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Christopher Meloni reveals why he left Law and Order: Special Victims Unit

Elliot Stabler
Christopher Meloni as Elliot Stabler in Law and Order: Organized Crime. Pic credit: NBC

Christopher Meloni is setting the record straight on his controversial Law and Order: Special Victims Unit exit.

The actor, who stars in Law and Order: Organized Crime, is finally detailing the backstage drama that led to him exiting the hit NBC series in 2011 and what brought him back to the role of Elliot Stabler today.

Meloni’s role as Stabler on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit

For its first 12 Seasons, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit featured Meloni as Elliot Stabler, opposite Mariska Hargitay as a terrific team

A former Marine, Stabler had to endure a lot on the job, from various injuries to drama involving his family. He was known for his short temper, which got him in trouble going after suspects.

In the Season 12 finale, a teenaged girl showed up at the precinct to get revenge on the men responsible for the murder of her mother. Stabler had no choice but to shoot the girl himself, which deeply affected him. 

Less than a week after the episode aired, fans were shocked when Meloni announced he was leaving the series. The Season 13 premiere had Benson expecting Stabler to return, only to be informed that he had put in his papers and quit. 

That was the last seen of Stabler for a decade before he returned in 2021 for the crossover setting up the Law and Order: Organized Crime spin-off. 

Why did Christopher Meloni leave Law and Order: Special Victims Unit?

Law & Order
Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay in Law & Order SVU. Pic credit: NBC

For years following his exit, rumors swirled that the key reason for Meloni leaving was a contract dispute with NBC. Given Law and Order: Special Victim Unit’s status as one of the network’s biggest hits, it was logical the actors would push for a larger payday.

In a new interview with Men’s Health, Meloni set the record straight on what occurred. The actor explained that NBC refused to match his requested salary, which briefly led to the idea of Stabler only being in half of Season 13. 

“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.’ ” 

Meloni decided that he could not accept less money for more screen time, telling the producers, “I don’t want to f**k 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 has acknowledged he could have handled the issue better, but is still happy with his decision. “I’m just not a showbiz guy.”

Meloni on Stabler’s return in Law and Order: Organized Crime

Christopher Meloni as Elliot Stabler in Law & Order Organized Crime
Christopher Meloni as Elliot Stabler in Law & Order Organized Crime. Pic credit: NBC

After years to focus on himself and the Syfy series, Happy, Meloni was in a better mood to accept Dick Wolf’s offer to return as Stabler in a new spin-off. 

“It felt good to have to make that decision — which was a big yes-or-no decision — with a sense of clarity and a sense of certain things being correct.”

For Meloni, the challenge was how Stabler, a cop known for playing by his own style, adapts to 2021, when police are under a public microscope.

“[Stabler is in] a world he doesn’t understand. You know, you’re a white cop of a certain age, you’re not allowed to do a lot of things, and you’re being challenged on your bona fides on both sides. How woke are you? And how much of a man are you?”

Season 1 of Law and Order: Organized Crime had Stabler tangling with sinister CEO/mob boss Richard Wheatley (Dylan McDermott). While Wheatley will be returning in Season 2, it’s possible Stabler’s unit will be going up against some new criminals. 

Meloni opened up to Men’s Health on how he had felt anxious earlier in his run on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit but much better today.

“This time around with the Law & Order ride, I’m not stressed by: Will it go well? Will it not go well? Not that I know how it’s going to go. Just that, eh, just ride. Just do, just be.” 

While his earlier exit was rough, it appears Meloni is in a better place to play Stabler today, which is great news for Law and Order fans.

Law and Order: Organized Crime Season 2 premieres Thursday, September 23 at 10 pm EST on NBC.

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