Only a week ago during NBC’s upfront conference call, the network’s chairman Bob Greenblatt said he was confident that Chris Meloni would be back on Law & Order: SVU next season. But, following negotiations that didn’t result in a deal, Meloni will be leaving the veteran crime drama after 12 seasons. His leading lady, Mariska Hargitay, closed her deal to return next season full-time for the first 13 episodes and part-time for the back nine as the network and Dick Wolf are preparing for an overhaul of the long-running series. The plan originally included a new female lead, a role Jennifer Love Hewitt is being considered for. But now that will be expanded to the male lead, too. Word is NBC has already sent out feelers to agencies that they’re looking for a name actor to replace Meloni. It is the end of an era at SVU, with longtime showrunner Neal Baer and Meloni leaving now and Hargitay scaling back as she also is mulling an exit after next season. L&O veteran Warren Leight is taking the reins of the series next season. As for Meloni, some sources say that he and NBC simply couldn’t agree on a new deal as the actor had been looking for a salary increase. But sources close to the actor say he’d had enough. “It was a great run and a wonderful experience,” the source said. “Now he is ready for the next chapter of his life.” This is the second time NBC threatened to replace Hargitay and Meloni during contract negotiations. Two years ago, the threat remained just that, and both actors were signed to return with salary bumps. This time, the network is moving forward with recasting Meloni.
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