Half of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit's dynamic duo will not be returning when the thirteenth season starts this fall. Christopher Meloni, famous as NYPD detective Elliot Stabler, has not renewed his contract with NBC.
Meloni has been in extended contract talks with the network for some time. According to TV Line (who did not reveal their source) the talks have broken down, and Law & Order creator Dick Wolf is actively searching for a new male lead.
The actor has played Elliot Stabler for twelve seasons, and is one of only four actors who has been with the show for its entire run up until now. The other three remaining original cast members, Mariska Hargitay, Richard Belzer and Law and Order veteran Dann Florek, will all return in the fall, though Hargitay will only appear for half of the season.
This isn't good news for NBC. The broadcast network has struggled in the ratings game in the last few years, and SVU is its top scripted drama. The original Law & Order series concluded last year, and the first spin off, Criminal Intent, has moved on to the greener pastures of cable on USA. A handful of other Law & Order projects have failed to find an audience, like the recently cancelled Law & Order: Los Angeles.
It's hard to imagine how SVU will continue with the loss of one of its most visible players - and likely two, by the end of the season. As interesting as John Munch (Belzer) and "Fin" Tutuola (Ice-T) are, they've never driven the drama-heavy stories as well as Benson and Stabler. Instead of promoting the secondary characters to the spotlight, Dick Wolf will probably bring in some fresh blood - like the short-lived addition of Jeff Goldblum to Criminal Intent's 8th season.
Meloni has consistently played the "bad cop," as Stabler regularly assaults rapists and child molesters. He's also the conservative voice in the show's regular station house debates, playing against Benson's liberal leanings and Munch's libertarianism. Meloni's replacement will likely need to mirror the Stabler character's aggressive style and sociological affiliations to keep the current dynamic.
After thirteen years, SVU's character-driven drama and hot-button topics have had less and less impact, driving the producers to create big moments and guest arcs that distract from the cases and trials. In just the past few seasons there've been several extra-long gunpoint standoffs and an extended birth scene in a wrecked car. One wonders how long the most successful of Law & Order's franchises can keep it together with its leading man gone.
New episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit will return to NBC this fall - minus one detective.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @MichaelCrider
Source: TV Line
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