Squad goals: 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit' celebrates 400 episodes

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Cassie Dresch / TV Media
Kelli Giddish, Ice T, Mariska Hargitay, Raúl Esparza and Peter Scanavino star in "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"

Kelli Giddish, Ice T, Mariska Hargitay, Raúl Esparza and Peter Scanavino star in "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"

Due to the nature of the television industry, fewer and fewer shows these days seem to be hitting major milestones. Networks are quick to pull the plug on and slow to renew a series, and even fan favorites end before their time (see: "Community," "Twin Peaks," "Veronica Mars" ... the list goes on).

Sometimes, though, a show endures, and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" is one such series. Over the course of the past 18 years, "SVU" has survived cast shakeups, showrunner changes and time-slot shifts, and now joins its parent series in a prestigious group -- the 400-episode club. The 400th episode of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" airs Wednesday, Feb. 8, on NBC.

Four hundred episodes truly is an incredible achievement for the Dick Wolf-created series, which was the original spinoff of the equally long-running "Law & Order." Premiering in 1999, "SVU" has now become the fourth-longest-running scripted prime-time series to air on a major broadcast network behind "Law & Order" (456 episodes), "Gunsmoke" (635 episodes) and "The Simpsons" (600-plus episodes and counting), and one woman has been there every single step of the way.

Series star Mariska Hargitay ("ER") has been with "SVU" since Day 1 as Olivia Benson, then a detective working alongside the gruff Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni, "42," 2013). Both character and actress have grown immensely since the beginning -- Benson moved up the ranks to become a lieutenant and the squad's official commanding officer, and Hargitay blossomed into not only a compelling leading lady, but also an exceptional executive producer and talented director. She directed the milestone 400th episode, and spoke at an event about how special the achievement is.

"Obviously tonight's celebration brings out a whole host of feelings for me," she said. "As we touch down on No. 400, it's so hard even to say out loud with a straight face because it's such a dream. I have so much pride and gratitude, and I'm immensely proud of what we have done together as a team, as a show and as a family."

Her castmates had as much glowing praise for her as she did for them. "Mariska is just a really, sincerely nice person," said Ice T ("Players"), who plays Odafin Tutuola, in an interview with People magazine. "I've been with her for a long time and she's really a nice person, she's very compassionate. It's wonderful to be around somebody who's really nice. I'm very fortunate to have her as a co-star."

"She has a deep sensitivity. She's a strong woman who's deeply sensitive and empathetic, and I think that allows her to see a lot of things from a lot of different viewpoints and that allows her to be very thoughtful, too," Peter Scanavino ("Mutual Friends," 2013) said. "She's a wonderful actress, but I think first and foremost, she's a mom. I think when you have somebody who puts family first, that's always great."

Mariska Hargitay stars in "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"

Mariska Hargitay stars in "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"

Having a steadying presence like Hargitay's Benson has definitely helped "SVU" stand the test of time, but the series just wouldn't be what it is without many of the other great names who were an integral part of the series for a long time.

Dann Florek ("L.A. Law") and Richard Belzer ("Homicide: Life on the Street") were a big part of "SVU" for 331 and 326 episodes respectively, both recently leaving the series in season 15. Florek played Capt. Donald Cragen, a tough but fiercely loyal man who had a few personal demons. Belzer was John Munch, a DA investigator with a cynical streak.

Meloni was part of the original "SVU" cast, and worked alongside Hargitay for the first 12 seasons of the show, clocking in 272 episodes. BD Wong ("Jurassic Park," 1993), Tamara Tunie ("As the World Turns") and Diane Neal ("A Warden's Ransom," 2014) also starred in hundreds of episodes apiece as Dr. George Huang, Dr. Melinda Warner and assistant district attorney Casey Novak, respectively.

The newest and most current members of the "SVU" squad are no slouches, either. Kelli Giddish ("All My Children") has been around the longest, joining season 13 as Det. Amanda Rollins. Raùl Esparza ("My Soul to Take," 2010) plays the most recent ADA, Rafael Barba, and has been doing so since season 15. Scanavino is the newest recruit to the team, starring as Det. Dominick Carisi.

Four hundred episodes and 18 seasons is an incredible accomplishment for any TV show, and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" certainly deserves the celebration and praise it has received. Series star Hargitay also steps behind the camera for the milestone episode, which you can see when it airs Wednesday, Feb. 8, on NBC.