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Would you watch 'Law & Order: SVU' without Mariska Hargitay? (What if Jennifer Love Hewitt replaced her?)

Hewitt Hargitay

(Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic.com; Will Hart/ NBC)

With Law & Order: Los Angeles officially rebooted into oblivion and Law & Order: Criminal Intent halfway through its final season, we are fast approaching a cultural moment that once seemed unthinkable: a TV landscape with only one Law & Order series still in production. But Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has always been the impervious panzer tank of the franchise; while its brethren vacillated through various cast changes, the SVU team has essentially held steady since the show debuted in 1999. (There were more cast shake-ups in one miserable season of LOLA than in over a decade of SVU.)

Not even the SVU juggernaut is immune to the ravages of time, though, and it looks like series star Mariska Hargitay will be stepping back from the series in its upcoming 13th season.

Apparently the actress (who recently adopted a baby) had asked for a lighter work-week. In a conference call with reporters on Sunday, NBC President Robert Greenblatt explained that, to make up for less Hargitay, “There is going to be another detective coming in halfway through the season.” Greenblatt admitted that Hargitay’s future with the show was a bit unclear – she’s only contracted through the next season – so it’s entirely possible this new detective could be a stealth replacement.* And rumors are currently swirling around one name in particular to step into SVU: Jennifer Love Hewitt, who guest-starred on the show earlier this year as a rape victim.

Greenblatt simply noted that Hewitt “is someone we’ve been circling. I don’t know that’s coming to pass or not.” Reps for Hargitay did not respond to calls for comment, while a representative for Hewitt told EW, “There have been discussions with SVU, but there is no deal in place, nor are there any negotiations ongoing at this time.” Still, the mere fact that there have been discussions is certainly notable. Unlike the other shows in the L&O franchise, much of the appeal of SVU rests in its two leads. Heck, when you think about it, even earlier iterations of L&O weren’t exactly cast-proof; the Mothership never really recovered from the loss of Jerry Orbach, and Criminal Intent didn’t win much approval when it implemented the Goldblum Solution (although I kinda dug it).

Would Hargitay be replaceable? And, perhaps more to the point, could she be replaced by someone completely different, like Jennifer Love Hewitt? Putting aside the inherent weirdness of imagining the ’90s teen idol in the monochromatic Law & Order universe, Hewitt did work steadily on a procedural for five seasons. But that procedural was Ghost Whisperer, which had a tone that was pretty far removed from SVU’s gonzo-apocalyptic vibe. PopWatchers, would you want to see someone like Hewitt swoop into SVU? Or would the show die for you without Benson?

*Fun bonus for L&O fans: When Greenblatt was asked about the possibility of a new Law & Order series, the NBC prez indicated that nothing was currently being planned. “Anything’s possible if the right idea comes through the door,” he said, sounding very much like a man who just ordered a new deadbolt.

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

Originally posted May 16 2011 — 6:55 PM EDT

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