Christopher Meloni is opening up about his abrupt exit from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit back in 2011, admitting exactly how the failed contract negotiations that led to Elliot Stabler’s decade-long absence on TV went down in a new profile for Men’s Health. This isn’t the first time the actor, 60, had alluded to contract disputes as the reason for his initial exit, but certainly one of the most explicit, as he admitted that despite decades at NBC, now with Law & Order: Organized Crime, he has few friends at the network.
“I’m just not a showbiz guy,” he said, crediting that to being “horrible” at schmoozing. Negotiating his contract back in 2011, Meloni said he told NBC, “Well, if it’s this [amount of money], then this is the way to go around so you don’t have to pay [the larger amount he wanted.” He continued, “My thought was: Instead of 22 episodes, bring me back for nine episodes, or bring me back for 18 episodes. 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.’ ”
Meloni wasn’t about to play ball that way, telling the network in response, “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.” Meloni’s character left SVU abruptly, leaving several loose ends, especially with Mariska Hargitay’s character, Olivia Benson.
When Organized Crime was announced, revealing that Stabler and Benson would be reunited again, fans were needless to say excited. Meloni told Men’s Health that Stabler returns in the new spinoff to “a world he doesn’t understand,” explaining, “You know, you’re a white cop of a certain age, you’re not allowed to do a lot of things, and you’re being challenged on your bona fides on both sides. How woke are you? And how much of a man are you?”
Meloni previously told Entertainment Tonight in July 2020 that “a certain piece just fell into place” that led to him returning to the Law & Order universe. “For me, there were just personal things that I was like, ‘You know, now is a good time.’ That was it. There was nothing secret. It just was effortlessly correct,” he said. “It’s one of these [things where] I felt like I believed in the stars and all that… I’d go, ‘Oh, the stars are telling me you know but because it was just right.'”