The actor, who portrayed Det. Elliot Stabler for 12 seasons on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," is returning to headline his own series -- with a 13-episode commitment.
Just when you thought Dick Wolf was done expanding his "Law & Order" universe on NBC -- considering his "Chicago" empire continues to dominate in the ratings -- the prolific producer is dipping back into the well and bringing back a classic beloved character.
After Variety reported the news, citing sources, fans went straight to the source, with one fan tweeting Christopher Meloni directly and asking him to confirm the news "so we can all sleep easy for the first night since quarantine began."
With two simple words, Meloni put their minds at ease.
"SVU" has been the lone ship of the once dominant "L&O" franchise for several years now, recently surpassing the original "Law & Order" and "Gunsmoke" to become the longest-running scripted live-action televisions series in history (by seasons). And it's already been picked up for three more!
For the past decade, it's been Mariska Hargitay's show. But for the first 12 seasons, Hargitay's Olivia Benson shared top billing with Christopher Meloni as Detective Elliot Stabler. In fact, while it's hard to fathom now, there was actually some concern that the show would suffer without one of its beloved leads.
Clearly that hasn't been the case as "SVU" remains a juggernaut in the ratings, but ten years later there is still a lot of love out there for the retired Detective Stabler. So much so that he's coming back to reprise a role he hasn't played since 2011 and that still might arguably be considered his most popular and recognizable one.
It's as if Wolf is taking a note from the success of CBS All Access' "Star Trek: Picard." Take a beloved character, take the actor who helped make that character beloved and bring both out of retirement. Boom! Guaranteed success.
Based on the enthusiastic response just to the report that NBC had greenlit the new series with a 13-episode commitment, it would appear that it is a guarantee after all.
Even better, just as Wolf's "Chicago" franchise has established crossover events on a regualr basis, and the "Law & Order" brand did so back when it ran multiple shows simultaneously, fans just know it's only a matter of time before Stabler and Benson cross paths again. And that's an anticipated reunion made in ratings blockbuster heaven!
Meloni has appeared as Detective Stabler on "Law & Order," "Law & Order: SVU" and "Law & Order: Trial by Jury" already in his career, so he's no stranger to bringing his grizzled veteran to other Wolf series. We wouldn't even rule out the possibility of a "Chicago" crossover.
According to Variety, the new series will follow Stabler -- clearly back out of retirement -- as he takes the lead of the organized crime division of the NYPD. We can certainly see potential for one or more of those cases to have some crossover with the special victims unit.
Wolf is enjoying a new five-year deal with NBC that includes "SVU" the "Chicago" lineup and multiple new series commitments, with Meloni's return only the first. Could there be even more "Law & Order" series on the horizon? Perhaps some other familiar faces will make a comeback.
The enduring popularity of "SVU" would indicate that there is still at least some appetite for this franchise, and the "Chicago" success proves Wolf still knows how to make compelling television.
At its height there were four "Law & Order" series on television simultaneously, and there have been a total of six series in the franchise thus far. Beyond "SVU," the most recent use of the title was for the intended "True Crime" anthology series, which focused on the Menendez brothers in 2017. No further seasons have been confirmed.