Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU), starring East Ender Mariska Hargitay, has been renewed for a record 21st season, making it TV’s longest-running primetime live action show. The record was previously held by the original Law & Order series and Gunsmoke, both of which ran for 20 seasons. Hargitay, who has played Olivia Benson since the show’s premiere, now holds the record for playing the longest-running character in a primetime live action series.
The NBC crime drama follows the exploits of the Manhattan-based Special Victims Unit, an elite squad that investigates sexually based offenses. Hargitay plays Lt. Benson, who runs the department, alongside her detectives Fin Tutuola (Ice-T), Amanda Rollins (Kelli Giddish) and Dominick Carisi (Peter Scanavino). Each episode tells a self-contained story, though over the years there have been longer yarns, including Benson being kidnapped by a serial killer. SVU is unique among other Law & Order sub-series in that Hargitay has remained the star of the show throughout, only disappearing from screen during her maternity leave.
Over the years, Hargitay herself has become an advocate for sexual assault survivors and justice. She is the president and founder of the Joyful Heart Foundation, which provides support for those affected by sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. The star has won the Golden Globe, Emmy and People’s Choice Awards for her work as Olivia Benson.
Law & Order has been a huge franchise for NBC over the years. In addition to the original series, there has been SVU, Criminal Intent, Trial By Jury, Los Angeles and True Crime, with a new series, Hate Crimes, in development. Hate Crimes was originally supposed to be introduced during the current season of SVU, but NBC recently announced plans to retool the idea.