wolf
Opening themeTheme of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Composer(s)Mike Post
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons21
No. of episodes467 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)
Camera setupSingle-camera
Running time40–44 minutes
Production company(s)
DistributorNBCUniversal Television Distribution
Original networkNBC
Picture format
Original releaseSeptember 20, 1999 (1999-09-20) 
Related shows
External links

The show premiered on September 20, 1999 as the second series in Wolf's successful Law & Order franchise. After the premiere of the 21st season in September 2019, the series became the longest-running US live action series on television.[5][6][7]

As of November 21, 2019, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has aired 467 original episodes, surpassing the episode count of the original Law & Order series. It was nominated for and won numerous awards, including the 2006 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series awarded to Mariska Hargitay; the first Emmy to be received by a regular on any Law & Order series. On March 29, 2019, NBC renewed the series for a record-breaking twenty-first season,[8] which premiered on September 26, 2019.[9][10]


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 whom he later killed during what he claimed was consensual "rough sex" in Manhattan's Central Park. The crime inspired Dick Wolf to write the story for the season one episode 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.[11]

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, should Sex 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 Crimes. Barry 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 that are especially heinous.[12] The first episode, "Payback", premiered on NBC on September 20, 1999.[13]

Executive producers

Executive producer Neal Baer left Law & Order: SVU as showrunner at the end of season twelve, after eleven years (seasons 2–12) on the show, in order to sign a three-year deal with CBS Studios.[14] Baer was replaced by former Law & Order: Criminal Intent showrunner Warren Leight.[15] In March 2015, it was announced that Warren Leight signed a three-year deal with Sony Pictures Television, that will allow him to work on SVU one more season, its seventeenth.[16] It was announced on March 10, 2016 that original Law & Order veteran producer Rick Eid would take Leight's place as showrunner starting in season 18. Creator Dick Wolf commented to The Hollywood Reporter, "I'm extremely pleased that Rick had decided to rejoin the family and hope that he will be here for years to come."[17] During post-production of season 18, following the announcement that SVU was renewed for a nineteenth season, it was revealed that Rick Eid departed the series. He will be taking over another Dick Wolf/NBC series, Chicago P.D.[18]

It was announced on May 25, 2017, that original Law & Order and Law & Order: Criminal Intent showrunner Michael S. Chernuchin would be reprising his role starting on season nineteen. Chernuchin was also co-creator and executive producing showrunner of Chicago Justice, another Wolf-related show that was canceled by NBC at the end of the 2016–17 TV season.[19] On April 22, 2019, it was announced that Leight would return as showrunner for the series' twenty-first season.[20]


Many exterior scenes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit are filmed on location in New York City, 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 from which to choose.[21] Fort Lee, New Jersey served as the filming location for Detective Elliot Stabler's residence in Queens, New York.[22]

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.[23] The Archives building was used for police station and courtroom scenes,[22] 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.[24] The show moved into the studio space at Chelsea Piers that had been occupied by the original Law & Order series until its cancellation in May 2010.[25][26]

Broadcast history

With the season eleven premiere on September 23, 2009, the series vacated its Tuesday 10 p.m. ET slot because NBC began a prime-time weeknight Jay Leno series. The new time slot became Wednesday nights at 9:00 p.m. ET on NBC, with CTV still airing SVU on Tuesdays at 10:00 in Canada.[27] After the 2010 Winter Olympics on March 3, 2010, the time slot for SVU changed again to Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET, where it stayed until the twelfth season.[28] In the 12th season, SVU moved back to 9:00 p.m. to lead in the newest Law & Order spinoff, Law & Order: LA,[29] until it was pulled from the network in January 2011 to be retooled.[30] SVU moved back to 10:00 p.m. on January 12, 2011, until the end of the 13th season.[31] With season 14, SVU moved back to 9:00 p.m. after a two-hour season premiere event on September 26, 2012.[32] Beginning with Season 20, SVU will air on Thursday nights at 10 PM, after NBC decided to devote their entire Wednesday primetime lineup to the Chicago Med, PD, and Fire trilogy. This will mark the first time ever that Law & Order SVU has held this timeslot on Thursday nights.[33]

