Fans of the long-running police procedural Law & Order: Special Victims Unit can rest easy — if star Mariska Hargitay has her way, the show will extend beyond even a milestone record 21st season, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
This fall, the series will return to NBC for its 20th season, tying both its flagship Law & Order and Gunsmoke, so it's understandable that the cast and crew are already looking ahead to a record season 21 — and even further.
"The joke with [then-showrunner] Warren Leight and I was season 16 was good, and we said season 17, we're going to phone it in," Hargitay said Monday at a Paley Center panel honoring SVU. "That was our schtick on set, because we were so exhausted. And then season 17, we killed it. And then season 18 ... we had a wobbly year. But season 19, I was like, 'I'm sorry, did anyone see the show?' [New showrunner Michael] Chernuchin, every single episode, he outdoes himself."
It's the showrunner's eagerness to collaborate on the series that has Hargitay looking forward to the future.
"This f—ing guy is such a genius, and he listened to everything I said," Hargitay said. "Our writers are so brilliant, and they usually have their own ideas. But he said, 'This is my idea, but what do you want to do?' I said, 'I want to go into what it is like for a woman, like myself, who has three children, and that [difficult work-life balance].' I have three children. Let me tell you something: It costs me every day. Do I quit the show, do I take my kid to school? What do I do? Either way I lose. And only working women understand that."
Hargitay added, though, that she's in it for the "long haul."
"I said, 'You keep writing like this, I'll stay for 25 years." Why would I leave? I'm so grateful," she said. The feeling seems to be mutual, as NBC Entertainment president Robert Greenblatt said they're looking to keep the show moving as long as Hargitay stays on.
The series' continued popularity also comes as sexual assault and harassment are finally pushed to the forefront in the media and bigger, important conversations — in large part due to the Me Too and Time's Up movements.
"I think Dick is a pioneer at bringing these issues to the forefront," Hargitay said. "The issue has been swept under the carpet, and the fact is from every angle, it is a show that respects its audience. We created a show that makes these issues palatable and these characters we can trust that can usher you through the most sensitive, tender, delicate places in our souls. And I am so honored to be the person that does that for people."
In addition to starring on the hard-hitting cop drama and being a mother to her three children — August, Maya and Andrew — Hargitay is busy fighting for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence off-screen, as well. Just a few short years after she began SVU, the actress started an organization, The Joyful Heart Foundation, which works to empower survivors and shed light on these important issues.
"When I started to play this part, I said, 'I don't want to be a female in a man's world,'" she added. "I said, 'I'm going to do it the way I would do it, with all of myself. With all of my badassness and empathy and vulnerability and power and really standing in it.' This has been a beautiful journey for me personally, professionally. I always say compassion and vulnerability are Olivia Benson's superpower. That's the message I personally want to give to the world, because that's what we need more of."
Law & Order: SVU will return to NBC in the fall at a new time slot, Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET.