NBC Has a Huge Opportunity with Law & Order: SVU’s 25th Season – CBR – Comic Book Resources

Posted: November 30, 2023 at 8:35 pm


Since 1999, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has held an important place in the zeitgeist. Centered around the Manhattan NYPD unit that handles sex crimes, SVU has played a role in changing the rhetoric around sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse. Though no one could have predicted just how popular the show would become, it continues to garner new fans thanks to the stories it tells every week. SVU might have begun as just another member of the Law & Order franchise, but since then, it has taken center stage.

When Law & Order: SVU returns to NBC after the long hiatus, it will be airing its 25th season. SVU will be the first primetime television drama to do so and is second only to The Simpsons when it comes to primetime scripted shows that have 25 seasons or more. Due to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, SVU will have a shortened season of just 13 episodes and will be airing its 25th season premiere eight months to the day after its 24th season finale. It might be one more season for Law & Order: SVU to hang on its wall, but it doesn't have to be just any season.

Law & Order: SVU has never had a problem hitting milestones. In 2019, as SVU began its 21st season, the show became the longest-running primetime television drama in history, surpassing the run of the original Law & Order. Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) also became the longest-running character on primetime television that year, and the show became the longest-running primetime television show led by a woman. In 2021, SVU reached a milestone only two other primetime scripted shows have reached and aired its 500th episode (Lassie aired 591 before going off the air, and The Simpsons has aired 757 as of November 2023).

SVU isn't the only show celebrating a milestone when they return in early 2024. After a 148-day WGA strike and a 118-day SAG-AFTRA strike -- which overlapped for 75 days -- every show that planned to begin filming during the Summer of 2023 will be returning with a shortened season. Being able to write and film these shows after such long fights against the AMPTP is a huge deal for anyone making a television show that has been on hold for months. What will be most important for any show, and especially for SVU, is to take the opportunity to celebrate.

Whether it's celebrating the return of television or the 25th season of SVU, NBC has the opportunity to leverage SVU to support the other Law & Order shows. SVU has always been the most special of the franchise, given the topics that it covers. Many survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse have shared that SVU made them feel safe and helped them begin to cope with their experiences. The show is not without flaws -- no show about cops is -- but there are cultural conversations that would not be happening without the influence of SVU, and that is important to honor.

When considering the celebration of 25 seasons of a show, it's important to consider how to celebrate a character like Olivia Benson. Since the first season of SVU, Benson has been the driving force behind why many people are connected to the show. The first 12 seasons of the show also had the benefit of Benson's chemistry and connection with Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni), but even in older episodes, it is easy to see that Olivia is the key to the show's success. In Season 1, Episode 4, "Hysteria," Benson and Stabler are attempting to solve the case of a presumed sex worker who was found strangled with a plastic bag over her head, the victim of an assumed serial killer. It's Olivia, the junior detective, who not only confirms that they have a serial killer on their hands but that he has been murdering sex workers and placing them in positions so that they look like a string of paper dolls for 31 years. Olivia solved cases nearly as old as she was in the episode, and that was only the beginning of her tenure on the show. It's a testament to who Olivia is, even as a young detective, that she's able to solve such an important component of the case on her own.

After the departure of Elliot Stabler at the end of Season 12, SVU really began to center around Benson. Audiences got to see Olivia take on a new partner, train other members of the unit, and grow from detective to sergeant to lieutenant and finally to captain. She also dealt with several harrowing and traumatizing experiences, including her own abduction and assault. Eventually, viewers saw Olivia do something she'd always wanted to do when she fostered and then adopted her son, Noah. The growth she has experienced as a detective and a person is where much of the show's strength lies.

