Law & Order fans were shocked when news broke Christopher Meloni would once again pick up the gun and badge and become Elliot Stabler, the Law & Order: SVU character he played for 12 years, on a new spinoff series Law & Order: Organized Crime.
Meloni played Stabler opposite Mariska Hargitay's Olivia Benson for the first 12 seasons of SVU, exiting the show after the end of season 12 and beginning of season 13. In the season 13 premiere, viewers learned Stabler decided to retire—without saying goodbye to his longtime partner Benson—after the precinct shooting that took place in the season 12 finale. Stabler was never heard from again but was occasionally mentioned.
Now, nearly 10 years after exiting the franchise Meloni is set to return to SVU in the season 22 premiere and then appear in the spinoff. In an interview with The New York Post, Meloni said he received a call from franchise creator Dick Wolf.
"I never thought this was going to happen, but the circumstances for me changed," Meloni said. "So, ‘yes' became the correct answer."
According to Meloni, when he left the show it had nothing to do with the people involved with making the long-running series.
"I left with zero animosity, but I did leave clearly and open-eyed in going forward and finding new adventures. I was like, That's what I want to do, keep moving forward.' I had done the Law & Order way of storytelling, which they do really well, and I was interested in telling stories from a different angle — whether comedic or inhabiting a new world or doing it on different platforms."
Meloni went on to appear in True Blood, Veep, Pose, Happy, Man of Steel, Wet Hot American Summer, The Handmaid's Tale and the upcoming Hulu series MAXX.
When viewers see Meloni as Stabler in Law & Order: Organized Crime, the character will return to the NYPD to battle organized crime "after a devastating personal loss." The show description doesn't explicitly say it will tackle the current state of the world after the death of George Floyd and the worldwide protests against police brutality, but NBC noted "the city and police department have changed dramatically in the decade he's been away, and he must adapt to a criminal justice system in the midst of its own moment of reckoning."
"Throughout the series, we will follow Stabler's journey to find absolution and rebuild his life, while leading a new elite task force that is taking apart the city's most powerful criminal syndicates one by one," the description concluded.
SVU boss Warren Leight already revealed Stabler would appear in the SVU season 22 premiere and that show would tackle the Black Lives Matter movement and the New York City landscape since the coronavirus pandemic and marches. How much interaction there will be between SVU and Organized Crime remains to be seen. Neither show has started production again as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
"Benson and Stabler are inextricably linked, locked and connected. I think there is truly and deeply a worthwhile, inherent drama in exploring that relationship and the complexity of how Stabler left — the unresolved emotions both characters feel and how the fans feel," Meloni said.
In a special celebrating SVU becoming the longest-running scripted drama series, Meloni and Hargitay discussed their instant chemistry as Benson and Stabler.
"It's always been a huge part of our relationship and I think part of the success of the show," Meloni said on The Paley Center Salutes Law & Order: SVU. "She and I hit it off right from the get-go," he said about working with Hargitay.
Hargitay said their on-screen partnership was "instantaneous ease, chemistry, trust, comfort."
Law & Order: SVU is set to air on 9 p.m. with Law & Order: Organized Crime following at 10 p.m. Thursdays on NBC.
(E! and NBC are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)