The twelfth season of Law & Order: SVU ended just a week ago, but the invincibly popular series has turned completely upside-down in that time. In the wake of reports that Mariska Hargitay would be limiting her time on the show next season, EW confirmed last night that Christopher Meloni will not be returning to SVU in the fall. Of course, the Law & Order franchise has weathered cast changes before; witness the parade of wry detectives on the original series, or the curiously protean Criminal Intent (which was really three series in one: a gonzo procedural starring Vincent D’ Onofrio, a bland procedural starring Chris Noth, and a desperately underrated curio starring Jeff Goldblum.)
It’s a fair bet that Dick Wolf is already auditioning beloved New York character actors to replace Meloni, and the head of NBC has talked openly about seeking someone (Jennifer Love Hewitt?) to take over for Hargitay. But would you want to watch an SVU without its original stars?
Commenters on EW.com had decidedly mixed reactions. While some people were bandying around potential replacements – including former Law & Order cop Jeremy Sisto and SVU guest-star Wentworth Miller – some responders felt like this was the end of SVU. Said Jason Glugla, “The characters are too big a part of the show to go on with one of the two leads gone…Time to end it while the show is still good.” Rhonda was even more pessimistic: “SVU will be cancelled next year. The mediocre scripts were hidden by the talent of the show’s two stars. Not anymore.”
Indeed, SVU has been kind of on cruise control the last few years – Stabler has family drama, Benson gets personally invested in a case, Fin and/or Belzer make a funny comment, and scene! Recasting this iconic pairing isn’t as simple as finding a new sultry steely-eyed ADA; it’d be more comparable to the forgettable final season of The X-Files, when Gillian Anderson occasionally swung by to offer advice to new investigators Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish. Remember that? No? Of course not.
But NBC clearly believes in the power of a franchise over a specific actor – witness the in-universe reboot of The Office – so expect an exciting summer of SVU casting news. What do you think, SVU fans? Should the show just end already? Should the producers lock in Hargitay for a few more years and pair her with someone new? Or should they just reboot the show top-to-bottom with a new pair of detectives? Take the poll below!
Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich