NBC Insider Exclusive

Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive show news, updates, and more!

Sign Up For Free to View
NBC Insider Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

How Long Has Law & Order: SVU Been on the Air?

Law & Order: SVU is the longest-running primetime live-action series in television history! 

By Jessica White
Captain Benson and Sergeant Odafin "Fin" Tutuola sitting at the back of a courtroom

How to Watch

Watch Law & Order: Special Victims Unit on NBC and Peacock.

It's hard to remember a time before NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit was on the air. At this point, hearing that "Dun-Dun" sound invokes the natural response to sit back and enjoy an hour of action-packed legal drama. SVU, the Law & Order spin-off that focuses on sexual crimes, has found so much success that during its 21st season, it became the longest-running primetime U.S. live-action series in the history of television. 

That's a lot of episodes, and Law & Order fans are not complaining about it. That's why we're taking a look back at when SVU began and how the award-winning series came to be. 

When did Law & Order: SVU start?

Based on the widespread success of the original Law & Order, which first aired in 1990, the possibility of spin-offs were on the horizon. In 1999, L&O creator Dick Wolf wanted to create a spin-off that focused on sex crimes specifically. After workshopping the title (the original idea was Law & Order: Sex Crimes) the show producers settled on a name that focused on the team responsible for finding justice for these special victims.

The result was the birth of NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which premiered on September 20, 1999. The success of SVU has led to many other Law & Order spin-offs such as Law & Order: Organized Crime as well as the creation of the One Chicago franchise. The 24th season of Law & Order: SVU will premiere this fall on NBC.

How did Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay get cast in Law & Order: SVU?

In the book Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Unofficial Companion, Dick Wolf discussed the need to develop complex characters to star in SVU. "I wrote the pilot for SVU in early 1999, creating two intense, multi-faceted, and complicated characters, Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson. Stabler was a typical cop, a family man with four kids. Benson was the child of rape, so to her, working with special victims was a way to right the wrongs of her own life."

Wolf continues, "We found our perfect match with Christopher Meloni (Detective Elliot Stabler) and Mariska Hargitay (Detective Olivia Benson)... They have become one of the most popular and enduring partners on television." Ain't that the truth! 

Watch Law & Order: SVU  on Peacock. The show returns this fall to NBC Thursday, September 22 at 9 p.m. ET.