Russian adaptation

In 2007, the Russian production company Studio 2B purchased the rights to create an adaptation of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit for 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 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.[34]


Cast of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Cast of seasons 4–5 (2002–04), from left: Ice-T, Richard Belzer, Mariska Hargitay, Dann Florek, Christopher Meloni, BD Wong, Stephanie March
Cast of season 9 (2007–08), from left: Diane Neal, Wong, Tamara Tunie, Meloni, Florek, Hargitay, Ice-T, Belzer, Adam Beach
Cast of season 10 (2008–09) from left: Michaela McManus, Wong, Tunie, Meloni, Hargitay, Florek, Belzer, Ice-T
The cast of season 15 (2013–2014) from left: Raúl Esparza, Florek, Danny Pino, Hargitay, Kelli Giddish, Belzer, Ice-T

Casting for the lead characters of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit occurred in the spring of 1999. Dick Wolf, along with officials from NBC and Studios USA were at the final auditions for the two leads at Rockefeller Center. The last round had been narrowed down to seven finalists. For the female lead, Detective Olivia Benson, actresses Samantha Mathis, Reiko Aylesworth, and Mariska Hargitay were being considered. For the male role, Detective Elliot Stabler, the finalists were Tim Matheson, John Slattery, Nick Chinlund, and Christopher 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.[35]

The first actor to be cast for the show was Dann Florek. Florek had originated the character of Captain 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 for Exiled: A Law & Order Movie, he received a call to be on Sex Crimes.[36] 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.[37]

Shortly after the cancellation of Homicide: Life on the Street, Richard Belzer heard that Benjamin Bratt had left Law & Order. Belzer requested his manager to call Wolf and pitch the idea for Belzer's character from Homicide, Detective John Munch, to become the new partner of Jerry Orbach's character, Detective Lennie Briscoe, 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, Detective Ed Green. The idea was reconfigured, however, to have Munch on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit instead.[37] Since the character of Munch was inspired by David Simon's depiction of Detective Sergeant Jay Landsman and developed for Homicide by Tom Fontana and Barry 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 in which Munch is a main character; as a result, Simon receives royalties every time Munch appears in an episode of the show.[38]

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."[37] 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 Oz again. Winters returned for the Season 13 finale, "Rhodium Nights", reprising his role as Cassidy. He also appeared (as Cassidy) on the two-part Season 14 premiere "Lost Reputation"/"Above Suspicion".[39] He subsequently became a recurring character into season 15. The void left by Winters's departure was filled for the remainder of the season by Michelle Hurd as Detective Monique Jeffries, a character who Wolf promised that, despite starting out as a minor character with one scene in the pilot, would eventually develop. Hurd left the show at the beginning of season two to join the cast of Leap Years.[40] 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.[41]

Initially, the show focused exclusively on the police work of the detectives in the Special Victims Unit of the 16th precinct, with members of the District Attorney's office occasionally appearing as guest roles crossing over from the original Law & Order. From season two onwards, the format was changed to be more faithful to the original Law & Order concept by including court cases. 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 season six 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 season three before being cast as Cabot's replacement, Casey Novak, in season five. Neal remained with the show through the end of season nine,[42] after which she was replaced by Michaela McManus. March returned to the show in the tenth season (after McManus' departure from the cast) when Neal Baer proposed Cabot receive a character arc to revitalize the second part of the season, which would continue through season eleven.[43][44]

Tamara Tunie was cast as medical examiner Melinda Warner in season two after working with Wolf previously on New York Undercover, Feds, and Law & Order. Warner was initially a recurring character but became a regular character in season seven, and Tunie was added to the opening credits at that time.[45] 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. BD 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.[46]

After he starred in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and guest starred as Detective Chester Lake in the eighth season, Wolf felt that Adam 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. Feeling there were too many police characters on the show, Beach left the show after only one season.[47] 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 tenth season. McManus, months removed from a recurring role on One Tree Hill, remained with the series only half a season, however, before departing for unspecified reasons.[48]

Paula Patton joined the cast as ADA Mikka Von. She replaced Stephanie March.[49] However, Patton dropped out after one episode to film Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, and was replaced by Melissa Sagemiller in the recurring role of ADA Gillian Hardwicke.[50][51]

