‘Law & Order: SVU’ Once Featured a ‘The Waltons’ Star

by Suzanne Halliburton

John Ritter was a gifted comedian who also could do drama. Try Law & Order: SVU kind of serious, with a dash of religion in The Waltons.

Ritter’s Richard Manning on Law & Order: SVU was nothing like Rev. Matthew Fordrick from The Waltons. In fact, it’s hard to reconcile either with Three’s Company’s Jack Tripper and Manning.

Ritter’s first big TV role was playing a wholesome young preacher on The Waltons. Then came his breakthrough part on Three’s Company. Those shows all flourished in the 1970s.

But as we said, Ritter could do more than comedy or optimistic drama.

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Ritter Definitely Played Against Type on Law & Order: SVU

In 2002, a year before he died unexpectedly of a heart condition, Ritter played a really evil character on Law & Order: SVU. He was Richard Manning, a psychiatrist who couldn’t deal well with his wife’s infidelity.

Law & Order: SVU writers called the episode Monogamy. The episode ran in season three of the series on Jan. 4, 2002. No one could say it was perfect post-holiday programming. Instead, it steered to the creepy side.

SVU can lean into super creepy. After all, earlier this season, the detectives investigated a serial killer who was mummifying his female victims.

Back in 2002, Ritter discovered that his wife was having a fling with a construction worker. His wife became pregnant, presumably with her boyfriend’s baby, not Ritter’s.

Ritter’s character was so consumed with rage and jealously that he physically attacked his wife and cut out the fetus from her body. The baby died. In court, Ritter’s Manning discovered that the baby he ripped from the womb actually was his son, not the other man’s.

Ritter broke down in court and was sentenced to a long stint in prison. His wife was left to grieve for her baby and her beyond-repair marriage. 

This Episode Did Have Happy Ending. Eventually

But this Law & Order: SVU episode wasn’t all about the show’s special guest star. The series, in its 23rd season and counting, attracts a bevy of them, even comedians playing sadistic criminals. Henry Winkler, who like Ritter played a wholesome character from the 1970s, guest-starred on SVU.

This Ritter episode definitely was about Monogamy, but it proved to be a predictor. When Law & Order: SVU celebrated its 500th episode in October, this 2002 hour was brought up. That’s because it’s the episode in which Peter Hermann, who played a defense attorney, met his future wife, Mariska Hargitay.

Hermann posted about the SVU episode on Twitter to wish his wife, the iconic Olivia Benson, happy 500th.

“Mariska. You’re at 500 episodes tonight. You astonish me. We met in episode 54. Best 447 episodes of my life. Congratulations, you beautiful life force. I love you.”

Then Warren Leight, the Law & Order: SVU showrunner, quote tweeted Hermann. He wrote: “Best part of this love story, the title of the episode on which Peter Hermann met Mariska Hargitay a was… “Monogamy.”

So see, two things can be true on this Law & Order: SVU episode. Ritter could go against type and play super creepy. And all that telling of a vile crime can lead to something beautiful. Hargitay and Hermann married in 2004. They now have three children and the show keeps chugging along.