After protracted negotiations, Chris Meloni will exit Law & Order: Special Victims Unit this fall.
The Emmy-nomated actor, who has co-starred opposite Mariska Hargitay since the show’s inception in 1999, will not return for the show’s 13th season.
The decision comes one week after NBC’s new boss Bob Greenblatt told reporters Meloni’s deal was “nearly done.” At his upfront presentation for advertisers in New York, Greenblatt added that the network had plans to “reset the tone” of the series. With new showrunner Warren Leight replacing Neal Baer this fall, the stories would “still be compelling but a little more grounded,” he said.
For her part, Hargitay will be scaling back her commitment to the show after adopting a baby girl with her husband, Peter Hermann, in April. Former Ghost Whisperer star Jennifer Love Hewitt is among the leading female candidates to fill out the show’s cast next season. With Meloni’s departure, the network, along with franchise creator Dick Wolf, will now have to find a leading male as well.
While the program continues to be a solid performer for ratings-challenged NBC, it has shed a considerable portion of its audience in recent years. At its peak, the procedural averaged just under 17 million viewers in its second season (2000-01) on Friday nights. This season, the drama has average under 9 million.
Additional reporting by Lesley Goldberg.