That familiar "cha-CHUNG" sound effect from the opening credits of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit this Thursday will signal the debut of a new season and something else—TV history. The show's 21st season launch makes it the longest running prime-time live-action series in US television history and will finally fulfill a goal that eluded show creator Dick Wolf nine years ago with the original Law & Order, the AP reports. His hope now? Twenty-five seasons, of course. "You keep pushing the goal posts back because you don't get dealt these hands very often, obviously," Wolf tells the AP. "It's a continuous thrill to be able to do it." The Mariska Hargitay-led SVU now pulls ahead of Gunsmoke and the original Law & Order, which are tied with 20. (Gunsmoke still has more total number of episodes, while The Simpsons, an animated prime-time series, exceeds them both.)
Wolf has created a staggering amount of TV (he last year produced five shows that attracted 50 million viewers; more than 150 billion minutes were viewed of SVU alone, shown on NBC, USA, ION and Hulu). Some didn't last, but he struck gold with Law & Order, which sparked spinoffs such as SVU, Criminal Intent, Trial by Jury, and versions set in the United Kingdom and Los Angeles. Wolf expected to break the prime-time record back in 2010 when the mothership Law & Order tried to reach 21 seasons—but it wasn't meant to be. NBC seemed to signal it was renewing the show but then canceled it. Hargitay has been on SVU since the start, making her Lt. Olivia Benson the longest-running prime-time drama character of all-time. The achievement by SVU is even more remarkable since it survived its season 13 transition from a two-hander—with Hargitay partnered with actor Christopher Meloni—into a star vehicle for Hargitay.
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