‘Law & Order SVU’: Dick Wolf Fought Against Changing Olivia Benson After Chris Meloni Left

‘Law & Order SVU’: Dick Wolf Fought Against Changing Olivia Benson After Chris Meloni Left


After Chris Meloni’s departure from Law & Order: SVU, the series underwent significant changes that continue to influence its trajectory. The absence of Meloni’s character, Elliot Stabler, prompted a shift in focus towards Mariska Hargitay’s Olivia Benson, who became more central to the show than ever before.

Warren Leight, who took over as showrunner during this turbulent period, aimed to evolve SVU by giving Olivia Benson substantial growth and development. This departure from Dick Wolf’s traditional rule of maintaining static characters within the Law & Order universe led to some friction between Leight and Wolf.

“In the Law and Order universe, characters aren’t supposed to change,” Leight explained in a 2016 interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “But when a show runs as long as SVU has, static characters can feel unrealistic. Dick and I had ongoing discussions about this, even through to the finale.”

Leight’s approach yielded results, allowing Olivia Benson to undergo significant personal and professional developments that may not have been possible had Elliot Stabler remained. Benson’s promotion, new friendships, and her storyline involving adoption mirrored real-life experiences of Hargitay, enriching the character’s depth and resonance with viewers.

“Elliot’s departure freed Olivia,” Leight continued. “It allowed her to explore relationships and assert herself as the most experienced and vital detective in the squad room.”

SVU, originally focused primarily on the workplace dynamics of its characters, has gradually delved into their personal lives over the seasons. This shift was once considered taboo by Wolf, who viewed Law & Order as a workplace drama where the characters’ personal lives were secondary to their professional roles.

“The Law & Order franchise has always been about the workplace,” Wolf explained to The Futon Critic. “We focus on credible portrayals of their professional roles, akin to colleagues at a company.”

Despite initial resistance, the evolution of Olivia Benson’s character has resonated deeply with fans, demonstrating the ongoing relevance and adaptability of Law & Order: SVU in exploring complex themes both within and beyond the confines of its crime procedural format.


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