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It's been 20 years since 'Law & Order: SVU' debuted on NBC

Twenty years ago, a duo of detectives named Benson and Stabler first graced our TV screens.
Credit: Chris Haston/NBC
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- Season 1 -- Pictured: (l-r) Dean Winters as Detective Brian Cassidy, Dann Florek as Captain Donald Cragen, Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson, Christopher Meloni as Detective Elliot Stabler, Michelle Hurd as Detective Monique Jefferies, Richard Belzer as Detective John Munch -- Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC

It's been two decades since a duo of devoted cops first made their way into our living rooms.

Their names were Benson and Stabler, and their impact on TV, pop culture and crime has managed to withstand 20 years.

"Law & Order: SVU" first debuted Sept. 20, 1999 on NBC. The pilot, called "Payback," introduced audiences to Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler, a pair of detectives partnered in the New York Police Department's Sex Crimes Unit. 

Storylines follow the detectives as they solve sex crimes often ripped straight from real-life headlines. They also navigate their personal lives, including Stabler's divorce and Benson's rocky relationship with her alcoholic mother.

The unit also features detectives Fin Tutuola, played by Ice-T and John Munch, portrayed by Richard Belzer. Dozens of supporting detectives and attorneys have come and gone throughout the show's course, including special guest roles by Carol Burnett, Robin Williams and Snoop Dogg.

Stabler, played by Christopher Meloni, has since left the show. Don Cragen, the beloved police captain portrayed by Dann Florek, also departed after 16 seasons.

The show has earned six Emmy Awards and 23 nominations.

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