Biggest secrets from the set of Law & Order: SVU

Now in its 19th season, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (or "SVU," as fans have come to call it) has been keeping audiences riveted for almost two decades with its ripped-from-the-headlines episodes. Detailing investigations by detectives in Manhattan's Special Victims Unit (which handles sex crimes), the show keeps pace with the news cycle and never fails to entertain with nonstop celebrity cameos. 

Read on for more behind-the-scenes goss and information on your favorite detectives. 

Mariska experienced a collapsed lung as a result of a stunt

Mariska Hargitay's work as detective Olivia Benson earned her an Emmy in 2006 for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, along with a 2005 Golden Globe award.  For all the accolades, the role has cost her quite a bit, physically, too.

In 2009, Hargitay described to Redbook magazine how she sustained an injury while shooting a stunt in October 2008. Hargitay explained, "I was doing a stunt chasing a bad guy. I'd always insisted on doing the stunts my own way, although I don't feel so strongly about that anymore. I jumped and landed on pads, but on the second take something happened — I just landed wrong. I got up and felt that something inside was not quite right." 

After assuming the injury was something minor, in January 2009, Hargitay found she was unable to breathe. An X-ray revealed that her lung was 50 percent collapsed, resulting in surgery two weeks later. After returning to work on SVU, Hargitay had to return to surgery in March after her lung collapsed again. 

A healthy Hargitay reflected to Redbook on how the entire experience was ultimately an eye-opener, particularly as a mother, saying, "Having a child changes everything. All of a sudden you have so much to lose, so much to live for. Sometimes things in life happen that allow us to understand our priorities very clearly. Ultimately you can see those as gifts."

Ice-T has had a number of feuds

Rapper Ice-T may solve crimes as Detective Odainf "Fin" Tutuola on the show; but in real life, he's had his fair share of conflicts over the years.

In 2007, Ice-T kicked off a feud with rapper Soula Boy after releasing a "diss" track in which he accused Souja Boy of "single-handedly kill[ing] hip hop." Soulja Boy responded in kind with an insulting YouTube video, and so on, and so on. Fortunately, though, by May 2017, it seemed like things had died down.

This wasn't Ice-T's only rap rivalry, however. According to Revolt, he also had a long-standing conflict with fellow rapper/actor LL Cool J. That feud also eventually simmered down, with Ice-T telling Noisey in 2013, "I'm happy for LL."

Ice-T also kicked up an unlikely scuffle in 2010 with singer Aimee Mann. After Mann tweeted a derogatory remark about Ice-T's acting, he responded with his own message: "Hey stop worrying bout my acting b****, and worry about your WACK a** music. In the mean time.. Eat a hot bowl of D***s!" Well, alright then.

Mann quickly apologized for her original comment, and Ice-T was equally fast to forgive. And thus, as Ice-T himself noted, "Once again there's Peace in Twitterland."

Chris Meloni left because of contract drama

Chris Meloni played Olivia Benson's partner Detective Eliot Stabler for over 270 episodes, starting with the show's very first in 1999. However, in 2011, The New York Times reported that he was unable to come to an agreement with NBC execs for a new contract, and so decided to depart. (Side note: Stabler's swan song was also quite the dramatic affair). 

Even though fans were heartbroken, when Andy Cohen asked Meloni in May 2017 whether he regretted leaving the show, Meloni replied, "Not for a day." Still, he insisted to The Daily Beast that his exit was, in his words, "not acrimonious." It was just "handled poorly."

"It was confused and ended with a whimper and not a bang," he said. "It was ham-handed and poorly done, and it all could have been averted. But look: things have to play out as they want to play them out. I wanted it to end differently and I'd given ample warnings and feelings and thoughts, and I wasn't  that's all. It was handled poorly, in my opinion." 

Bummer–but at least we have literally hundreds of episodes to watch when we want our Stabler fix. 

Ice-T was only supposed to be on for 4 episodes

According to Entertainment Tonight, Ice-T originally signed on to appear in just four episodes of the show's second season back in 2000. He explained to News.com.au in 2016 that "at the end of the four episodes, they were like, 'we would like to keep you on.'" 

Despite catching some criticism for playing a cop (Ice-T had previously been most widely-recognized for the song "Cop Killer," after all), Ice-T saw the gig's potential. He told Page Six in January 2017"You think because I am a rapper I should have turned this down? That would have been stupid. I am about getting that check."

The title was originally different

When producer Dick Wolf was conceiving the show, he envisioned it not so much as a Law & Order spin-off as an extension of the show, and therefore wanted an all-original title. 

In an interview with TV Guide, Wolf explained, "There was a lot of pressure to come up with an idea that was unique enough. The one thing I knew that people have an insatiable interest in is sex — the original title was Sex Crimes — but [then head of Studios USA] Barry Diller didn't want to have "sex" in the title so we went with the sex crimes unit's official name [Special Victims Unit]."

Probably for the best.

The show had planned a Trump-themed episode

Prior to Donald Trump's victory in the 2016 presidential race, an SVU episode entitled "Unstoppable" was slated to air on October 12th. According to Entertainment Weekly, the episode would tell the tale of a politician whose campaign hits the skids when multiple women come forward to accuse him of less-than-presidential behavior. Sound familiar?

However, it's looking increasingly likely that the episode will never make it to air, as Vanity Fair reported in March 2017 that the network pushed it back to October 26th, then November 16th, then pulled it indefinitely. Ice-T shared his thoughts on the episode with the magazine, noting, "I think NBC just said, 'You know what? This might be cheesy or corny.' And to put it out now, it's old and stuff. So I think they just got rid of it. I don't know if they burned the s*** or whatever. They paid me for it. I don't give a f***, really. I got my money!" 

Deadline reported in August 2017 that NBC chairman Robert Greenblatt commented on the episode's fate, saying, "It's now really anachronistic, episode about an election a year after an election just seems kind of pointless to air."

We're still keeping our ears to the internet, waiting for the episode to surface nevertheless.

A lot of the show was actually filmed in NJ

Despite the Law & Order franchise's notoriety as a true product of NYC (Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg both made cameos), a large percentage of the first twelve seasons of SVU was actually filmed just over the river in New Jersey. 

According to AM New York, up until the twelfth season's fourth episode, "the precinct scenes, as well as some court shots, were filmed in North Bergen, New Jersey, according to NBC. Det. Elliot Stabler's Queens residence also was filmed in Fort Lee."

The show then moved to a studio in Manhattan's Chelsea Piers.

Mariska Hargitay's connection with Chris Meloni was real

Anyone who follows Mariska Hargitay or Chris Meloni on Instagram knows that the ex-costars are still good friends. (Seriously, selfies galore.) And it turns out their connection both on- and off-set was truly genuine.

Meloni told James Lipton during an interview for Inside the Actors Studio,"[Mariska] was always ready for anything new, like let's try something. Let's try this. Like, yeah, ready to do it. There's always an unspoken shorthand to what we were doing. That makes it just so much easier… And off-camera as well. There's a lot to be said for that when you work with someone 16 hours a day, you better get along when the camera's not rolling as well [as] when it is. And so, that was priceless, I think for both of us." He also told The Daily Beast in 2014 that they "email all the time."

Aw, you guys.

Some cast members have appeared more than once

For a show that's been on the air for almost 20 years, perhaps it's not so surprising that some actors have appeared more than once. In a few cases, bit players went on to become major characters in the show.

Actress Diane Neal played Assistant District Attorney Casey Novak from 2001 to 2008, starting in season five. As AM New York maps out, if you rewind a few years, you can catch her in the season three episode "Ridicule," playing a bachelorette party attendee who's accused of raping a male stripper. In season eight, Kelli Giddish, a.k.a. full-time Detective Amanda Rawlins these days, played a small role as a victim in the episode "Outsider." 

Finally, Peter Scanavino (now Detective Dominick "Sonny" Carisi) played a janitor in the episode "Monster's Legacy" in season 14, just one year before he joined the SVU squad full-time. 

...and so have some guest stars

Along with all the weekly high drama around each episode's specific investigation, memorable celebrity cameos are a big part of what makes watching SVU reruns so fun. It's always a good time to spot "that guy" from another show, or "so-and-so" before they were famous. As AM New York reveals, some celebrities enjoyed shooting guest spots on the show so much that they went back in for more. 

Perhaps most notably, Hayden Panettiere, Sarah Hyland and Kyle MacLachlan all appeared on the show more than once as different characters. Panettiere appeared as a child in season two's episode "Abuse," and then again as a teenager in season six's "Hooked," while Hyland put in appearances as the sister of a victim and a troubled student in seasons three and 10 ("Repression" and "Hothouse," respectively.) Meanwhile, MacLachlan took a turn as a two different grieving fathers in season six's episode "Conscience" and season 13's "Blood Brothers." 

One episode predated the scandal it told

In June 2017, the reality show Bachelor in Paradise made headlines after a female contestant alleged that a male contestant had taken advantage of her while she was intoxicated. The entire encounter was filmed, and prompted heated debates around the producers' obligations to keep contestants safe.

Weirdly, SVU had already aired an episode a year earlier entitled "Assaulting Reality" in season 17 (starring ex-Alex Mack star Larisa Oleynik), in which a contestant on a reality dating show doesn't remember a taped sexual encounter, leading to accusations against the show's production staff. Numerous outlets pointed out the similarities, showing how in this case SVU preempted questions around the ethics of reality programming, especially when it comes to sexual encounters. 

Certain bit players made a real impression

Although there have been hundreds of SVU episodes with countless celebrity cameos, some guest stars particularly shined for the show's actors. 

When The Daily Beast asked which celebrity bit players had left an impression, Chris Meloni replied, "One of the ones that really stood out was Abigail Breslin. She was just a little girl who played someone who was molested or something, but she was so rock-solid." Not surprising, considering Breslin's star-making turn as a child actress in Little Miss Sunshine.

Tamara Tunie, who played medical examiner Dr. Melinda Warner between 2000 and 2015, shared with Entertainment Tonight that "One of my highlights was having [Academy Award-nominee] Isabelle Huppert shoot me. That was just delicious … I've been a big fan of hers for decades. When she came on set, I was beside myself." 

Big stars have loved being on the show

As much as the show's actors have enjoyed working with celebrity guest stars, celebrities themselves have also found the set of SVU to be a great place to work. Academy Award-winning actress Viola Davis, who intermittently played a defense attorney on the show between 2003 and 2008, told Entertainment Tonight that "you always felt like you're part of a family…You felt completely a part of it."

Mahershala Ali, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 2017, similarly felt that "it was great working on such an iconic show" after a quick 2009 appearance. After playing a young mother with a missing child in the 2009 episode "Selfish," Hilary Duff said, "they're so iconic …I loved it. It's nice to be challenged like that as an actor."

It's actually pretty light-hearted behind the scenes

Despite the show's heavy subject matter, the cast and crew of SVU are able to keep it light behind the scenes. In 2013, Mariska Hargitay appeared on the Today show and discussed how "there's a lot of shtick … people come over and they're like 'why is behind-the-scenes like a sitcom?"

From the looks of the blooper reels, it sees like they've always been able to have fun while investigating vicious felonies.