EXCLUSIVE: The Law & Order franchise has established its own unique production schedule, which involves the series regularly staying in continuous production after the end of the season to bank a few episodes for the following season. The plan this year was to film three additional episodes for veteran crime drama Law & Order: SVU‘s upcoming 16th season, launching in the fall. But, after finishing two of them, the show has decided to scrap the last one due to exhaustion on the part of the cast, particularly star Mariska Hargitay, with the shelved episode to be shot with the rest of Season 16 when the show returns from hiatus. Season 15 is being hailed as one of the series’ strongest, with Emmy winner Hargitay getting notices for her nuanced acting. But it’s been a grueling season, with a lot of emotional performances that has taken a toll on everyone, especially Hargitay, who is the center and the heart of the show and who also made her directorial debut on SVU this past season. Most drama series do 22 episodes a season at the most, Law & Order: SVU produces 24. “In the last 12 months Mariska appeared in 26 episodes, directed one, produced two benefits that raised millions of dollars for her Joyful Heart Foundation, and is also the full-time mother of three young children,” L&O: SVU creator/executive producer Dick Wolf said. “Even a Super Woman needs a break sometime. Instead of shooting 27 straight episodes, we will begin our hiatus and go back to our normal production schedule.” Averaging a 2.5 adults 18-49 rating, SVU ranked as the No. 4 NBC scripted drama this past season, up by 21% in 18-49 and by 17% in total viewers from last season.