Law And Order: SVU Director Pratibha Parmar On 'Fantastic' Timing For Episode During AAPI Heritage Month, Plus Giving Notes To Mariska Hargitay

law and order svu season 23 olivia benson nbc
(Image credit: NBC)

Law & Order: SVU went in some exciting directions in Season 23, ranging from hitting the 500-episode milestone to delivering more crossovers to even finally introducing Benson’s son to Stabler from Law & Order: Organized Crime. For one director, her episode of Season 23 aired at the most “fantastic” time during Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and was the product of a process that involved directing Mariska Hargitay and the rest of the cast of the long-running drama. Pratibha Parmar spoke with CinemaBlend about her directing experience, and why she’d love to return to SVU.

Pratibha Parmar, who was previously best known for her work directing features and documentaries, came to Law & Order: SVU as a participant in NBCU’s Female Forward program to create gender parity in directing for scripted TV. Her episode was called “Do You Believe In Miracles?” and managed to combine a dark case that needed investigating with some lighter Mother’s Day celebrations for Benson, all leading up to the latest crossover event with Christopher Meloni’s Organized Crime. “Do You Believe In Miracles?” happened air on NBC during AAPI Heritage Month in May, and Parmar opened up about what that meant to her: 

What a fantastic coincidence! Because I don't think that they were thinking that when they allocated me that particular episode to direct. I think they had other considerations, but I think it was terrific that it coincided with that. There aren't that many Asian women directors, particularly in the world of episodic. If I can be somebody who other Asian women can say, 'Oh, look, she's done this, and maybe I too can do this,' then I'm really pleased to be able to role model in that way for up-and-coming women directors who want to get into the world of episodic.

When Parmar first hit the set of SVU to direct her episode, she had no idea that it would ultimately air in May, so the timing came as a “fantastic” surprise. The timing even worked out that it aired close to Mother’s Day, which matched the SVU timeline to the real-life timeline pretty closely. The veteran director – who has a feature film premiering at the Tribeca Film festival in June – continued, sharing why this experience was new to her:

Although I have a long career behind me of doing many award-winning documentaries and some drama, I'm relatively new to the world of episodic and I love it. I absolutely love it. For the foreseeable future, I don't want to do anything but that, really. It's wonderful being a guest on somebody else's show because you're a guest and they want you to do what you do best, but at the same time, there's already a world that's been created, there's already characters who are there and living and existing and have histories. It's such a joy to be able to go and play in that world.

Of course, “that world” of Law & Order: SVU has been building and evolving since 1999, and coming in for an episode of Season 23 wasn’t exactly the same as if she’d come into a show that hasn't had such a long run. When I asked how she prepared to come on board and direct for a show that’s already 23 seasons in and centered on characters with so much history, Pratibha Parmar shared: 

That is something that I was like, 'Oh, how do I do it? Can I give notes to Mariska? Can I give notes to Peter [Scanavino], to Kelli [Giddish], to Ice-T?' They're all just legends and they know their characters and they've been with their characters so long. I had a great conversation with [executive producer] Norberto [Barba], and he said, 'No, they absolutely welcome notes from directors, and don't be afraid to give them to them.' They want you to be the director that you are. And as a director, you're the eyes for them, they trust you, and you have to earn their trust and respect, because they need to know that you're looking out for them, that they don't give a false note, or that they have a moment when they're not quite getting it right, that you recognize that and you're able to say, 'Okay, let's try it in a different way,' or 'Let's do another take.'

The core cast of SVU may have been inhabiting their roles and this show for many years – upwards of two decades for Mariska Hargitay and Ice-T – but according to Pratibha Parmar, they welcome notes. This is a show that handles some pretty sensitive topics on a weekly basis and is part of what is currently a nine-show TV universe, and it has to operate at a brisk pace to produce more than twenty episodes per season. Parmar continued to sing their praises for how they responded to her as director:

They're all such professionals that they recognize who a director is and what kind of skills a director brings, and so they were deeply respectful to any of the notes that I had to give. For me as a director, I wouldn't be doing my job unless I could say, 'Okay, let's do another take and try it out in a different way this time,' or 'Can I get you to move from here to here, rather than from there to there?' And they were all completely open and respectful of my process as a director, because I have the overview of the whole episode that I'm directing where they're coming from one episode to the next to the next. That was wonderful.

Directing on SVU automatically not only made Pratibha Parmar part of a show that has made history on television, but also brought her into the family of Dick Wolf Entertainment. The TV universe under the Dick Wolf banner goes all the way back to the original Law & Order’s premiere in 1990, and currently consists of the three L&O shows (comprised of SVU, Organized Crime, and the revival of the original), the three One Chicago shows (Fire, P.D., and Med), and the three FBIs (the original, FBI: Most Wanted, and FBI: International). 

When I asked Parmar if she’d be interested in returning to SVU if she had the opportunity, she revealed that she’d be game for anywhere in the Wolf universe. She shared:

I would absolutely love to return on SVU. I would love to work with all those people, the cast, and the crew. I love that show. I could keep returning to that show forever if they would have me [laughs], and of course I love all the Dick Wolf shows. I think that the [Dick Wolf] shows are amazing, really well-written. They have great writers and great actors. As a director, what I want to do is work with great writing and great actors and tell good stories and important stories. I'd love to go do Organized Crime as well. I think that that's a great show. And, you know, Chicago PD, Chicago Med... the FBIs. All the really interesting shows that they do. Dynamic, good stories, great actors. Which director wouldn't want to do that?

The 2021-2022 TV season is coming to an end, with all nine of the Wolf shows entering hiatus. The good news is that all nine have already been renewed for the 2022-2023 TV season, so there’s plenty more to come starting in the fall. If you missed Pratibha Parmar’s episode of Law & Order: SVU earlier in May (or just want to rewatch), you can find it streaming with a Peacock subscription. Take a behind-the-scenes look at her on the set of SVU:

All three Law & Order shows will wrap their current seasons on Thursday, May 19 starting with the original’s Season 21 finale at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. You can find the finale dates for One Chicago and the FBIs as well as plenty of other big TV hits on our spring finale schedule, and check out our 2022 TV premiere schedule for some upcoming summer options.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. CinemaBlend's resident expert and interviewer for One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and a variety of other primetime television. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).