Before the end of season twelve, 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.[52] 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.[53] 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." Wong reprised his role as Dr. Huang in season 13's episode "Father Dearest".[54]

In June 2011, it was announced that Kelli Giddish and Danny Pino would join the cast as new series regulars.[4] 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.[55] The launch of season 13 was marked with a retooling of the show that Warren Leight referred to as "SVU 2.0".[56] Changes that accompanied this included Tamara Tunie's being bumped from the main cast to a guest starring role and recurring actor Joel de la Fuente's 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.[57]

In season 14, Raúl Esparza joined the cast in a recurring capacity as ADA Rafael Barba and prior to the season 15 premiere, Esparza was promoted to a series regular. Also in season 15, Belzer departed the cast in the fifth episode, "Wonderland Story", in which Sgt. Munch retired from the NYPD and took a job in the DA's office as an investigator. Later in the season, Captain Cragen announced his departure from the NYPD, which made newly promoted Sgt. Benson the temporary squad commander. In leaving the cast, Florek ended a 400-episode run as Captain Cragen. In season 16, Peter Scanavino joined the series, first in a recurring role for episodes 1–3 and then was promoted to the main cast in episode 5, with Kelli Giddish, Danny Pino, Ice-T and Raúl Esparza. On May 20, 2015, it was revealed that Danny Pino would be leaving the cast after the season 16 finale "Surrendering Noah".

In August 2017, it was announced that Philip Winchester would recur in season 19 as ADA Peter Stone, his character from Chicago P.D. and Chicago Justice, who is the son of Benjamin Stone, the first ADA on the original Law & Order series.[58] It was later also announced that Brooke Shields was enlisted to assume a major recurring role starting in season 19 of the long-running dramatic series.[59] On February 7, 2018, Raúl Esparza left the series after six seasons.[60] His role was taken over by Winchester. Upon being renewed for its twenty-first season, it was announced that Winchester would be departing the series after the twentieth season.[61]

In March 2019, it was announced that the show will come back for season 21, making it the longest-running live action series in TV history. On March 29, 2019, it was revealed that Winchester will not return for season 21. He tweeted the same day about his departure from the show.[62] On May 16, 2019, the season finale aired and Winchester took to Twitter to thank the cast and crew for the send-off.[63]


By season twelve, both Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni 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's Hugh Laurie.[64] During season sixteen, Hargitay was reported to be earning $450,000 per episode, or $10,350,000 per season,[65] In season seventeen, her salary increased to $500,000 per episode.[66]

Cast and characters

Cast Character Rank/Position Seasons Notes
Regular Recurring Guest
Christopher MeloniElliot StablerDetective (retired)1–12[O 1]
Mariska HargitayOlivia BensonDetective/Sergeant/Lieutenant/Captain1–[N 1][O 2]
Richard BelzerJohn MunchDetective/Sergeant/DA Investigator1–1515, 17[N 2]
Dann FlorekDonald CragenCaptain (retired)1–1516[N 3]
Michelle HurdMonique JeffriesDetective1–21
Stephanie MarchAlexandra CabotAssistant District Attorney2–5, 112, 10, 136, 19
Ice-TOdafin "Fin" TutuolaDetective/Sergeant2–
BD WongGeorge HuangFBI Special Agent4–122–313–15, 17[N 4]
Diane NealCasey NovakSenior Assistant District Attorney5–91312
Tamara TunieMelinda WarnerMedical Examiner7–122–6, 13–1719, 21
Adam BeachChester LakeDetective98
Michaela McManusKim GreylekAssistant District Attorney10
Danny PinoNick AmaroDetective13–16
Kelli GiddishAmanda RollinsDetective13–8
Raúl EsparzaRafael BarbaAssistant District Attorney15–1914
Peter ScanavinoDominick Carisi Jr.Detective/Assistant District Attorney16–16[N 5]
Philip WinchesterPeter StoneAssistant District Attorney19–2019[O 3][67]
Jamie Gray HyderKatriona "Kat" TaminOfficer21–21
  1. Olivia Benson was previously a Detective (seasons 1–15), a Sergeant (seasons 15–17), and a Lieutenant (seasons 18–20)
  2. John Munch was previously a Detective (seasons 1–8) and a Sergeant (seasons 9–15); the character, played by Belzer, first appeared on Homicide: Life on the Street (1993–99)
  3. Captain Donald Cragen was the commanding officer of the unit until his retirement (seasons 1–15); the character, played by Florek, first appeared in the first three seasons of Law & Order (1990–93)
  4. George Huang was the unit's forensic psychiatrist and criminal profiler until his retirement (seasons 1–15)
  5. Dominick "Sonny" Carisi, Jr. was previously a Detective (seasons 16–20)
  1. Christopher Meloni was first billed as "starring" during seasons 1–12.
  2. Mariska Hargitay has been first billed as "starring" since season 13; she was previously second billed after Meloni.
  3. Philip Winchester originally starred as Peter Stone on Chicago Justice, in addition to guest appearances on Chicago P.D. and Chicago Med; the character joins SVU in the episode "The Undiscovered Country".

