Wednesday night, NBC will air what’s billed as the 400th episode of “Law & Order: SVU.” It’s a huge milestone for the show, which is the second longest-running spinoff ever and the second longest-running scripted show currently airing on broadcast TV (behind “The Simpsons” in both cases).
It’s also not, technically, the 400th “SVU” to make it to the air — even though it is the 400th “SVU” made.
Here’s how the episode, titled “Motherly Love” and directed by long-time star Mariska Hargitay, can be both the 400th show and not the 400th show.
“Motherly Love” is in fact the 400th episode of the series to be filmed. It’s the fifth episode Hargitay has directed, and it’s likely to pull-in above average ratings given the promotional push NBC has put behind it. But thanks to a scheduling change, “Motherly Love” will actually be the 399th episode of the show viewers see.
“SVU” has an episode in the can featuring guest star Gary Cole as a wealthy businessman-turned-political candidate who’s dogged by allegations of sexual misconduct. It was, yes, inspired by then-candidate Donald Trump (though the script was written well before the “Access Hollywood” tape leaked last October).
The episode was originally scheduled to air in the fall, but NBC has now shelved it indefinitely. Executive producer Dick Wolf has said he hopes the episode will air sometime in the spring.
Had that hour aired as initially scheduled, the 400th would really be the 400th. Instead, Wednesday’s show is technically the 399th to air.
The milestone/not really thing has happened before: What was billed as the 300th episode of “The Simpsons” in February 2003 was actually No. 302. FOX wanted to market the episode’s airdate well in advance, but the actual 300th episode aired a couple weeks earlier. In true “Simpsons” fashion, Lisa makes reference to the discrepancy in the episode.
“SVU” debuted in September 1999, and it’s now creeping up on its parent show, “Law & Order,” in terms of longevity. The original “L&O” ran for 20 seasons and 456 episodes before being canceled in 2010.
Only eight other scripted shows in the history of network television have produced more than 400 episodes, and six of those are from the pre-1970 era when it was customary to produce 35 or more episodes per season. So whether Wednesday’s “SVU” is No. 399 or 400, the show has accomplished a remarkable feat.