‘Law & Order: SVU’: Why Christopher Meloni Was ‘Tightly Wound’ on the Set

by Josh Lanier

Christopher Meloni said working on Law & Order: SVU was rough for him. Not only was the material brutal, but the schedule was nonstop.

Meloni told The Arizona Republic in 2014, shortly after he left Law & Order, that the pressure left him “tightly wound.”

“Doing the ‘SVU’ gig … I was tightly wound. That was difficult material, day in and day out for 12 years, and the hours were pretty brutal. I remember after six months — and it’s a nine-month season — after six months I’d be toast, more liquid than solid, and you really, truly need a month to decompress, six weeks. So you would have maybe a month off where you’ve found yourself again, and then you’d have to go back into production.”

Christopher Meloni famously played Elliot Stabler on Law & Order: SVU for 12 years before finally stepping away from the role. He and NBC couldn’t come to terms over his new contract so he walked away. In the years since then and returning to the Law & Order family Meloni has done more comedy than drama. Though, anyone who follows his career knows he has a history of taking on comedy roles.

“My first jobs were in comedy, sitcoms and that sort of thing in the early ’90s, and I think because of how I looked or my build I got more dramatic parts, but I’ve always had a real fondness for comedy,” he said. “The first guys I looked at were Abbott and Costello. Even Laurel and Hardy.”

But despite his “inelegant” departure from Law & Order: SVU when negotiations broke down, co-star Mariska Hargitay said the show always left the door open for a potential return. And when he did return for a few crossover episodes to help launch his own spinoff, Law & Order: Organized Crime, fans happily welcomed him back.

“In television, when somebody leaves, obviously there’s a grieving period, but the fans never moved on,” Hargitay told People this year. “And I think that is just so incredibly beautiful and so incredibly powerful.”

Why Did Meloni Return To Law & Order Family?

Despite the hours and stress of working on a show like Law & Order, Meloni said the idea of returning to the fold was enticing.

“I was intrigued for a variety of personal reasons,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “If you have, at least from my perspective, a very well-known and beloved TV character who left abruptly and, I would argue, unceremoniously… there’s a built-in recognizability, a thing that needs to be satiated with a sense of closure. Those are all very attractive things.”

But the difference between Law & Order: SVU and Organized Crime is the latter allows for longer story-telling. Something that Meloni said drew him in when producers approached him to reprise his old role on a new show. That storytelling style was by design, the showrunner said.

“It’s not a case of the week, because organized crime doesn’t work in that way,” executive producer Ilene Chaiken told Entertainment Weekly. “It’s an episodic show; the episodes will stand on their own. But the stories will also play out over the course of a whole season.”