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'Law & Order: SVU' inches closer to the record books with Season 20 renewal

'Law & Order: SVU' inches closer to the record books with Season 20 renewal
Mariska Hargitay stars in her Emmy-winning role as Olivia Benson in the long-running NBC drama, which will return next season. (Michael Parmelee / NBC)

"Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" is one step closer to making history.

NBC has awarded a Season 20 renewal to the veteran spinoff of "Law & Order," placing it alongside that flagship series as well as "Gunsmoke" as the longest-running live-action TV drama series.

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Although the Emmy-winning "Law & Order" was poised in 2010 to make it to a 21st season and break "Gunsmoke's" record, NBC canceled it in May of that year. Creator Dick Wolf tried to keep the show afloat, including shopping it to TNT, but his efforts were unsuccessful. (Reruns of the original series continue to air on the cable network.)

More recently, Wolf had planned a potential "Law & Order" revival in 2015. However, he ultimately turned his attention to launching a new spinoff of the franchise — the anthology series "Law & Order: True Crime" — and a law-centered "Chicago" franchise series titled "Chicago Justice."

"Law & Order: SVU" is now positioned to pick up where "Law & Order" left off. The drama continues to perform steadily on Wednesdays, particularly with delayed viewing factored in.

One of the key factors in its continued popularity is star Mariska Hargitay, who has been with the drama since its inception and is now an executive producer. Fittingly, this past season of "SVU" saw original "Law & Order" writer Michael Chernuchin come onboard as showrunner.

Several of those working on the series have made no secret of their desire to reach Season 21, most notably using the #breaktherecord hashtag on Twitter over the course of Season 19. ("SVU" already stands as the longest-running scripted live-action series currently on the air, ahead of both "NCIS" and "Grey's Anatomy.")

Meanwhile, "Gunsmoke" is starting to fade from the record books on several fronts. It was recently surpassed by "The Simpsons" as the scripted series with the highest number of episodes when the animated series hit 636 episodes. "The Simpsons," aptly, marked the occasion with a special homage to the classic western series.

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