Stars Chris Meloni and Mariska Hargitay reveal the trouble with bringing sex crimes to prime time

By Liane Bonin
Updated September 20, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Mariska Hargitay
Credit: Russell Einhorn/Star Max
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  • TV Show
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  • NBC
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Last month, ”Law & Order” creator Dick Wolf grumbled that NBC execs goofed by slating his new spin-off, ”Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” for Mondays at 9 p.m. He said the show, which debuts Sept. 20, is simply too intense to air before 10 p.m. because of its focus on a team of detectives devoted to solving sex crimes.

But viewers hoping for cheap thrills may be disappointed. ”The show is not here to say, Oh, we’re about sex and the worst aspects of it, and we’re going to show you something really titillating and gruesome,” says star Christopher Meloni. ”You’re not going to see the bloodbath.” Adds costar Mariska Hargitay, ”Rape is not about sex, it’s about anger and violence towards women, and we’re really going to get into what that’s all about.”

However, the show will add a touchy-feely aspect to ”Law & Order”’s business as usual. ”Instead of finding the perpetrator and throwing him into the justice system, this show will have the characters ask, ‘How is this affecting me? How do I deal with that?”’ says Meloni. ”My character has four kids, three of them girls, so for him it’s dealing with finding a rapist, then coming home to find his 14-year-old dressed and ready to go out on her first date. There’s a lot of personal stuff to deal with.” And forget any easy good guy/bad guy conclusions. ”What I was drawn to in this show was the shades of gray,” says Hargitay. ”This is not about the bad rapist and the good victim. There are always extenuating circumstances.”

While Meloni hopes everyone tunes in to the show, he understands why some viewers may shy away from the disturbing subject matter, which won’t be hard to do given the lighter fare on competing networks. ”I won’t say Americans are puritanical, but they don’t deal comfortably with sexual issues, in my opinion,” he says. ”[Potential problems for viewers] can be anything from the crime we’re trying to portray is too brutal, to the language we use to describe the crime.”

Law and Order: Special Victims Unit

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  • TV Show
seasons
  • 20
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network
  • NBC

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