Law & Order: SVU and its star Mariska Hargitay have cemented their places in television history. NBC has renewed Dick Wolf’s series for a record-setting 21st season, making it TV’s longest-running primetime live-action series, surpassing the previous mark of 20 seasons set by mothership series Law & Order (1990-2010) and Gunsmoke (1955-75). And the police procedural may not been done rewriting TV records books as I hear Season 21 is not currently envisioned as a final chapter.
The renewal also marks a milestone for Hargitay’s Lt. Benson as the longest-running character in a primetime live-action series. Hargitay surpassed Gunsmoke‘s James Arness and Milburn Stone as well as Kelsey Grammer who have all portrayed the same character for 20 consecutive seasons. (Grammer did it as Frasier Crane on two series, Cheers and Frasier, and was a series regular for 17 of the seasons versus 20 for the other actors).
“We tip our cap to Dick Wolf, Mariska Hargitay and the amazing cast and crew of SVU, who now all go into the record book,” said Paul Telegdy and George Cheeks, Co-Chairmen, NBC Entertainment in making the announcement. “This incredible run is an example of what happens when producers, writers and actors all come together and create a show that, year after year, speaks to its audience in a powerful way. We couldn’t be more proud of this remarkable achievement.”
As the mastermind behind the Law & Order franchise, Wolf been instrumental in Law & Order: SVU’s staying power, but a major part of the credit has to go to star Hargitay who plays the show’s iconic Lt. Olivia Benson of the Special Victims Unit of the NYPD, an elite squad of detectives that investigates sexually based crimes. The role has earned her an Emmy Award and eight nominations for Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
While the mothership Law & Order series went through multiple lead cast overhauls, with none of the original cast members staying past Season 10, Hargitay has been Law & Order: SVU‘s heart and soul since the pilot, leading the cast for 20 seasons. The last 19 of them she has had Ice-T by her side.
For the past number of years, Hargitay has been re-upping her SVU contract year by year but there was no question that she would sign on for Season 21.
“As SVU moves into its third decade, Mariska has become an iconic figure as a star, advocate and crusader for women,” said creator/executive producer Wolf. “She is an enduring champion of the movement to end sexual violence, and dozens of episodes have dealt with the very same issues that have shifted into the spotlight in this country in the past two years. Mariska is a delight as #1 on the call sheet and, to me, a true friend.”
Hargitay’s personal commitment to the issues tackled on SVU led her to create and oversee the Joyful Heart Foundation, dedicated to transforming society’s response to sexual violence, supporting survivors and ending the violence. The current priority of the Joyful Heart Foundation is to end the national backlog of untested rape kits, which was also the topic of Hargitay’s 2018 award-winning documentary, I Am Evidence.
“I’m deeply proud to be a part of this groundbreaking show, and humbled to make television history today,” said Hargitay. “The longevity and continued success of SVU is a testament not only to the show’s powerful storytelling and ability to connect with viewers, but to its necessity. We have told important stories for 20 years, and we will continue to tell them.”
While the shot at history undoubtedly played a role in NBC’s decision to order a record 21st season of Law & Order: SVU, the series’ continuous ratings strength also likely helped clinch the pickup.
Thus far in its 20th season, Law & Order: SVU has averaged a 1.9 rating in adults 18-49 and 7.6 million viewers overall (Live+7), winning its new Thursday 10 PM time slot among regular dramas in the key 18-49 demo. SVU also leads the time period in adults 25-54 and all adult-female demos and is more than doubling its 18-49 rating when going from Live+Same Day to L+7 while adding more than 3.2 million viewers.
The history-making renewal for SVU comes nine years after Wolf was denied a shot at breaking Gunsmoke‘s record. In a surprising move, NBC’s previous regime canceled the mothership Law & Order series in May 2010 after 20 seasons. Setting a new all-time longevity mark had meant a lot to the uber-producer, who already has secured five early renewals for next season.
In addition to SVU, NBC recently renewed all three Chicago dramas, while CBS gave a Season 2 pickup to FBI.
In addition to Hargitay as Lt. Olivia Benson, Law & Order: SVU also stars Ice T as Sgt. Odafin “Fin” Tutuola, Kelli Giddish as Det. Amanda Rollins, Peter Scanavino as Det. Sonny Carisi and Philip Winchester as Asst. District Attorney Peter Stone.
The series is frequently acknowledged for its guest players, with Emmy wins for for Ann-Margret (2010), Ellen Burstyn (2009), Cynthia Nixon (2008), Leslie Caron (2007) and Amanda Plummer (2005), and nominations for such renowned talent as Brenda Blethyn, Carol Burnett, Robin Williams, Marcia Gay Harden, Angela Lansbury, Marlee Matlin, Mare Winningham, Barbara Barrie, Martha Plimpton, Jane Alexander and Tracy Pollan.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which has been sold to more than 250 territories around the world, is a Wolf Entertainment production in association with Universal Television. Dick Wolf is creator and executive producer. Michael Chernuchin, Julie Martin, Mariska Hargitay, Alex Chapple, Arthur Forney and Peter Jankowski are executive producers.
Wolf was repped in the deal by Cliff Gilbert-Lurie and WME.