By Frank Olito
A real crime in 1986 inspired series creator Dick Wolf to create “SVU.”
In 1986, Jennifer Levin was found murdered in Central Park. Robert Chambers, a prep school student, became the prime suspect and ultimately served 15 years in prison for the killing. During the investigation and trial, prosecutor Linda Fairstein jumped into the spotlight to work on the case that became known as “The Preppy Murder.”
Fairstein later became the inspiration for “SVU,” as did the crime itself.
“It goes back to the Robert Chambers case, the preppy murder in Central Park, which we did a variation of in the first season of ‘Law and Order,’” Wolf told The New York Times in 1999. “Since then, I’ve wanted to get deeper into the psychology of crimes like that, the role of human sexuality.”
Wolf then created “SVU,” a spin-off of his other successful series “Law and Order.”
Before it became known as “Special Victims Unit,” the show was supposed to be called “Sex Crimes.”
The series was originally called “Law and Order: Sex Crimes” before the network decided to change it.
A politician-turned-actor is behind the voice heard at the beginning of each episode.
At the beginning of every “SVU” episode, an ominous voice says, “In the criminal justice system …”
That voice belongs to Steve Zirnkilton. He played a detective on the series premiere, but a producer told him to come back to record the opening lines. That recording has played before every episode of the series except for the premiere.
“That’s the trivia part of it,” Zirnkilton told The Maine Campus in 2009. “I’m the only one who’s been in every episode.”
Before becoming an actor, Zirnkilton was a politician and a member of Maine’s House of Representatives.
Mariska Hargitay thought the role of Elliot Stabler would be played by John Slattery in her audition.
When Hargitay did a screen test for the role of Olivia Benson, she didn’t expect to meet Christopher Meloni.
“I walked in, she turns around and goes, ‘Slattery!’ I go, ‘No, Meloni!’” Meloni told People this year.
But that didn’t stop the pair from having an instant connection.
“I walked in, saw him, and I went, ‘That guy. That’s the guy.’ It went deep, very fast. We both knew that it was something big,” Hargitay told People. “I won’t say that I fully understood it, but I knew that meeting him was important and life-changing. “
Hargitay met her husband while filming the show.
In 2002, Peter Hermann starred on “SVU” in a recurring role for several episodes. When filming was done, he asked Hargitay on a date. He took her to church, and the actress said she instantly fell in love.
“I just started sobbing. Peter thought I was crying because I was so moved by the service,” she told People in 2019. “No, it was because I was just overwhelmed, realizing he was the one.”
They married in August 2004. They have three children together.
Ice-T was only supposed to be on the show for four episodes.
Rapper Ice-T has played Detective Fin Tutuola since the second season, but he didn’t plan on staying on the show this long.
“I wasn’t trying to do this show because at the time I was running a record label and they said, ‘It’s only four episodes,’ and I was like, ‘OK cool,’” Ice-T told News.com.au in 2016. “But at the end of the four episodes, they were like, ‘We would like to keep you on.’”
Richard Belzer has played Detective John Munch on seven other shows outside of the “Law and Order” universe.
Richard Belzer introduced Detective John Munch on NBC’s “Homicide: Life on the Street” in 1993. When the show ended in 1999, Belzer reprised the role on “SVU.”
While being a series regular on “SVU,” Belzer took Munch outside of the “Law and Order” franchise and made cameos on “The Wire,” “30 Rock,” “X-Files,” and “Arrested Development.”
Several recurring actors made an appearance earlier in the series as different characters.
Peter Scanavino is known in the “SVU” universe as Detective Dominick Carisi, but he also played a janitor earlier in the series. Likewise, Diane Neal played Assistant District Attorney Casey Novak, but she first appeared in the series as an accused murderer.
Hargitay did all her own stunts until she seriously injured herself.
During a chase scene, Hargitay landed on a stunt pad and immediately felt pain in her chest.
“I got up and felt that something inside was not quite right,” she told Redbook in 2009. “At first, I thought I had the wind knocked out of me. I was angry with myself. Later, I thought maybe I’d pulled a muscle, but I didn’t focus on the injury and kept expecting it to get better.”
She chose to ignore it for three months, but the pain got worse and she had trouble breathing. When she went to the emergency room, she found that she had a collapsed lung and needed surgery.
Hargitay has become a trained rape crisis counselor.
In 2018, Hargitay wrote an essay for InStyle explaining how “SVU” inspired her to help rape and sexual assault survivors in the real world. She decided to become a rape crisis counselor, and she started “the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2004 to help survivors heal and reclaim their lives.”
“It has been an incredible privilege to tackle these issues on- and offscreen,” she wrote in InStyle in 2018. “It’s also been overwhelming at times, but whenever things get difficult and I feel like I can’t do something, I always hear my father asking me, ‘Why not?’ He’d always ask me that question when I was younger, and it really taught me that no one can ever tell me what I can or can’t do.”
Meloni played a murderer on another show while simultaneously playing Detective Stabler.
When Meloni was cast as a detective on “SVU,” he was already playing a murderer, Chris Keller, on HBO’s prison series “Oz.” The actor played both parts at the same time for a few years.
“I knew I was the luckiest actor in New York City,” Meloni told “Inside the Actors Studio” in 2016. “To be a working actor in New York City is good enough. To have a steady gig in New York City is a dream come true. To have two, which are awesome shows — forget about it.”
In 2011, Meloni shocked audiences when he announced he was abruptly leaving the series. He reportedly left the show because of failed negotiations.
After the 12th season, Meloni’s contract was up and he began negotiations. He was told he would get an $8 million salary, which would have been a pay cut for him. Since they could not reach an agreement, Meloni left the series, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Out of over 400 episodes, only one never made it to air.
In 2016, “SVU” filmed an episode where a man runs for president despite the fact that a woman accused him of rape. The episode was based on similar events during the Donald Trump presidential campaign. (Trump has repeatedly denied accusations made against him by multiple women.)
As election day got closer, NBC kept pushing the episode’s air date. They then decided it was no longer relevant after Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the general election.
“It’s now really anachronistic, episode about an election a year after an election just seems kind of pointless to air,” NBC chairman Robert Greenblatt told Deadline in 2017.
Olivia Benson is now one of the longest-running characters in television history.
After 22 seasons, Olivia Benson is now considered the longest-running character in a primetime live-action series, according to Deadline. Plus, “SVU” is the longest-running prime-time live-action series.
There is a unique pattern to the episode titles that not many people know about.
If you look at the episode titles from seasons 13 to 17, you will find that the title has the same number of letters as the season number. For example, every episode in season 15 has 15 characters in the title, such as “American Tragedy” (episode three) and “Wonderland Story” (episode five).
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