christopher meloni elliot stabler law and order svu nbc

After almost a full decade, the moment that fans of Law & Order: SVU have been waiting for is nearly here. The moment when we can finally see a reunion between Olivia Benson, played by series mainstay Mariska Hargitay, and her former partner in crime-solving, Elliot Staber, with Christopher Meloni returning to the role for the first time since his sudden departure after Season 12. With his return to the very much missed character just about a month away, Meloni's opening up about why he left and what that time was like for him.

Long-time fans of Law & Order: SVU will likely know by now that Christopher Meloni left the show behind after a contract dispute ended with less than favorable results. This is why, despite many viewers constant hopes and pleas going un-answered for so long, many of us were shocked when it was announced early last year that Meloni would both briefly bring Stabler back to SVU and later launch a new spinoff led by the character.

In anticipation of Meloni's revival of Elliot Stabler, he and Mariska Hargitay spoke with People about what happened in 2011 when he left, as well as what's to come for their on-screen reunion. After Hargitay noted that she was both "scared" and "sad" upon finding out that her good friend and co-star wouldn't be joining her for Season 13, Meloni said:

She was left in the familiarity of what we were. And I'm sure there were echoes, constant reminders, everywhere. But for me, it was about how things fell out—and the word I'll use is that it was inelegant. At the end of the day, how it was handled was, 'Okay, see you later.' So I went, 'That's fine. We're all big boys and girls here. See you later.' And I was off on new adventures and doing what I wanted to do. Telling the stories I wanted to tell. I couldn't have been happier.

Christopher Meloni was quick to acknowledge how difficult his departure must have been on Mariska Hargitay, but also noted how he was able to leave with a sense of peace after how everything went down during his contract negotiations. It sounds as though he was left with the feeling that his requirements to sign up for continued adventures as Elliot Stabler were at least a little bit dismissed, and possibly had him go on his way with the idea that those behind the show (at time time, anyway) felt like they didn't need Stabler in order to continue.

But, as Meloni said, once he was aware of how things were being handled, he had no problem simply walking away to tackle other projects, which he has done to a very successful degree outside of Law & Order: SVU.

Of course, everyone who loved watching Hargitay and Meloni together back in the day probably knows that while the actors weren't working on SVU anymore, they remained close buddies off camera. The two have even posted several shots of themselves on social media while hanging out in recent years, and every single one of them has sent fans into a tizzy with the desire that it meant we'd finally be able to see Benson and Stabler back together on screen. As Hargitay noted:

In television, when somebody leaves, obviously there's a grieving period, but the fans never moved on. And I think that is just so incredibly beautiful and so incredibly powerful.

Well, we're all going to be treated to a whopper of a reunion for Christopher Meloni's Stabler and Mariska Hargitay's Benson on April 1. The event will begin with an episode of Law & Order: SVU, which airs at 9 p.m. EST, and then leads into the premiere of the Meloni-led Law & Order: Organized Crime at 10 p.m. on NBC.

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