Christopher Meloni was starring on Oz (1997) simultaneously with this series. He eventually left "Oz" because he felt that he could no longer do both shows at the same time. But Meloni missed "Oz" and decided to return the next season. He decided that being able to work on two great shows simultaneously was worth the physical and emotional toll.
Richard Belzer originally asked Dick Wolf if Munch could join Law & Order (1990) as Lennie Briscoe's new partner. But Jesse L. Martin had already been cast. Belzer later heard about this new series and asked to join on the condition that Dean Winters be cast as his partner. Winters was still under contract with Oz (1997) and had to leave the show after the first thirteen episodes. Winters returned as a recurring cast member in the 14th season.
Many of the actors on the show previously starred on the HBO drama Oz (1997) including Dean Winters and BD Wong. Most notable, and ironic, is Christopher Meloni (Detective Stabler) who played a sadistic rapist and murderer on OZ and now hunts them on SVU.
The series was originally proposed under the title Sex Crimes, and unrelated to the Law & Order (1990) brand. NBC thought the title was too harsh, and after discussions between network executives and Dick Wolf (creator of Law & Order (1990)) it became part of the Law & Order brand, debuting as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999).
Like its sister series Law & Order (1990), SVU episodes are often advertised as being "ripped from the headlines". Many people mistake this to mean that they are based on real events. In reality, the slogan is referring to the show's practice of coming up with stories that are partially inspired by recent headlines. However, only a fairly small portion of the episode will resemble the real incident or incidents that it is inspired by. There might be a few scenes that resemble a well known headline while the majority of the episode goes in a different direction or there could be one character that is based on a famous individual but the circumstances the person encounters are largely made up.
The following statement appears at the beginning of each and every episode: "In the criminal justice system, sexually-based offenses are considered especially heinous. In New York City, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad known as the Special Victims Unit. These are their stories."
Although viewers had long wondered if the character George Huang was gay (as is the actor who plays him, B. D. Wong), his homosexuality was not verified until the Season 11 episode Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Hardwired (2009). Even for a show and a franchise that is notoriously parsimonious with personal information about its characters, that is an extraordinarily long time for basic personal information to be withheld about a regular character on a TV series (by contrast, both Detectives Stabler and Benson were established as heterosexual during the show's first season through dialogue and subplots about Stabler's marriage and Benson's dating habits).
The photo in the opening credits for Dann Florek (from the beginning of the show) and Ice-T (starting with the second episode of season 2) have not changed since they first appeared on the show. The photo for Mariska Hargitay has changed four times (Season 1 has one photo, seasons 2-4 and the first four episodes of season 5 have another, the rest of season 5 has a third, and seasons 6-8 have a fourth). Christopher Meloni, Richard Belzer and BD Wong got new photos starting with the fifth episode of season 5 (coinciding with the debut of Diane Neal as ADA Casey Novak). Diane Neal had one photo for season five, a second for seasons 6 and 7, and a new photo for season 8. Tamara Tunie, who first appeared in the opening credits in season 7, has a new photo for season 8.
Peter Scanavino made his SVU debut as a janitor named Johnny Dubcek in Season 14 "Monster's Legacy" before he joined the SVU team by the name of Dominick 'Sonny' Carisi, Jr., at the start of Season 16.
In season 15, episode 5, actress Sofia Vassilieva plays rape victim Sara Walsh. In this same episode, a suspect of her rape was also a suspect in the rape of a woman named Celine Dubois. Dubois is the last name of her character in the hit television show "Medium".