For twelve years (1999-2011) Mariska Hargitay and Chris Meloni starred together in Law & Order: SVU as Olivia Benson and Elliott Stabler who were part of the New York Police Department’s (fictional) Special Victims Unit of the title (a unit that dealt with, as the opening credits stated, ‘particularly heinous’ crimes). Meloni’s Stabler was popular with fans partly because he was a flawed character, deeply driven, loyal and moral but also having problems with his short temper, often shown with his zero-tolerance of those who preyed on others. He abruptly left the show after the twelfth season after apparent negotiations over a new contract failed to come to terms. Stabler himself was written out of the show having suddenly retired and the show slowly became a more glossy, ensemble vibe, though still led by Hargitay’s Benson as she got steadily promoted through the ranks.
Meloni (who went on to feature in series such as True Blood, Happy, The Handmaid Tale and voiced Commissioner Gordon in the Harley Quinn animated series) had a good off-screen relationship with his fellow L&O stars but there was no real talk of him reappearing on the show until last year when a question was raised about whether he’d ever return – with an indication he might only do so if the series was formally coming to an end. This was a possibility at the time as the popular show was reaching the end of its current deal and there was brief rumours it might be getting ready to bow out. But it remained a ratings power-house, so that always seemed unlikely… and shortly thereafter the show was renewed for a record-breaking twenty-first (its current run) and so Stabler/Meloni’s return seemed equally unlikely in the foreseeable future.
But with Dick Wolf (the man behind all the Law & Order shows, including the original version from 1990, as well as Chicago Med, Chicago Fire and Chicago PD signing up for a significant further partnership with NBC, a range of yet more possibilities came up.
Firstly, SVU‘s run was confirmed for not just one more season but three more seasons (bringing that to twenty-five seasons total). That deal already makes Hargitay’s role – presuming she renews her contract which seems to be a given – the longest-running continual character in a television series, surpassing the record shared by Gunsmoke‘s James Arness and Milburn Stone and Kelsey Grammer’s Frasier Crane in Cheers/Frasier. The three year deal also applies to Wolf’s other shows.
But the agreement with NBC also creates new shows. One already touted would seem to be a Law & Order: Hate Crimes variation, but there’s been little confirmed movement on that… and it’s another series that’s just got fans’ collective heads exploding.
A new series, possibly with the Law & Order branding, was confirmed today and will return Eliot Stabler to the screen as the boss of a task-force put together to fight organised crime. The series already has a thirteen episode order, though with the current coronavirus situation, it’s not known when production will begin. Industry site Deadline broke the story and said that Matt Olmstead is being eyed to write the series / serve as showrunner. Dick Wolf will, as usual, be the executive producer. Though not confirmed, there is speculation that there will be a ‘back-door pilot’ in the next run of the main SVU show (the current season’s episode allocation was cut short by the industry shutdown but there’s hope production will begin again in late summer).