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Law & Order: Special Victims Unit stars reveal why the original show title changed

Benson and Stabler
Benson and Stabler face off in a tense Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode. Pic credit: NBC

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit might not have gone on as long as it has if it had used its original name. 

During a dual appearance on Late Night WIth Seth Meyers, Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni both shared the show’s original title and the surprising reason it was changed.

They also discussed their long partnership on and off-screen and how the franchise has changed their lives. 

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit could have had a wilder title

When it debuted in 1999, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit purely focused on the cops solving sexual assault cases rather than the courtroom antics.

The push from the start was Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) and Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) investigating the crimes as partners. The series had been developed with a more daring title that would have stood out.

Making a dual appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers, Meloni and Hargitay revealed how the series had originally been called Sex Crimes.

More surprising than that is that fans can thank Meloni’s mother for why that title never happened. 

As Meloni explained, “It was called Sex Crimes and I literally went, ‘Okay…’ As did my mother because when we got it, when we screen-tested and we got it, I go, ‘Mom, I got it!’ [She said] ‘You got what?’ [and I said,] ‘I’m on Sex Crimes!’ She’s like, ‘Can they change the name?'”

According to Hargitay, Meloni’s mom was so passionate about changing the title that she eventually went to the show’s creator herself. “And then she called Dick [Wolf] and he did change the name!” she said.

As it happened, the pair themselves had no idea about the name change and were about to say the original name on a publicity tour, Meloni recalled. 

“We were actually beginning to do a little publicity for it and one of the publicists ran up to us — we’re doing a little publicity line and I said ‘It’s great to be working on the great new show, Sex Crimes’ — and she came running up ‘Hey! Don’t ever say those words again! [It’s] SVU.'”

As it happened, there had already been a push to change the title as it would have been too daring for a network drama of the time.

“Nobody will watch a show called Sex Crimes,” Hargitay joked.

Hargitay and Meloni on their partnership

The actors noted the long friendship they’ve enjoyed, bringing up everything from fan nicknames for Stabler and Benson to a funny “recreation” of their first meeting while auditioning for the series. 

The pair were coy on the long-standing rumors of Benson and Stabler getting together. However, Hargitay did seem surprised at the reaction fans had to a Benson-Stabler scene in a crossover episode. 

“I didn’t realize it was so sexy,” Hargitay stated, and Meloni responded, “You don’t watch the show?”

Both actors were grateful to the show for changing their lives, with Hargitay summarizing how what was just another job became a 23-year run. 

“You never think that, after being a struggling actor for so long, that any show’s gonna go. But this was a unique audition for us because when we met, there was a certain chemistry, so I actually wasn’t nervous at the audition. But you never think what happened [with the show’s fame] would happen. You can’t dream it!”

While fans have hope of a Benson-Stabler romance, the interview showed the great chemistry that’s made Meloni and Hargitay a fan-favorite acting couple for over two decades.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Season 23 and Law & Order: Organized Crime Season 2 return with new episodes Thursday, April 7 starting at 9/8c on NBC.

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