Remember when Law & Order: SVU boss Warren Leight teased some major returns? It was the Stablers. Yep, SVU was preparing for the return of Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) before production was shut down due to the spread of the coronavirus. Leight revealed the plans to bring back Kathy Stabler (Isabel Gillies) in the season 21 finale on the show's official podcast.
"We had heard distant thunder about Chris Meloni coming back in the fall and we were going to lay a little groundwork for that. We were going to see Kathy Stabler come back very upset. Her son had been rolled by a team of ne'er-do-wells and may have been drugged, and we were going to revisit Simon's seeming overdose and we were going to get to know the stresses on the Stabler—what had happened to the Stabler family after Elliot both left SVU and apparently left them," Leight said.
"We were just going to lay some groundwork down in anticipation of Elliot's return of course in his own series. We had the sense that the first episode of next year for SVU was going to bring Elliot back, so we were going to foreshadow that and explain a little more what happened to Simon," he continued.
Because the show had production shut down while in the middle of shooting episode 21 of the series, these plans will change in season 22. Leight said viewers may see some form of season 21's episode 23 in season 22 and the finale happenings may be reduced to just a teaser in the new season.
"It's very hard for me to tell NBCUniversal and [Dick Wolf], ‘Can you guys hold off on introducing Elliot because I had something in mind?'" Leight said.
While it remains to be seen how TV production will change in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Leight confirmed Stabler will appear in the season 22 premiere before his own series takes flight. "Whether we'll get to see his family as well, remains to be seen. There's a lot of moving parts," he said. "It's not just about the SVU season opener, it's how do we help launch the new series and how much crossover will there be between Elliot and Olivia as the season goes on."
Executive producer Julie Martin said the 10-year gap between when Meloni and his character left the series and his return to the franchise leaves a challenge for the writing team to backfill.
Meloni's return to the franchise was announced in March 2020. The Stabler character is set to lead the NYPD's organized crime task force.
Another return planned for the end of the season: Rick Fox's attorney character Edgar Goodwin, but in a more social capacity for Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay). Leight said since Benson lost her brother and Tucker (Robert John Burke), they were looking forward to giving her a little bit of a "spring" after all the loss. There were also plans to tackle the relationship change between Benson and Carisi (Peter Scanavino) now that he left the squad to be the ADA for the unit. That conflict may pop up early in season 22.
Law & Order: SVU was previously renewed through season 24 on NBC.
(E! and NBC are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)