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[68]

Based out of the New York City Police Department's 16th precinct in Manhattan, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit delves into the dark side of the New York underworld as the detectives of a new elite force, the Special Victims Unit (SVU for short), investigate and prosecute various sexually oriented crimes including rape, pedophilia, and domestic violence. They also investigate the abuses of children, the disabled and elderly victims of non-sexual crimes who require specialist handling, all while trying to balance the effects of the investigation on their own lives. Its stories also touch on the political and societal issues associated with gender identity, sexual preferences, and equality rights. While the victim is often murdered, this is not always the case, and victims frequently play prominent roles in episodes. The unit also works with the Manhattan District Attorney's office as they prosecute cases and seek justice for SVU's victims and survivors with precision and a passion to win and bring closure to the intense investigations. The series often uses stories that are "ripped from the headlines" or based on real crimes. Such episodes take a real crime and fictionalize it by changing some details.[69]

Originally the show focused around the detective pairings of Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson and John Munch and Brian Cassidy. Stabler is a seasoned veteran of the unit who has seen it all and tries his best to protect his family from the horrors he sees every day. His partner Benson's difficult past as the child of a rape victim is the reason she joined the unit. Backing them up is John Munch, and his first partner Brian Cassidy. Munch is a transfer from Baltimore's homicide unit, who brings his acerbic wit, conspiracy theories, and street-honed investigative skills; Cassidy is young and eager to learn from his fellow detectives. These two detective teams received support from Detectives Monique Jeffries and Ken Briscoe.[68] When Cassidy transferred to Narcotics after thirteen episodes, Jeffries was partnered with Munch for the remainder of Season One and Briscoe was phased out. In the beginning of season two, Munch was then permanently partnered with Detective Odafin "Fin" Tutuola, whose unique yet sometimes vulgar sense of humor and investigative experience make him a formidable match for Munch.[70] These detectives were supervised by veteran Captain Donald Cragen who oversaw the team for seasons 1–15. Cragen's tough-but-supportive approach to the team's complex cases guides the squad through the challenges they face every day. Also on the team's payroll is FBI Special Agent Dr. George Huang and Medical Examiner Dr. Melinda Warner. As the resident psychiatrist for the Special Victims Unit, Huang helps keep the officers sane in a field that could drive ordinary people mad. He has also served as the squad's resident criminal profiler, and his insights into the criminal mind have often helped the officers to crack the toughest perps, while Warner has become an integral part of the Manhattan Special Victims Unit, and her personal skills have contributed to the unit's high success rate in closing cases.

The Unit did not receive a full-time assistant district attorney until season two, when Alexandra Cabot was assigned to work with the detectives.[71] After Cabot's departure in season five, she was replaced by Casey Novak, who remained as the ADA until the end of season nine. Kim Greylek became the permanent ADA in the season ten premiere, until Cabot made a return midway through that season when Greylek departed. Cabot remained the ADA through the second half of season eleven. After Cabot's departure, the ADA void was filled by Sonya Paxton (Christine Lahti) and Jo Marlowe (Sharon Stone) until the conclusion of season eleven. Gillian Hardwicke served as the SVU ADA during season twelve. In season thirteen, both Cabot and Novak returned as ADAs. From the beginning of season fourteen, ADA Rafael Barba was SVU's prosecutor, until leaving halfway through season nineteen. Chicago Justice's Peter Stone became SVU's ADA after Chicago Justice was canceled after only one season. In the season 21 premiere, former Detective Dominick Carisi Jr. became the SVU ADA.

