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Freshman Contenders: ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’

Spinoff has its own identity

NBC knew it had a good thing in “Law & Order,” but this season the deal got even sweeter.

Ten years into an amazing run that shows no signs of ending soon, the crime series spawned a successful spinoff, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” “SVU,” which chronicles the life and crimes (handled) of the elite Special Victims Unit of the NYPD, especially thrived after a midseason scheduling move to Friday nights at 10. There, it consistently tops ABC’s “20/20” and CBS’ “Nash Bridges,” helping NBC win in the hour for the first time since “Miami Vice” in the 1980s.

The spinoff, a Wolf Films production in association with Studios USA Television, follows Detective Elliott Stabler (Christopher Meloni) and his partner Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay). It also stars Dann Florek, a “Law” original, as Capt. Donald Cragen and Richard Belzer, a regular on NBC’s “Homicide,” as Detective John Munch.

Each week, the team solves new puzzles and consoles new victims (primarily of heinous sex crimes) all while juggling the emotional toll of the job and the pressures it puts on their personal lives.

While some characters from the original “Law” occasionally cross over to help out the “SVU” detectives on cases, the spinoff has developed a strong identity of its own.

Critics have lavished praise on “SVU,” with Newsday touting it as a series “that could quickly become the kind of keeper its prede-cessor has proven to be” and the Washington Post calling it “fast-paced and yet sensitive and intelligent.

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