‘Law & Order: SVU’: The Only Time the Show Changed Its Opening

by Allison Hambrick

Law & Order: SVU has one of the most iconic openings of any television series. Instantly recognizable, most fans can quote it by memory.

“In the criminal justice system, sexually-based offenses are considered especially heinous,” the intro states. “In New York City, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad known as the Special Victims Unit. These are their stories.”

With a voiceover provided by Steve Zirnkilton, the opening monologue is now as iconic as the show itself. Anyone can read the above text and also hear Zirnkilton’s deep voice. The actor additionally recorded the intro for the original Law & Order: “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups. The police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.”

However, there was a time when the show changed its intro. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, SVU used a new and different voiceover, paying tribute to those who lost their lives on that day.

“On September 11, 2001, New York City was ruthlessly and criminally attacked,” the monologue stated. “While no tribute can ever heal the pain of that day, the producers of Law & Order dedicate this season to the victims and 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.”

The altered intro ran for several episodes of season three. Additionally, the producers changed the opening to remove photos of the World Trade Center, starting with season three episode 11. The streaming versions of the season three episodes have the original narration.

How Zirnkilton Got the Law & Order Gig

Zirnkilton also opened up about how he scored the voice acting role. The voice actor first crossed paths with series creator Dick Wolf after he sold him a house.

“At that time, I had my real estate brokers license and my insurance license,” Zirnkilton explained I approached him and asked if I could act as his buyer’s representative to make sure that everything would go smoothly. When the transaction was complete he said, ‘What do I owe you?’ I immediately passed him a cassette tape which was my VO demo. I handed it to him and he wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. Then some months later, his secretary called saying that he wanted me to do the bumpers for a show called Nasty Boys, a spring launch for NBC.”

While Nasty Boys only lasted six episodes, Zirnkilton later got a call from Wolf’s secretary about his new show: Law & Order. In the original pilot, he actually played a detective in the original pilot. Eventually, NBC picked up the show. Zirnkilton went back in to record the narration, and the rest is history.