Last month, it was confirmed that NBC plans to make a Law & Order: Special Victims Unit spin-off series centering on Christopher Meloni's beloved character, Det. Elliot Stabler. Now fans are getting an even bigger surprise with news breaking on Friday that Meloni will be returning in the Season 22 premiere of the series this fall ahead of his spinoff.
On the latest episode of the Law & Order: SVU Podcast, showrunner Warren Leight revealed Stabler will be back on their screens sooner rather than later, with his first appearance on the premiere. "It’s pretty clear that Elliot will be in the SVU season opener," Leight said. “I think that much I know. Whether we get to see his family as well remains to be seen."
The character has not been seen or heard from since the Season 12 finale aired back in 2011. While a whole generation of new SVU viewers might be a little stumped about what this means to the franchise, long-time Law & Order fans know it is a huge deal.
For the first 12 years of its existence, SVU gained a following in part because of Meloni and Mariska Hargitay's incredible chemistry as Stabler and Olivia Benson. Over the years, we learned more about their personal lives and saw their personalities clash during their police work. When Stabler suddenly left at the end of Season 12, it felt like there would be a void without him. Thankfully, SVU has soldiered on, now becoming the longest-running primetime television drama in U.S. TV history.
The new series, which still does not have a title, will find Stabler leading a NYPD organized crime unit. It will reportedly run 13 episodes, but there is no clear idea on when it would premiere. The television industry is at a halt now due to the coronavirus pandemic, so production would not start for a long time. Meloni has also not confirmed the show is in the works, even though a verified Facebook page with his name shared a story about it.
What does Stabler's return mean? With SVU off for the week, we take a look at what could go down in the series and how it could shape the franchise's future.
Finally Seeing Where Stabler is Today
We could finally learn what pushed Stabler to suddenly decide to retire at the end of Season 12. When Season 13 opened Cragen (Dann Florek) told Benson Stabler decided to retire from the force after refusing to undergo a review by Internal Affairs. If this new series comes to fruition though, it means Stabler has agreed to return to New York. How long has he been in New York City? Was he living in the New York area this whole time?
Catching Up With Stabler's Family
Law & Order does not always go deep into the characters' private lives, but Stabler had one of the most well-developed backgrounds of any character in the franchise. Stabler struggled to keep his private life private and his work life out of the home. He clashed with wife Kathy (Isabel Gillies) and daughter Kathleen (Alison Siko) often found herself in trouble. We also met Stabler's mother, Bernadette (Ellen Burstyn), who has bipolar disorder. Stabler has two other daughters and two sons, who could all play a part in the new series.
Picking Up Where 'SVU' Season 21 Left Off
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, production on SVU was cut short so they were never able to film the episode intended to be a true finale. Showrunner Warren Leight told TVLine there were no plans to include Stabler in the episode, but they were looking to bring back his family members. Perhaps this story could be used in the new series.
"We were hoping to bring back [Stabler]'s wife and troubled son — in part to tee up his return," Leight said.
Changing Dynamics in the Squadroom
So much has changed in the nine years since Stabler left and it will be fascinating to see how the dynamics change in the squad room. Benson is now captain, and Fin (Ice-T) is the only other remaining detective who worked with Stabler. The other detectives who work with Benson are Amanda Rollins (Kelli Giddish) and Katriona "Kat" Tamin (Jamie Gray Hyder). Dominick Carisi (Peter Scanavino) is now the Assistant District Attorney working with the squad. Medical Examiner Melinda Warner (Tamara Tunie), who was a series regular character during Stabler's last seasons, made a rare appearance early in Season 21.
Meloni Stayed Close with Hargitay
While some actors leave shows on bad terms, Meloni did not, despite the rumored circumstances behind his departure. He reportedly left because he could not come to terms for a new contract, which explains why he did not get a proper on-screen send-off. However, Meloni remained close with Hargitay and had said in the past he would like to return to SVU.
"I have always said I would be open to it. [The] circumstances have to be right, that is all," he told Entertainment Tonight in 2017. "It is lovely [to still see the fan support]... I knew how important it was to people, how much it meant to people. Twelve years with your partner-in-crime, it is a long time.”
New Show Details
The new series does not have a title, but it is set to focus on Stabler leading the NYPD's Organized Crime Division. Matt Olmstead, who worked with Law & Order creator Dick Wolf on Chicago P.D. and Chicago Fire, was reportedly hired as the showrunner. The show is not likely to be ready to air in fall 2020, since all television productions in New York have been put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. If Wolf is planning to bring in Meloni to make a guest appearance on SVU, it will not happen until Season 22.