‘Law & Order: SVU’ Boss Considered Bringing Chris Meloni Back for Finale: ‘Fans Were Owed a Little More’

Christopher Meloni
Christopher Meloni as Detective Elliot Stabler on 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit' Chris Haston/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Did Elliot Stabler almost return? Christopher Meloni, who played the fan-favorite detective, left Law & Order: SVU after season 12, but showrunner Warren Leight recently revealed to The Hollywood Reporter that he considered bringing the actor back for the venerable NBC drama’s season 17 finale.

The Dick Wolf–created procedural was renewed this week for season 18, but Leight explained to THR that if season 17 were the final run, he would have tried to line up appearances for its key alums, including Richard Belzer (Munch), Danny Pino (Amaro) and Meloni.

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“If we weren’t coming back, there were a couple things I was absolutely going to do,” Leight said. “We had been talking [about], had this been the last episode, we would have tried him to bring [Meloni] back.”

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Meloni, 54, had been with the series since its September 1999 launch but decided to leave after season 12 had already finished filming, meaning the writers needed to give his character a rushed sendoff without him present. In season 13’s premiere, Captain Cragen (Dann Florek) informed Stabler’s longtime partner, Detective Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay), that the fiery detective had resigned from the police force after being placed on administrative leave for shooting a young woman. The actor has since appeared in such series as HBO’s True Blood, Fox’s Surviving Jack and Netflix’s Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. He was also in the 2013 blockbuster Man of Steel.

Christopher Meloni
Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni in ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.’

“In hindsight, NBC, Dick, Universal and Chris all know they could have handled that better,” said Leight, who joined as head writer at the start of season 13. “But I think Chris, over time, from what I hear, began to realize that the fans were owed a little more.”

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“None of the people in the room thought for a second, How will the fans experience this?” the producer continued of Meloni’s sudden exit. “It was a negotiation handled without much empathy on any of the participants’ parts, and I think they all sort of know that now. And there wasn’t much empathy for the fans either. I think everyone probably learned, but you can’t roll the clock back.”

Leight is still confident that a reunion between Benson and her former partner could still be in the cards.

“I think if Mariska were to have called him, he would have taken the call,” he said. “That can be for another day, hopefully a long way off.”

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Law & Order: SVU airs on NBC Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EST.

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