In season 13, other big changes happened with Stabler having left in the season twelve finale. Detectives Nick Amaro and Amanda Rollins joined the team filling the void left by Stabler. Amaro brings empathy to his cases while dealing with a stressful home life, while Rollins' dogged persistence and instincts help her close cases, but her secrets could derail her career.


Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has finished its twentieth season and has started its twenty-first season. Each season has aired on NBC and consists of 19 to 25 episodes, each lasting approximately 40 minutes (60 minutes including commercials).

SeasonEpisodesOriginally airedRankRating
First airedLast aired
122September 20, 1999 (1999-09-20)May 19, 2000 (2000-05-19)308.8
221October 20, 2000 (2000-10-20)May 11, 2001 (2001-05-11)259.6
323September 28, 2001 (2001-09-28)May 17, 2002 (2002-05-17)1210.4
425September 27, 2002 (2002-09-27)May 16, 2003 (2003-05-16)1410.1
525September 23, 2003 (2003-09-23)May 18, 2004 (2004-05-18)188.7
623September 21, 2004 (2004-09-21)May 24, 2005 (2005-05-24)169.2
722September 20, 2005 (2005-09-20)May 16, 2006 (2006-05-16)189.2
822September 19, 2006 (2006-09-19)May 22, 2007 (2007-05-22)247.9
919September 25, 2007 (2007-09-25)May 13, 2008 (2008-05-13)227.6
1022September 23, 2008 (2008-09-23)June 2, 2009 (2009-06-02)266.7
1124September 23, 2009 (2009-09-23)May 19, 2010 (2010-05-19)N/AN/A
1224September 22, 2010 (2010-09-22)May 18, 2011 (2011-05-18)N/AN/A
1323September 21, 2011 (2011-09-21)May 23, 2012 (2012-05-23)N/AN/A
1424September 26, 2012 (2012-09-26)May 22, 2013 (2013-05-22)N/AN/A
1524September 25, 2013 (2013-09-25)May 21, 2014 (2014-05-21)N/AN/A
1623September 24, 2014 (2014-09-24)May 20, 2015 (2015-05-20)N/AN/A
1723September 23, 2015 (2015-09-23)May 25, 2016 (2016-05-25)N/AN/A
1821September 21, 2016 (2016-09-21)May 24, 2017 (2017-05-24)N/AN/A
1924September 27, 2017 (2017-09-27)May 23, 2018 (2018-05-23)305.6
2024September 27, 2018 (2018-09-27)May 16, 2019 (2019-05-16)TBATBA
21TBASeptember 26, 2019 (2019-09-26)TBATBATBA


U.S. television ratings

In 2016, a New York Times study of the 50 TV shows with the most Facebook Likes found that SVU's popularity was "atypical: generally slightly more popular in rural areas and the Black Belt, but largely restricted to the eastern half of the country. It's most popular in Albany, N.Y.; least in Colorado and Utah".[72]

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.

