How the Kavanaugh Hearings Informed ‘Law & Order: SVU’s’ Storytelling

With its upcoming 21st season, NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU” is primed to hit an important milestone: becoming the longest-running live-action series on a primetime network. But although its procedural format has not changed much since its inception, showrunner Warren Leight is still finding new ways to keep its storytelling fresh — from taking inspiration from a variety of sources rather than ripping from one specific headline, to incorporating evolving interview techniques.

“There’s been enormous research into this thing called ‘trauma-informed interview techniques.’ You saw at the Kavanaugh hearings there were these mostly older white male senators saying, ‘What time did this happen? What was the address?’ and people who undergo traumas don’t recall the things that are ‘Who, what, when, where.’ Which is why for years cops thought victims were lying because they couldn’t immediately come up with everything in a linear order,” Leight said at the Paley Center for Media in New York Wednesday night.

“With new techniques developed by the Army, you let people let the story unfold; you ask them what they remember in a different way. Because, what happens during trauma is your executive function shuts down and your lizard brain takes over, and that’s where your memory is encoded. So, learning about that informs our season. All the interview scenes with victims will be different this year.”

The record-making 21st season of “Law & Order: SVU” starts with a case centered on an actress who accuses a high-powered media mogul of attempted rape, which might make many viewers think of Harvey Weinstein. But Leight shared that he feels the best episodes of the show are the ones that “take 15 different stories and read 10 different articles on each one, and invent a perp or construct a scenario that has elements of all of them.” Leight has found these are the episodes that “resonate more” with the audience.

Series star Ice-T who plays Sergeant Odafin “Fin” Tutuola spoke to how the show resonates by admitting he didn’t know “this show was therapy for people” in the early days, but after about a year of women coming up to him and saying thank you, he started to see its importance in a new light.

“A lot of them are getting closure in a way because they’ve seen justice and maybe in their life they didn’t have justice,” he said. “So they’re hoping that maybe [Fin] will get justice. I’ll be that hero that’ll get that bad guy off the street. It’s wonderful to be on something that actually has some socially redeeming value considering most entertainment is just entertainment.”

For series star and executive producer Mariska Hargitay, who plays Lieutenant Olivia Benson, the personal and professional have interwoven greatly over the years. She created the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2004 as an aid to survivors of sexual violence, child abuse and domestic violence. She also recently won a News & Broadcasting Emmy for her documentary “I Am Evidence,” shedding light on the issue of rape kits remaining untested in police custody, an issue that will show up in an upcoming episode of “SVU.”

“We’re telling stories which we’ve waited too long to hear,” Hargitay told Variety. “We’re trying to change the culture and trying to raise all survivors’ voices, but also those whose voices have been historically marginalized. So, that’s what we aim to do here — to make survivors feel like the world is a little smaller and they are in community and are being respected and dealt with with empathy and compassion.”

More TV

  • What to Watch on TV This

    What to Watch on TV This Week: ‘Picard' Premieres and 'Shrill' Returns

    Welcome back to Tune In: our weekly newsletter offering a guide to the best of the week’s TV. Each week, Variety’s TV team combs through the week’s schedule, selecting our picks of what to watch and when/how to watch them. This week, “Star Trek: Picard” beams into existence on CBS All Access and “Shrill” returns [...]

  • SAG Awards 2020: What You Didn't

    SAG Awards 2020: From Charlize Theron to 'Parasite,' What You Didn't See on TV

    Brad Pitt made a crack about his marriages. Robert De Niro got political. And Jennifer Aniston talked about appearing in a commercial for Bob’s Big Boy. Those were just some of thing that happened on stage at the SAG Awards that were broadcast on TNT/TBS on Sunday night. However, Variety was inside the Shrine Auditorium [...]

  • Edges Unknown

    TCB, Cineflix, All3Media Announce Sales Ahead of NATPE Miami

    Miami’s NATPE market kicks off on Tuesday, but deal announcements are already landing. London-based TCB Media Rights has sold 130 hours of content to Latin America, Cineflix and National Geographic Latin America closed a deal for four titles, and Discovery Latin America picked up popular makeover format “10 Years Younger” from All3Media. TCB’s 130 Hours [...]

  • U.K. Broadcaster Channel 5 Readies Thomas

    U.K. Broadcaster Channel 5 Readies Thomas Markle Documentary

    ViacomCBS-backed U.K. broadcaster Channel 5 will air a 90-minute documentary on Meghan Markle’s father Thomas Markle. Markle and her husband Prince Harry sparked a global media frenzy earlier this month with their decision not to continue as senior members of the British Royal Family. Buckingham Palace announced that the couple are to lose their royal [...]

  • Tony Hall BBC Director General

    BBC Boss Tony Hall Lands at U.K.'s National Gallery

    BBC director general Tony Hall has been appointed chair of the board of trustees of the National Gallery. The executive, who has served on the Gallery’s board since November, takes over as chair from Sir John Kingman, who has been interim chair since Hannah Rothschild stood down from the role in September. Hall said: “The [...]

  • Fox TV Stations Greenlight 'Central Ave'

    Fox TV Stations Greenlight 'Central Ave' From Will Packer, Debmar-Mercury

    Fox Television Stations has ordered the weekly entertainment news magazine “Central Ave,” which hails from prolific film and TV producer Will Packer and Lionsgate’s Debmar-Mercury. Debmar-Mercury and Will Packer Media will produce two half-hour shows per week of “Central Ave,” which tackles pop culture and other topics from a “socially conscious and diverse lens,” per [...]

  • Frontrunners Emerge As BBC's Tony Hall

    Frontrunners Emerge as BBC Boss Tony Hall Set to Leave Broadcasting Behind

    As the U.K. industry reacts to news of Tony Hall’s intention to depart the BBC this July, top-level executives including Charlotte Moore and Tim Davie as well as external contenders such as Channel 4’s Alex Mahon are beginning to emerge. Variety understands that Lord Hall, who has headed the BBC for seven years as director [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content