Chris Meloni Reflects on Dispute That Led to 'Law & Order: SVU' Exit

Law & Order: SVU fans are excitedly waiting for the return of Christopher Meloni's Elliot Stabler, returning to the Law & Order universe in a crossover event before headlining his own spinoff, Law & Order: Organized Crime. Meloni left the franchise abruptly in 2011 after a contract dispute, never truly wrapping up Stabler's character arc. As he prepares to return to the character and the franchise that made him a household name, Meloni opened up to People about his decade-old exit.

"For me, it was about how things fell out — and the word I’ll use is that it was inelegant, Meloni explained. "At the end of the day, how it was handled was, 'Okay, see you later.' So I went, 'That’s fine. We’re all big boys and girls here. See you later.' And I was off on new adventures and doing what I wanted to do."

Meloni was quick to point out that he and costar Mariska Hargitay "stayed connected" during the following ten years, which delights fans of the show and the duo. Now that Meloni is returning to the franchise, could the long-simmering chemistry between Stabler and former partner Olivia Benson finally come to romantic fruition? The preview for the crossover episode seems to hint at something along those lines.

Hargitay also spoke to People about how she was "devastated" about the way Meloni left the show. "I was just so sad because we started this thing and built it together," she explained. "And we went through so many milestones and spent so much time together and understood so many things that nobody else could understand."

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"I had to do so many mental gymnastics and sort of do a reinvention in my own mind, which of course turned out to be a gift, as any sort of growth is. But I was scared; I was sad," Hargitay admitted. Hargitay credits the dedication of SVU fans who have long held the torch for Stabler and Benson, even after Meloni left the show. "In television, when somebody leaves, obviously there's a grieving period, but the fans never moved on," Hargitay said. "And I think that is just so incredibly beautiful and so incredibly powerful." She calls the reunion in the crossover episode "so emotional."

"It was this thing that I had really dreamed about," Hargitay admitted. The moment that SVU fans have anticipated for a decade has finally arrived, airing on April 1 before the series premiere of Law & Order: Organized Crime on NBC.