Law & Order: SVU is preparing for an epic milestone in season 23.
The series will hit its 500th episode if all goes well, solidifying its place as the longest-running non-animated primetime scripted series in network television history.
The producers already have big plans for this event, although they’re leaving fans in the dark.
Hitting a record
Right now, the record for the longest-running primetime series goes to The Simpsons, about to start its 33rd season.
While various soap operas have been on for decades, it’s harder to find any show lasting into double-digit seasons. A rare exception was the CW’s Supernatural which just wrapped up after 15 years.
It’s true that Doctor Who began airing in 1963 but that series took an eighteen-year break before airing new episodes in 2005.
The previous record for the longest-running live-action prime time show had been set by the classic Western Gunsmoke, which ran 20 seasons from 1955 to 1975 on CBS.
That was matched by the original Law & Order, which began in 1990. Indeed, among the reasons fans were upset when that show was canceled in 2010 was being denied the chance to surpass Gunsmoke’s record.
SVU finally broke that mark in 2019. Had it not been for the coronavirus pandemic causing industry-wide shutdowns, SVU would have hit its 500th episode earlier this year.
As it stands, they are hoping to make up for the lost time.
Speaking to Give Me My Remote, showrunner Warren Leight shared discussion on how SVU had to integrate real-life events into its latest year.
This obviously included the pandemic and the protests against police brutality in 2020. There was also an episode addressing the concerns of a shift in power on the judicial bench.
“[Going into season 22,] it was pretty clear to me early on we’re going to write about COVID in New York and a post-George Floyd world; those were the two big, huge overarching things, We’re beginning to see [the fallout of that] in our world that SVU takes place in, the world of sexual politics in America, what’s going on. So we want to find what the themes will be for next year based on, as always, what we think is going on in the world.”
The season premiere had Chief Garland (Demore Barnes) hopeful that a major change was coming to the NYPD.
Those hopes were dashed when Garland spoke out publicly on the NYPD’s poor treatment of minority suspects. Not only did the upper brass literally turn their backs on him but exiled him to a desk job.
It seems to be taking a physical toll on Garland, although he assured the others he was more than ready to keep fighting.
“Garland maybe thought the world was going to change, and he’s dealing with a world that is resistant,” Leight notes. “And that might be a starting point for us for next season.”
Prepping for 500
Obviously, the bigger plan is the landmark 500th episode, with Leight acknowledging, “We have begun to talk about episode 500, but I can’t say more than that. I think we have a pretty cool idea for that.”
Leight was silent but indicated there might be an acknowledgment of the achievement in the show.
“I would like at least part of the 500th to be [ours]…sometimes it’s nice to have it be your birthday party and not a group birthday party. It’s okay for people to come to the party, but it feels like 500 is an insane milestone. And so I would hope we have a moment to acknowledge it. Obviously, in the episode, we won’t say happy 500—but maybe I will look for a way to cheat that in.”
Besides that milestone, Leight is also happy about Thursdays now being a “Law & Order” block with SVU, Organized Crime, and the new For the Defense series.
“I’m grateful to have a block like that,” Leight says. “I have no idea how many different lead-ins SVU has had since Stabler left; I couldn’t tell you. And most of them, though nobody’s fault, were not the most compatible, necessarily. So, the idea of having LAW & ORDER Thursday…It’s nice to know we’re surrounded by well-chosen shows, surrounded by friends. We haven’t had that.”
While details are scarce, it seems apparent SVU is ready to celebrate making TV history in style.
Law & Order SVU seasons 1-22 available on Hulu and Peacock.