'Law & Order: SVU' Season 22: How the procedural drama's NFL and Catholic Church storylines impacted the show

'Law & Order: SVU' Season 22: How the procedural drama's NFL and Catholic Church storylines impacted the show
(NBC)

Over its 20+ years on primetime television, 'Law & Order: SVU' has covered some big issues and taken on large, popular organizations. The procedural drama starring Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson is known for "ripping from the headlines" for the cases covered on the show. The elite Special Victims Unit headed by Benson within the show investigates and prosecutes various sexually-oriented crimes including rape, pedophilia and domestic violence.

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They also investigate the abuses of children, the disabled and elderly victims of non-sexual crimes who require specialist handling, all while trying to balance the effects of the investigation on their own lives as they try not to let the dark side of these crimes affect them.

Of course, when such issues are tackled, it is only natural that the show dives into sex crimes (as was the original title of the show) that involve major organizations. Past stories from 'Law & Order: SVU' have tackled controversies that involved both the National Football League (NFL) and the Catholic Church. In the early 2000s, when the Church was embroiled in scandal, 'Law & Order: SVU' came under fire for potentially offending its Catholic viewers.

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However, Dick Wolf, the man who created the show, defended what was covered, telling The New York Times in 2002, "We say our shows are ripped from the headlines, so should we ignore this?" He continued, "What can we say that would be any worse than what has been in the newspapers for the last two months?" Wolf's comments came after he fielded many angry phone calls from Catholic anti-defamation organizations.

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Former 'Law & Order: SVU' showrunner Warren Leight also made his opinions clear on the interferences of both the Catholic Church and the NFL as he tried to depict real-life issues that involved both the organizations. Leight spoke to E! Online after his run with the show ended with its 17th season, saying, "Two things I've learned: Don't go after the NFL or the Catholic Church if you want an 'Atta boy' from the network."

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He went on to say that while both the NFL and the Catholic Church spoke about championing domestic violence victims and going after predators respectively, both organizations pressured the producers to drop the NFL and Catholic Church centric stories. To Slate, he said, “There is no bigger moneymaker for all network television, and we went there twice since I’ve been here...Nobody’s asked me to do a lot more of those, though.”

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Leight said to E!, "I wish in both cases those organizations were as quick on the draw against domestic violence or against predators in their midst as they are about bad publicity about those things. What they are exceptionally good at is keeping on top of anything that makes them look bad. That was interesting, but I will say to NBC and Dick [Wolf's] credit, we always got to tell the stories we wanted to. I don't see a lot of shows on networks telling those stories."

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'Law & Order: SVU' Season 22 premieres on NBC on Thursday, November 12, at 9/8c.

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