Chris Meloni as Elliot Stabler on Law & Order: Organized Crime
Credit: Getty Images

It’s a fact that Law & Order: Special Victims Unit hasn’t been the same without Elliot Stabler. When Christopher Meloni left the beloved drama after 12 seasons, fans were left wondering: Why did Elliot Stabler leave Law & Order: SVU and why wasn’t his character given a proper send off?

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (known as Law & Order: SVU or just SVU), is NBC’s crime drama created by Dick Wolf’s production company, Wolf Entertainment. It’s the first spin-off of Law & Order and follows a group of specially trained detectives in the New York City Police Department that investigate sexually related crimes. From SVU’s first season until the actor’s departure in season 12, Meloni played Detective Elliot Stabler. Stabler starred alongside Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay), who becomes the commanding officer of the Manhattan Special Victims Unit.

Meloni was a force on SVU for 12 seasons until he left the show in May 2011. Thankfully, that wasn’t the last time fans saw Meloni in the Law & Order universe. In 2021, Meloni reprised his role in the successful spin-off series, Law & Order: Organized Crime. So, why did Elliot Stabler leave Law & Order: SVU and come back for Organized Crime years later? Keep reading to find out.

Why did Elliot Stabler leave Law & Order: SVU?

Chris Meloni as Elliot Stabler on Law & Order: Organized Crime

Why did Elliot Stabler leave Law & Order: SVU? Christopher Meloni exited the crime drama because of issues with his contract, the actor told Men’s Health in August 2021. He explained to the magazine that he wanted a larger amount of money than what he was offered, and he even tried to negotiate the episodes he was in as a creative solution. But in the end, they couldn’t come up with an agreement that would keep him on the show.

“My thought was: Instead of 22 episodes, bring me back for nine episodes, or bring me back for 18 episodes. They literally came to me on a Thursday night and said, ‘This is the deal. We want the answer by tomorrow. It’s our way or no way,’” he said of the conversation. Meloni then told the SVU creators: “I don’t want to f*** around with you guys. This is what I want. If you can’t do it, that’s fine. Let’s figure out my exit.”

Meloni also told The New York Post in 2020 that he left with zero animosity and wanted to discover new adventures outside of SVU. “How I left was a different issue and had nothing to do with the ‘Law & Order’ people, the ‘SVU’ people or with Dick Wolf,” Meloni said. “I left with zero animosity, but I did leave clearly and open-eyed in going forward and finding new adventures.”

On the show, Stabler was written off the premiere episode of season 13 titled “Scorched Earth.” In the season 12 finale, Stabler shot and killed a young woman during a lethal shootout in the squad room, and the girl eventually dies in the detective’s arms. Although it was justifiable killing in defense of himself and his team, it was Stabler’s sixth shooting while on the job, and the International Affairs Bureau (IAB) wanted to start an investigation into the incident. As a result, he’s placed on administrative leave pending a psychiatric profile. In Season 13, episode 1, his coworkers learn that Stabler resigned from his position (we don’t see Stabler officially leave because Meloni’s exit occurred between seasons 12 and 13).

After exiting SVU, Meloni starred in popular TV shows, including True Blood, The Handmaid’s Tale, Pose and Veep, as well as films like Wet Hot American Summer and MAXXX.

Why did Elliot Stabler return to Law & Order: Organized Crime?

Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Organized Crime

Why did Elliot Stabler return to Law & Order: Organized Crime? Meloni said he was interested in the project and wanted to reunite with his former costar, Mariska Hargitay. “I was intrigued for a variety of personal reasons,” Meloni told Entertainment Weekly in 2021. “If you have, at least from my perspective, a very well-known and beloved TV character who left abruptly and, I would argue, unceremoniously… there’s a built-in recognizability, a thing that needs to be satiated with a sense of closure. Those are all very attractive things.” As for a potential return to SVU one day, he replied: “That boat had sailed.”

The idea of Meloni starring in Organized Crime started in February 2020, when Dick Wolf brought the actor to Burbank and asked if he could return as Elliot Stabler on a new series built around his character. Wolf also told EW that he’s wanted to reunite with Meloni “since the day he left” SVU. “It felt great, a surprising sense of freedom,” Meloni said of reprising his role in Organized Crime. “It was a very interesting feeling because I rarely get it. It was just kind of a weird sign that everything’s right, and I was where I belonged.”

In Organized Crime, Stabler returned to the NYPD after a “devastating personal loss.” Now, he’s in charge of a task force responsible for cracking down on mob activity. To the excitement of fans, he reunited with Benson in the first episode of the series and has teamed up with her to investigate criminals. He’s also appeared in Law & Order crossover episodes between all three Law & Order series. Law & Order: Organized Crime is currently in its third season.

Law & Order: SVU and Law & Order: Organized Crime airs on Thursdays at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., respectively, on NBC.

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