Part of what makes the celebration of Olivia Benson in Season 25 so important is that when SVU hit its last milestone, the episode left fans looking for more. Season 23, Episode 6, "The Five Hundredth Episode," brought back Nick Amaro (Danny Pino), which was certainly the highlight of the episode, along with the appearance of Donald Cragen (Dann Florek). Amaro returned for the team's help with a cold case and brought along Burton Lowe (Aidan Quinn), a writer and podcaster who also happened to be Olivia's ex-fiance. What the audience learned over the course of the episode was that Burton was not at all who Olivia remembered him to be, and she eventually realized that their relationship was not as safe as she remembered it being -- at 21 to her 16, Lowe had groomed her and committed statutory rape, a reality he was unwilling to face. For many fans, the episode wasn't the celebration of Olivia that they had anticipated, one both the character and its actress deserve. Season 25 is the perfect opportunity for the show to remedy that and prioritize celebrating such an iconic character.

A celebration of SVU's 25th season doesn't just benefit SVU -- it also would do great things for the viewership on both Law & Order and Law & Order: Organized Crime. Initially, Organized Crime was the only show that didn't get a full-season pick-up, but since all three shows will now have a 13-episode season, the doors are opened for plenty of crossover opportunities. When audiences last left Stabler, he was getting ready to go undercover, a plot device that was likely used to explain his not being around until halfway through the season. Now that the shows are returning on the same day, what makes the most sense is for the shows to be on the same timeline, which would put Stabler at either the end or near-end of his undercover assignment.

The coming season brings changes to the original Law & Order, which is losing another lead actor. Jeffrey Donovan's departure will change the makeup of the precinct yet again. Law & Order returned to primetime in February 2022 and has lost one of its main characters every year since; first Anthony Anderson between seasons 21 and 22, followed by Donovan between seasons 22 and 23. Reid Scott (best known for his role on Veep) was announced to be replacing Donovan on November 22, 2023. Law & Order: Organized Crime has also had its share of changes, with the show now on its sixth showrunner in just four seasons. Previous crossovers have provided opportunities for both Law & Order and Organized Crime to see higher viewer numbers and have allowed all three shows to tell more in-depth stories (and keep them consistent). It also does something that many SVU fans hope for every week and brings Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler together.

When Law & Order: SVU's 24th Season and Law & Order: Organized Crime's 3rd season finished, the audience could be sure of one thing -- something big had happened between Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler. In SVU's Season 24, Episode 22, "All Pain Is One Malady," Benson and Stabler partnered together to take down a revenge-for-hire website, Shadowrk. After bringing down several of the people involved, Benson and Stabler fly to Ohio to help the FBI track down the main person behind Shadowrk. When Organized Crime's Season 3, Episode 22, "With Many Names," picks up, Benson and Stabler have discovered that the website is now advertising a hit on both of them. Though they're grounded from helping with the case, they aren't forced to stay in the FBI Field Office, so the two of them and their security escorts head to a diner for lunch, where Benson is shot, and Stabler must carry her to safety. By the end of the episode, Benson is back in her office, and Stabler brings her a gift, one he hopes will "lead her to happiness." It was a moment that thrilled Bensler fans all over the internet.

While fans of the 'ship are still waiting for the kiss that is 24 years in the making, to see the former partners engage in several intimate exchanges was an important step forward. With such a short season coming up, there is likely pressure to fit a lot into the 13 episodes, including additional movement in the Benson and Stabler relationship. As SVU considers how it wants to honor this monumental season, it makes perfect sense to spend time on their partnership-turned-something else. Not only would it honor the relationship that started the show in 1999, it would give the audience ample opportunity to see the growth both characters have been through since Stabler's departure at the end of season 12 -- and his return in SVU's Season 22, Episode 9, "Return of the Prodigal Sun."

Season 25 of SVU began filming on November 27, and fans are ready to see where the writers and actors take the show during this historic season. A celebration of Olivia Benson, all she has done for the survivors on SVU, and all that the show has done for survivors everywhere seems like a no-brainer. What NBC will do and how they will promote and honor the show, is a question that can only be answered with time.

Law & Order: SVU will return to NBC on January 18, 2024 at 9/8c. The show can currently be streamed on Hulu and Peacock.

This series follows the Special Victims Unit, a specially trained squad of detectives in the New York City Police Department that investigate sexually related crimes.

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NBC Has a Huge Opportunity with Law & Order: SVU's 25th Season - CBR - Comic Book Resources

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