Season Time slot (ET) Episodes First aired Last aired TV season Rank Viewers
(in millions)
Date Viewers
(in millions)
Date Viewers
(in millions)
1 Monday 9:00 pm (Episodes 1–9)
Friday 10:00 pm (Episodes 10–22)
22 September 20, 1999 (1999-09-20) 18.43[73] May 19, 2000 (2000-05-19) 15.11[74] 1999–2000 No. 33 12.18[75]
2 Friday 10:00 pm 21 October 20, 2000 (2000-10-20) 13.20[76] May 11, 2001 (2001-05-11) 15.06[77] 2000–01 No. 29 13.1[78]
3 23 September 28, 2001 (2001-09-28) 15.80[79] May 17, 2002 (2002-05-17) 14.27[80] 2001–02 No. 14 15.2[81]
4 25 September 27, 2002 (2002-09-27) 15.60[82] May 16, 2003 (2003-05-16) 13.70[83] 2002–03 No. 16 14.83[84]
5 Tuesday 10:00 pm 25 September 23, 2003 (2003-09-23) 13.23[85] May 18, 2004 (2004-05-18) 18.36[86] 2003–04 No. 21 12.72[87]
6 23 September 21, 2004 (2004-09-21) 14.20[88] May 21, 2005 (2005-05-21) 16.38[89] 2004–05 No. 23 13.46[90]
7 22 September 20, 2005 (2005-09-20) 15.32[91] May 16, 2006 (2006-05-16) 12.97[92] 2005–06 No. 24 13.78[93]
8 22 September 19, 2006 (2006-09-19) 14.55[94] May 22, 2007 (2007-05-22) 10.28[95] 2006–07 No. 38 11.94[96]
9 19 September 25, 2007 (2007-09-25) 12.10[97] May 13, 2008 (2008-05-13) 10.83[98] 2007–08 No. 30 11.33[99]
10 22 September 23, 2008 (2008-09-23) 9.52[100] June 2, 2009 (2009-06-02) 11.34[101] 2008–09 No. 39 10.11[102]
11 Wednesday 9:00 pm 24 September 23, 2009 (2009-09-23) 8.36[103] May 19, 2010 (2010-05-19) 8.61[104] 2009–10 No. 44 8.81[105]
12 24 September 22, 2010 (2010-09-22) 9.68[106] May 18, 2011 (2011-05-18) 8.98[107] 2010–11 No. 47 8.84[108]
13 Wednesday 10:00 pm 23 September 21, 2011 (2011-09-21) 7.63[109] May 23, 2012 (2012-05-23) 7.16[110] 2011–12 No. 67 7.59[111]
14 Wednesday 9:00 pm 24 September 26, 2012 (2012-09-26) 7.19[112] May 22, 2013 (2013-05-22) 6.66[113] 2012–13 No. 56 7.30[114]
15 24 September 25, 2013 (2013-09-25) 9.58[115] May 21, 2014 (2014-05-21) 6.39[116] 2013–14 No. 46 8.18[117]
16 23 September 24, 2014 (2014-09-24) 10.07[118] May 20, 2015 (2015-05-20) 6.96[119] 2014–15 No. 52 8.71[120]
17 23 September 23, 2015 (2015-09-23) 8.27[121] May 25, 2016 (2016-05-25) 7.19[122] 2015–16 No. 52 8.31[123]
18 21 September 21, 2016 (2016-09-21) 7.83[124] May 24, 2017 (2017-05-24) 6.22[125] 2016–17 No. 48 7.39[126]
19 24 September 27, 2017 (2017-09-27) 5.67[127] May 23, 2018 (2018-05-23) 6.12[128] 2017–18 No. 39 8.57[129]
20 Thursday 10:00 pm 24 September 27, 2018 (2018-09-27) 5.09[130] May 16, 2019 (2019-05-16) 3.58[131] 2018–19 No. 51 7.41[132]
21 TBA September 26, 2019 (2019-09-26) 3.84[133] 2019-20

Awards and honors

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has received many awards and award nominations. Mariska Hargitay has twice been nominated for a Golden Globe Award and won once in 2005.[134]

The show has been nominated numerous times for the Emmy Award. Mariska 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 and Tracy Pollan in 2000, Martha Plimpton in 2002, Barbara Barrie in 2003, Mare Winningham and Marlee Matlin in 2004, Amanda Plummer and Angela Lansbury in 2005, Marcia Gay Harden and Leslie Caron in 2007, Cynthia Nixon in 2008, Ellen Burstyn, Brenda Blethyn, and Carol 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.[135]

Broadcast and streaming

Law and Order SVU airs on NBC in the United States. All seasons, including the season that is currently on the air, are available to stream on Hulu (with a subscription). The latest 5 episodes can be watched for free on[136] and the NBC app.[137] Outside of SVOD and NBC platforms, most episodes (outside of seasons 2–4 in the United States for reasons unknown) can be found on electronic sell-through platforms such as iTunes[138] and Amazon Prime Video.[139]


As of September 2017, the show is rerun on fellow NBCUniversal network USA, as well as Ion Television and local stations. The show also briefly ran on Syfy in 2006. In 2008, Fox obtained rights to air Law and Order:SVU on Fox-owned TV stations, and began doing so in the fall of 2009.[140]


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