For the first time in a long while, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit's Olivia Benson is in a stable, healthy relationship. But how long will it last?
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"[It] has to be scary as hell for her," executive producer Warren Leight tells TVGuide.com of the relationship between Oliva (Mariska Hargitay) and Executive Assistant District Attorney David Haden (Harry Connick Jr.). "It's going to be interesting to see somebody in her mid-40s who has not really been in a long-term sexual relationship with someone for a very long time."
In our Q&A below, Leight tells us some of the obstacles in store for Benson and Haden, how long he'll be around, and how Leight thinks things are going during this transitional year. Plus: Will the show return for a 14th season?
So you're more than halfway through your first season on the show. How's it going?
Warren Leight: NBC has made it clear they're very happy with where the show is, as has [executive producer Dick Wolf]. And I'm happy with it too. There was a lot of adjusting to life without Chris Meloni for the show and for fans. I'm glad that we didn't just sort of pretend that we were going to put in two new guys and start from scratch. I think we spent a good amount of time at the beginning acknowledging the hole in the squad room.
What sort of fan reaction have you heard about the addition of Kelli Giddish and Danny Pino?
Leight: There are some fans of the Olivia-Elliot relationship for whom that was the only reason they were watching the show. And those fans are just stuck at the moment. Creatively, I think the show has been going very well. [Since] Kelli and Danny have come into the squad room, we have a lot of flexibility now. ... It's allowed for all kinds of interesting combinations and new alliances and problem areas. Fans of the show, I think, are very much engaged. Fans of the Olivia-Elliot relationship? I don't know what else to do for them.
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And now you've got Oliva in a new relationship with Harry Connick Jr. Why was now the time?
Leight: I always thought that as long as Elliot was her partner, she had the perfect excuse to not be in a real relationship. This was a guy whose values were completely in sync with hers. They were a perfect team, and he emotionally supported her. So if you're afraid of being in a truly intimate relationship with a man, this was the perfect thing because you have everything you could want, but he's married with five kids.
But now that he's gone...
Leight: Take him away and now she can begin to look at other men for the first time. What I wanted, in the Connick character, was a guy who was appropriate for her so that it would be scary to her. It's one thing to date a younger, rookie cop; you can kind of blow them off afterward. But Connick's character is emotionally open. He's available. He does the same kind of work she does. He has the same values that she does. So that has to be scary as hell for her.
How do you see the relationship progressing?
Leight: As they get in a little deeper, it will scare her a bit more. It's going to be interesting to see somebody in her mid-40s who has not really been in a long-term sexual relationship with someone for a very long time. I just thought, "Let's play the reality of the crutch of Elliot being gone. Now what does she do?" So, now we see if she blows it up, or if circumstances blow it up, or if it's allowed to blossom.
She does seem to still be a bit guarded around him. Will that wall come down?
Leight: Well, they're going to be sleeping together pretty soon, so at some point they have to get there. But even then it's going to be push-me-pull-you.
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How long do you see Haden staying around?
Leight: Originally [Connick] was booked for four episodes, but I'm under no obligation to kill him off at the end of those four. He seems to be having a good time. They seem to be working pretty well together, but at some point drama must rear its head. One thing I will say is we will not reveal him to be a serial killer. And I have no intention of tragically blowing him up in a car or anything like that.
What type of obstacles do you have in mind?
Leight: They may disagree on a case. She may question his commitment because she's such a crusader. If you work as a No. 2 in a New York City D.A.'s office, you have to have political skill. So I could see her mistaking his political skill for a lack of fervor. And clearly, they're not supposed to be working on the same cases. That'll get a case thrown out of court. The ethical boundary is a huge, huge issue. But then also there's this question of boundaries in a relationship. If both of you do the same kind of stuff, and you're always talking shop — is that healthy for a relationship?
So whether he goes or stays, how do you want this relationship to impact Benson moving forward?
Leight: She'll be more aware of what she's not allowed herself. I wanted to play them as two humans trying to figure out what their second acts are emotionally. That's nice. The show doesn't get to do that too often.
As for other emotional moments, I hear you're bringing back Benson's half-brother Simon (Michael Weston).
Leight: Yes, Simon's coming into town. What I wanted in that episode is kind of a Remains of the Day thing, where your hero is caught between a job she has to do and this huge family crisis. Simon's daughter, Olivia's niece, has been taken from the family. And Olivia, up until this point, had no idea she had a niece.
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And how does that affect her?
Warren Leight: She does everything she can to get her niece out of the city's foster care. I mean, she meets the kid for the first time at a social services agency, so it's heartbreaking for her. And so, she enlists Andre Braugher's character to take on the city of New York. That's high stakes.
I understand Wednesday's episode (10/9c, NBC) has a big moment for Rollins (Giddish). Is it something potentially career-threatening?
Leight: She will deal with some personal demons. As part of the crime they're investigating, the SVU office ends up interacting with one of the victims who was a heavy gambler. So we start getting into that world, and it turns out Rollins is familiar with people in that world.
So do you expect the show to be back next season?
Leight: NBC clearly wanted to get the message out that Mariska will be back for Season 14. And I assume they mean on SVU. All I can think is my job is to make the show. I just keep working on the show and I will assume, all things being equal, we'll be back next year. But it's TV. I've been wrong before. ... We're on NBC and that's challenging right now.
Given that, how will you approach the end of the season?
Leight: I've had a note in the back of my head since the season began. And I still have that same note. There's an interesting place for the last several episodes to go, but I don't think it will involve bringing back anyone who's left or killing anyone who's there. It's always good to begin the season knowing where the last episode is. Things can change and all that, but it doesn't have to be a bloodbath at the end.
Law & Order: SVU airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on NBC. Watch a preview of tonight's episode below: