A few years ago, I noticed a worrying trend with TV shows.
Crappy Crime Shows, or CCS as I call them.
They were everywhere. Whereas once upon a time there was law and order, there was now - CSI. CSI Miami, CSI California, NCIS, CAA, CII, CSI L A, CSI tiny little town in texas ... you get the idea.
These shows were terrible. They would have a shocking beginning where a beautiful person died. The lead detectives would get a lead and follow someone, who would turn out to be the wrong person. They would then get a lead, and use some imaginary science advancement which hasn't been made yet.
(courtesy of http://www.dailyacid.com)
That's the type of thing I'm talking about. Ridiculous scientific marvels from the tiniest shred of evidence, which then usually led back to someone who we were introduced to as a bit character at the beginning of the episode. And nearly every. single. show. follows this structure.
The other thing these shows rely on is having a "whacky" character ( Abby from NCIS, Hetty from NCIS los angeles ), and a male and female lead character who play off each other , keeping sexual tension brimming throughout the show.
And then there is SVU.
SVU is a far more hard hitting show. With subjects like child porn, domestic abuse, suicide, racial killings, alcoholic police . The show takes on far harsher subjects then the other shows, and drags you deep into the storyline.
The characters themselves are fleshed out. We see a lot of their domestic life, but not in a way that titillates the viewers, instead we see for example, the lead actress having her adopted son taken away from her by a drug addict mother. Or the lead actor's daughter compromises a case, and he has to beg for her not to get involved in the case. The show often shows the police being conflicted by doing what the law requires them, and what is clearly the right thing to do conscience-wise.
Two actors that don't need crappy punch lines to sell a show.