Law & Order: SVU's New Boss on Meloni's Exit, the New Detectives and Rejuvenating the Show
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is not the same show it was when new executive producer Warren Leight was hired to run it.
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Since Leight (Law & Order: Criminal Intent, In Treatment, Lights Out) took the reins four months ago, veteran cast member Christopher Meloni has left the show and he's been replaced by two new faces: Kelli Giddish and Danny Pino. But Leight is looking at the positive. "We call it SVU 2.0 this year," Leight tells TVGuide.com. "I'm aware of how successful and well-liked this show is. I'm just trying to figure out how you rejuvenate it after 12 years."
In the expansive interview below, Leight discusses how he plans to do just that. Plus: He gives us the scoop on how losing a partner will affect Detective Benson (Mariska Hargitay), what we can expect from the new detectives and whether Meloni might return for a final goodbye.
What brought you back to the Law & Order franchise after working on In Treatment and Lights Out.
Warren Leight: Naively, I thought, 'I don't want to launch [a new show].' ... I thought it might be nice to have a little bit more budget, to have eight days to shoot, and not have to reinvent the wheel. Of course, I thought this as I'm coming in the door. Then, Chris Meloni left.
So you had no idea he was leaving when you joined?
Leight: I ran into Chris twice in the transition month where I was just beginning to kick the tires, and he was guarded with me. I said, 'Well, I'm hoping it works out.' He was like, 'We'll see.' The impression people had was that this was this bizarre ballet that happens every spring. You know, there's sort of a "nothing gets done until the last minute, and then it all gets done" mentality. But, no, I had no idea.
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What kind of planning had you done before you knew Meloni was out?
Leight: I had a theory about the co-dependence of Elliot and Olivia, and I had questions about the health of that relationship. One of the things that worried me was, like in any family dynamic, after a while people get assigned certain roles. In a healthy environment, people can switch roles a little more. I worried that there was too much anger coming from Elliot and too much empathy coming from Olivia. I had just begun to wonder, 'What do we do to shake it up?' Then Chris' departure happened. It forced the issue in a good way: Instead of having to push people out of their roles, by definition their roles have changed now.
How does the new season deal with Stabler and what happened in last year's finale?
Leight: We begin with Elliot's character still on administrative leave, and we deal with it that way. If you're ever involved in a police shooting, you go on admin leave, and you're paid while they investigate the shooting. So, we start out with the squad room that doesn't have Elliot, and then it plays out.
Is there any plan to have Meloni return to give Stabler a proper send-off?
Leight: There's talk. I don't know that it's viable talk. He's not in the first six episodes, for sure. One of the things we're trying to do is stay in the moment. In real life, do you always get closure when relationships end? At a certain point, I guess you would wonder what would it be like to have him wander in Episode 15 or something, but I don't know. The audience knows Chris Meloni's left the show.
I imagine his presence will still be felt for a while after he's gone.
Leight: Absolutely. The character most affected by his departure is Olivia. I think in the old days of Law & Order, you'd rip a limb off, attach a new limb, and go back and pitch. Rub some dirt in the wound and go out there. We're trying to do that a little. To my mind and to Mariska's mind, [Stabler's exit] will be playing out over several episodes — sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes in overt ways.