[This story contains spoilers for the season 25 premiere of Law & Order: SVU.]
Law & Order: SVU opened its landmark 25th season by getting the band back together, celebrating the christening of Rollins (Kelli Giddish) and Carisi’s (Peter Scanavino) baby. And, of course, that happy moment was counterbalanced by a nightmare of a case — the disappearance of a teenage girl in broad daylight.
The NBC series, along with its Law & Order siblings and Wednesday night’s three Chicago dramas — all from Universal TV and Wolf Entertainment — are among the first scripted series to return to the air after the end of strikes by writers and actors (aside from a handful of fall dramas that had banked episodes before the labor actions began). Peter Jankowski, president and COO of Wolf Entertainment and an executive producer of all six shows (along with CBS’ FBI triumvirate, which returns in February) says that the company’s team and each series’ showrunners took getting up and running quickly “really seriously.”
“So many of the people that work at Wolf Entertainment have been with us for so long, that we just know what we’re capable of, and also what’s expected of us,” Jankowski told The Hollywood Reporter. “It starts with the showrunners. When the strike ended, we didn’t have any [scripts] banked at all. In fact, we really hadn’t had any conversations about where we wanted the shows to go in any real specific sense — macro, we [talked about] at the end the last year, but the specific conversations hadn’t taken place.”
Still, he noted, “Everybody knew we wanted to get back on the air as soon as possible. I’m not saying we wanted to be the first, but I think we kind of turned out to be the first.”
Arthur Forney, who heads postproduction at Wolf Entertainment and is also an EP on all of its shows, said there was also a wave of excitement at getting back to work. “We have about 70 people in post, and they were so enthusiastic to return to work — they couldn’t wait to get their hands on the film and be a part of it [again].”
The season premiere opened with a montage of Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) over the course of the series, reflecting on why she does the job as she attends the baptism. Meanwhile, a teenage girl, Maddie Flynn, goes missing when her parents get their signals crossed in a store — and Olivia sees the girl in a van as she’s coming out of the Battery Tunnel on the way back from the christening. She, of course, becomes obsessed with finding the girl even as she can’t reveal she was the witness who saw her.
Forney and Jankowski have both been with Wolf Entertainment since day one on SVU in 1998 (Forney has also directed multiple episodes). The show “is in our DNA,” as Forney puts it, and they also credit series lead Mariska Hargitay (who’s also an EP) for continuing to set the tone after a quarter century playing Benson.
“There’s an emotional energy about SVU that I really haven’t experienced on the show quite as intensely and all starts with Mariska,” Jankowski said. “She’s our superhero. She’s an amazing woman — unflaggingly energetic, kind and is always trying to make things better.”
The investigation leads to a truly creepy place: Maddie’s likeness has been used in a line of sex dolls made to resemble girls. It leads to a man who paid someone to abduct the girl. It’s a particularly SVU story — but unlike most, it doesn’t resolve within the hour. Benson and her squad locate another girl who had been missing for longer, but the episode ends with Maddie still gone and her mother interrupting a hastily arranged press conference to tout the other victim’s return. Both the creep factor and the lack of resolution make the episode indelible even in the show’s long history.
“Every season, every episode, out of all the shows we do — we can talk about one thing in an episode, and we’ll remember what it is because they’re all so unique in their storytelling,” Forney said. “You can remember them because they have a a kind of a signature on each one that is unique. That’s what I think makes the series so special.”
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit season 25 airs on NBC Thursdays at 9 p.m.