Elliot Stabler is arguably the second-most important character on Law & Order: SVU. He was on the show for over a decade, and his chemistry with Olivia Benson (the most important character) was part of what made SVU such a ratings juggernaut. Seeing Stabler leave the show in season 13 was tough, and once the character returned to the franchise with Law & Order: Organized Crime, there was some confusion about why he left in the first place.
Christopher Meloni, the actor who plays Stabler, has been open about the events that led to him leaving the show, and why he eventually decided to return and lead his own spinoff. He discussed the matter during a 2021 interview with Men’s Health.
Why did Elliot Stabler leave Law & Order: SVU?
The reason Meloni left Law & Order: SVU was because he felt he wasn’t getting paid enough. He wanted more than the showrunners were offering, and even tried to figure out a way to remain on the show while maximizing his pay, but in the end, an agreement couldn’t be reached.
“My thought was: Instead of 22 episodes, bring me back for nine episodes, or bring me back for 18 episodes,” Meloni revealed. “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’.” [I said] ‘I don’t want to f*** around with you guys. This is what I want. If you can’t do it, that’s fine. Let’s figure out my exit’.”
Fortunately, Stabler resurfaced when Law & Order: Organized Crime was launched in 2021. Meloni shed light on the decision to return during a 2021 interview with Entertainment Weekly. He cited, specifically, the desire to do the character justice after he was previously was abruptly written off.
“If you have, at least from my perspective, a very well-known and beloved TV character who left abruptly and, I would argue, unceremoniously… there’s a built-in recognizability, a thing that needs to be satiated with a sense of closure,” the actor noted. It’s the rare instance of an actor getting a second crack at the same character, and frankly, we couldn’t be happier than he’s back.