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Once upon a time, Law & Order was the most beloved franchise on television. The original was trucking along nicely, its spinoff Special Victims Unit was being nominated for awards, and people were even starting to hate ugly stepsister Criminal Intent less. Then, seemingly overnight, the wheels started to come off. The original ended its historic run. All the new spinoffs tanked, and CI was demoted to USA Network, leaving only Special Victims Unit maintaining any sort of stability or audience. Now that may be gone too.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Christopher Meloni has announced he’s leaving the series. His lead detective Stabler has been with the show since its 1999 inception, but the actor was unable to come to terms with NBC for a new contract. Word is he was ready to depart after twelve seasons. His longtime partner on the show Mariska Hargitay appears near her end too. She’s signed on for next season but will only appear in half the episodes as she transfers the reigns to a new lead female.
Law & Order: SVU will be back next season. Series head Dick Wolf is already putting out feelers to replace Meloni. He reportedly wants a big name, but with the show attracting barely half the audience it did at its peak, it can’t afford to shed any more viewers and remain profitable. I wouldn’t hold out hope for season fourteen, but stranger things have happened.
The only real question remaining is whether Meloni will return for one episode next season to wrap up his character's storyline. I really hope he does. Detective Stabler has been through too much to just go off quietly into the sunset, but as of press time, there's no indication an agreement has been reached.