‘Law & Order: SVU’: Who Narrates The Opening Introduction?

If you’ve ever watched Law and Order: SVU, you know that there’s one voice that makes the voice instantly recognizable. While Mariska Hargitay is the face of the NBC procedural, the show’s narrator sets the tone for the show and introduces the audience to the sensitive subject matter that lies ahead. 

Mariska Hargitay
Mariska Hargitay | Virginia Sherwood/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

The voice at the beginning of the show is one that sticks with you and one you’ve likely heard before, even if you don’t know his name. So just who is this mystery voice behind the popular legal drama?

Before ‘SVU,’ fans fell in love with the original ‘Law and Order’

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There’s no doubt Law and Order: SVU has become a successful show in its own right. There aren’t many shows that can say they are just as strong after 21 seasons as they were at the beginning.

But before the series premiered in 1999, its predecessor had already been on the air for nearly a decade. Law and Order premiered in 1990 and quickly became a massive hit. While SVU holds the record for the longest-running live-action primetime show, it only recently surpassed the success of the original.

Now, with the announcement of a new spinoff, led by SVU alum, Elliot Stabler, the franchise includes over half a dozen individual series’ (not to mention a spinoff movie and video game). Through it all, one voice has remained constant.

Who is the voice behind ‘Law and Order: SVU’?

“In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous. In New York City, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad known as the Special Victims Unit. These are their stories.”

In 1990, Steven Zirnkilton landed the job that would make his career. It was that year he became the narrator of the Law and Order franchise. At the time, nobody could have imagined just how successful the show would be and how much Zirnkilton’s voice would play a role in how fans identified with the show. 

Before joining the successful legal drama, the voice actor held a much different role within the legal realm. From 1983 to 1984, Zirnkilton served four terms in the Maine State Legislature.

So how did Zirnkilton make the jump from politics to TV? The actor says his interest in voice acting began in college. At that time he worked at the campus radio station. In 1990, Zirnkilton landed a walk-on role in the pilot episode of Law and Order. Soon after, he was asked back to record the intro to the show. Fun fact — the pilot episode is the only episode that does not feature Zirnkilton’s signature introduction. 

You may recognize Zirnkilton from some of your favorite television shows

While the voice actor is most famous for his part in the Law and Order franchise, it is definitely not his only gig. In 1998, Zirnkilton is credited as “reporter,” in The Rugrats Movie.

Five years later, he took on the narrating job in the remake of the hit cop drama Dragnet, starring Ed O’Neill. He also played himself on an episode of Family Guy. More recently, you can see the actor in front of the screen. In 2018, Zirnkilton played a motel clerk in the movie, Too Cold to Swim. 

In addition to his ongoing television appearances, Zirnkilton has become a trusted voice for the law enforcement field. Not only has he provided narration for several documentaries, but he has also narrated special events, including a 2010 Candlelight Vigil at the National Law Enforcement Memorial.