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Why Law & Order: SVU's Opening Was Only Changed Once

Dick Wolf's "Law & Order" is nothing short of iconic. At the time of its premiere in 1990, there simply weren't other shows like it. For decades, each episode has started with an NYPD investigation into a usually violent crime, then the signature sound of a judge's gavel ringing twice marks the shift to the courtroom where the District Attorney's office fights to get the bad guy convicted and behind bars. Hence the name — "Law & Order."

Arguably even more successful than the "mothership" series is the spin-off, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." The series introduced detectives Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) in 1999, and it has since gone on entice countless viewers with its investigations. Now in its 23rd season — and with Season 24 coming in the future, per People – "Special Victims Unit" is TV's longest running primetime live-action series, and it has certainly established Wolf as a mainstay name in the television industry (via TV Line).

No doubt a huge contributor to "Law & Order" and "SVU's" lasting legacy is the unforgettable opening intro. Both shows include the jazzy theme song written by Mike Post, and opening lines narrated by Steven Zirnkilton (per Zirnkilton's IMDb page). In fact, the opening intro is so iconic, that it's only been changed once in "SVU" history — and when it happened, it was for a historic reason.

The Law & Order: SVU opening was changed after 9/11

When you are flipping through channels and start to hear the words: "In the criminal justice system, sexually-based offenses are considered especially heinous," you know the crime drama "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" is about to start. It's all thanks to the work of narrator Steven Zirnkilton, whose serious delivery of those famous lines sets the tone for every episode. Throughout the show's 20-plus-year run, the opening lines only changed once, and it was after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 

Zirnkilton read the following lines for a number of episodes in Season 3: "On September 11, 2001, New York City was ruthlessly and criminally attacked. While no tribute can ever heal the pain of that day, the producers of Law & Order dedicate this season to the victims & their families and to the firefighters and police officers who remind us with their lives and courage what it truly means to be an American" (via YouTube).

Given the show being set in New York City, it makes complete sense why they would change the intro for Season 3. The intro also changed to replace several shots of the World Trade Center in Season 3, starting with Episode 11. "Special Victims Unit" has since returned to the original narration.

However, now that Season 21 of the original "Law & Order" is on the way — and that theme is certainly no less iconic – it'll be interesting to see what the creators do with the show's iconic opening lines, since that show has been off the air for over 10 years.