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The real reason why Christopher Meloni left Law and Order: SVU

The star starred in the series as Elliot Stabler for 12 seasons


LAW & ORDER: ORGANIZED CRIME -- "Sins Of Our Father" Episode 408 -- Pictured: Christopher Meloni as Det. Elliot Stabler -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC via Getty Images)© NBC
Eve Crosbie
TV & Film Writer
Updated: April 4, 2024
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Elliot Stabler is one of the most beloved characters from Law & Order: SVUand although he is now leading the way in Law & Order: Organized Crime, fans relish in his guest appearances on the show.

But why did Christopher Meloni leave the Special Victims Unit?

MORE: Law and Order SVU: meet the cast of the hit crime series

It was a long ten years before Christopher returned to Law & Order: SVU. We take a look into why the actor abruptly exited the show in 2011, and everything he has said about it. 

WATCH: Law and Order: SVU returns with a special crossover episode

Christopher leaves the show

From 1999 to 2011, Christopher served on the show as the co-lead opposite Mariska Hargitay's Olivia Benson. As a result, he became a household name, won over legions of fans and even bagged himself an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of the NYPD detective. So when he announced he would be leaving the NBC show after 12 seasons, viewers were understandably shocked. 

LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT -- "Raw" Episode 6 -- Pictured: (l-r) Christopher Meloni as Detective Elliot Stabler, Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson  (Photo by Virginia Sherwood/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images)© NBC
Mariska and Christopher led the series together for the first 11 years

At the time, fans weren't given much of an explanation aside from the fact that contract negotiations had broken down between the actor and the network. As a result, his character Stabler made an off-screen exit and was never seen again.

Why he left Law & Order: SVU

Christopher remained tight-lipped about his exit at the time but has recently opened up about what really happened. Speaking to People this year, the actor revealed that the talks between him and NBC became "inelegant", causing him to walk away.

He also opened up about his reasons for leaving the show last year. Speaking to the New York Post, the actor revealed he was "interested in telling stories from a different angle" after playing the straight-laced detective for over a decade. 

Christopher Meloni at the Garden of Laughs Comedy Benefit held at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on March 27, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by John Nacion/Variety via Getty Images)© John Nacion
Christopher Meloni, 2024

"How I left was a different issue and had nothing to do with the Law & Order people, the SVU people or with Dick Wolf. I left with zero animosity, but I did leave clearly and open-eyed in going forward and finding new adventures," he said.

"I was like, 'That's what I want to do, keep moving forward.' I had done the Law & Order way of storytelling, which they do really well, and I was interested in telling stories from a different angle—whether comedic or inhabiting a new world or doing it on different platforms."

What Christopher has done since leaving Law & Order: SVU

True to his word, he went on to land a variety of different roles in television and film, including drama series The Handmaid's Tale, superhero flick Man of Steel and sitcom Happy!. 

LAW & ORDER: ORGANIZED CRIME -- "Sins Of Our Father" Episode 408 -- Pictured: (l-r) Dann Florek as Donald Cragen , Christopher Meloni as Det. Elliot Stabler -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC via Getty Images)© NBC
Christopher Meloni in Law & Order: Organized Crime

But it sounds like ten years away was enough for the actor, as he now brings back his beloved SVU character for a new spinoff series called Law & Order: Organized Crime, which has seen him reunite with Benson and the NYPD.

"He’s a little more measured now, still very determined and bullheaded at times, but at the end of the day he’s fair", he said of Elliot Stabler in Organized Crime to WSJ.

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