Mariska Hargitay, Christopher Meloni, Peter Scanavino, Octavio Pisano and more of the current and past stars of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit reflected on the show’s 25 years, becoming the longest-running live-action series in television history, at a celebration event Tuesday.
At the heart of the show, which investigates sexually heinous crimes in New York City, is Hargitay’s Captain Olivia Benson. She has been the center of the series since episode one aired in 1999 and has climbed through the ranks to lead the team, coming across her own set of struggles along the way.
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Hargitay believes a lot of things contribute to the show’s continued success and dedicated fans, from series creator Dick Wolf’s vision to the great writing.
“I think it is such incredibly important subject matter that is finally being dealt in a respectful manner in the way that it deserves to be,” she told The Hollywood Reporter at the show’s NYC anniversary event.
Hargitay recently opened up in an essay for People about the trauma she endured for years after she was raped by a friend in her 30s, explaining how playing Benson has given her and viewers courage to speak up.
“I think we’re telling people stories that haven’t been told, that deserve to be told, that we’re approaching with the attention to detail that should have been part of our culture for a long time, and now, this show has changed that. So it’s incredibly powerful and shifting the narrative on how survivors are treated,” Hargitay added to THR, getting visibly emotional. “It’s an important show.”
Scanavino takes on the role of Dominick Carisi, a former SVU detective who now serves as the assistant district attorney for the Manhattan division of the New York Police Department. He feels like the fact that the show is entertaining is part of what keeps people coming back, but he thinks it also goes a step further than that.
“It’s oddly comforting to people, but I think it gives voice to a lot of people who don’t have voices, and there’s something … appealing’s the wrong word,” he told THR. “It’s just more like, ‘It’s gonna be OK.’ I think it has that kind of effect on people.”
After 12 years on the show portraying Benson’s partner, Elliot Stabler, Meloni left SVU and returned to the Law & Order universe in 2021 for a new series titled Organized Crime, in which he is part of a task force that investigates, well, organized crime.
Meloni touched on how his character has grown over the years, detailing how the Stabler people see in SVU and the one in OC are different.
“Getting away and getting into the world, I think he was … he’s become a little more worldly,” he told THR. “I think that getting away from Benson, he was finally able to deal with some of his bullshit. I think he’s now a guy who’s ready to heal himself or has the tools to go to therapy and figure out his blind spots.”
SVU and OC have had a few crossover episodes since the newest installment in the franchise aired. One of Meloni’s co-stars, Ainsley Seiger, explained at the 25th anniversary celebration that she feels Hargitay is a big part of the show’s staying power because she’s kept it fresh and alive all these years.
She also echoed Hargitay and Scanavino’s sentiments about why the series continues to resonate with people more than two decades after its release.
“SVU exists in this world where the trauma that victims face that people in real life experience on a daily basis is not often treated with diligence or respect or with much tact,” Seiger said. “I think seeing a world in which you know victims’ trauma is handled gently and delicately, and you’re told that it’s not your fault, is perhaps one of the most important things that we could see on television.”
For Pisano, who portrays detective Joe Velasco on SVU, the show serves as more than just a sensitive way to handle tough stories. “These are things that we see in the news that we see a lot come up, and there’s no closure,” he explained to THR. “So I feel like, in a way, the show gives closure. In a way, it’s therapy.”
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit season 25 premieres on NBC on Thursday at 9 p.m.
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