Christopher Meloni on ‘Law & Order: Organized Crime’

Meloni returns to the 'L&O' universe as Elliot Stabler, who the actor says 'has been finding his purpose. ... What brings him back is a mix of business and pleasure, but both have been sidelined.'

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Last December, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit fans were thrilled when star Mariska Hargitay, who portrays Olivia Benson, posted to her Instagram account a screen capture of a table read for an upcoming episode that was held via Zoom, accompanied by the understated caption, “Well…that happened…”

Fans were excited that a new episode was in the works, sure, but they were especially amped up when they noticed one screen name and picture in particular from among the several Zoom participants: “chrismeloni1.”

Yes, it was Christopher Meloni, back — at least virtually, in that moment — with his old SVU family and getting ready to reprise his beloved character of Detective Elliot Stabler. Meloni portrayed Stabler during the long-running crime drama’s first 12 seasons, from 1999-2011, earning an Emmy nomination for his work.

Starting this month, Meloni is back to the character full time as he leads the new spinoff series Law & Order: Organized Crime. The series launches with a two-hour event — its premiere episode will be preceded by an SVU crossover episode in which Meloni guest stars, and in which fans can finally see him together again with Hargitay and the others off of Zoom.

“Working with Mariska again was effortless,” says Meloni, sounding as excited to be back in the L&O universe as fans are at having him return, “and there was a sense of knowing without having to say anything. We just are, and you can’t plan for it, and it’s the most important element of chemistry. We’ve been lucky to keep it over the years.”

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Of course, in his new series, Meloni will have a new group of regulars to work with, including Dylan McDermott, Tamara Taylor (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and Danielle Moné Truitt (Rebel).

As with much of Organized Crime — which has had various production starts and stops due to the pandemic since even before it was originally slated to debut last fall — when we spoke with Meloni there weren’t yet a whole lot of details about who these actors portray, and how they factor into Stabler’s new role.

We do know that the series involves Stabler returning to the NYPD to battle organized crime after a devastating personal loss. He will aim to rebuild his life as part of a new elite task force that is taking apart the city’s most powerful criminal syndicates one by one.

Meloni admits that “I can’t say much” about the series. “But Elliot has been finding his purpose. He took time to work on himself and focus on his family. What brings him back is a mix of business and pleasure, but both have been sidelined when we first see him.”

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Stabler certainly saw some of the worst of the worst types of criminals working in the SVU, but dealing with organized crime seems like it could present new kinds of challenges to him, and Meloni agrees.

“This is a modern Mafia,” he says. “They have their hands in all the dark crevices like crypto-currency and the dark web. It’s more high-tech, more sophisticated, and that’s just not where Stabler lives.”

Along with different types of criminal activities under investigation in the series, Organized Crime sounds like it could also have a bit of a different feel to its format as compared with previous L&O incarnations, based on what executive producer Ilene Chaiken says.

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“[The series] will follow one major case over the course of the season,” she explains, “but the episodes will all feature a self-contained, close-ended story that resolves within the hour and relates to the larger case. The show does not follow the original L&O template [of an investigation in the first half and trial in the second].”

Some elements of the successful L&O formula will be recognized in the new series, though, as Meloni offers that “It wouldn’t be Law & Order without addressing issues that are ripped from the headlines.”

“[We] will absolutely continue the ‘ripped from the headlines’ tradition that the franchise is known for,” Chaiken confirms. “We can’t tell you what real-life crimes we’ll be riffing on quite yet.”

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Chaiken can tell us that fans should expect more interactions between Stabler and his former SVU colleagues beyond the episode that launches Organized Crime.

“We do anticipate more crossovers,” she says. “Both shows live in the same fictional universe, and any number of characters might migrate from one show to the other, but Stabler and Benson will certainly cross paths.”

Law & Order: Organized Crime, Thursdays at 10pm ET on NBC beginning April 1