INTERVIEW: Chris Meloni, Dick Wolf, & Ilene Chaiken talk SVU and Organized Crime

Last week Law & Order: Special Victims Unit fans were delighted to see a reunion 10-years in the making. Detective Elliot Stabler (Chris Meloni) returned to our homes after an abrupt, and heartbreaking, departure (of screen) after the the end of season 12. His appearance also marked the launch of the next chapter in Law & Order franchise, Organized Crime which is being touted as “the biggest digital launch in NBC history.” 

LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT — “Return of the Prodigal Son” Episode 22007 — Pictured: (l-r) Christopher Meloni as Detective Elliot Stabler, Mariska Hargitay as Captain Olivia Benson — (Photo by: Christopher Del Sordo/NBC)

On-screen, the reunion was sparked by a terrible attack which left Stabler’s wife Kathy (Isabell Gillies) in the hospital, where she later died. While many fans were disappointed with the use of the “fridging” trope, it seems series creator Dick Wolf and showrunner Ilene Chaiken are either not familiar with the trope, or don’t care about the implications it holds. At a virtual press conference with the creator, showrunner, and star, Wolf, who claimed he didn’t see anything critical of the decision to kill off Kathy, stated “it’s the most dramatic teaser I can remember on any show.” Chaiken added that Kathy’s death was already in place when she joined the project, but she thought “Wow, this is a great place to start. I was not, in any way, put off by it.” Chaiken continued, that when one reintroduces “a beloved character whose been gone for many years, the first question you ask yourself is ’why now?’” She concluded that Kathy’s murder was quite a compelling reason.  

LAW & ORDER: ORGANIZED CRIME — “What Happens in Puglia” Episode 101 — Pictured: (l-r) Adam Harper as Carl, Autumn Mirassou as Maureen Stabler, Kaitlyn Davidson as Elizabeth Stabler, Jeffrey Scaperrotta as Dickie Stabler, Nicky Torchia as Eli Stabler, Allison Siko as Kathleen Stabler, Christopher Meloni as Detective Elliot Stabler — (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

Given how important Stabler’s family was to him on SVU (Kathy and their four children were introduced in the pilot episode) it’s no surprise the new show will spend time with Stabler, his family, his life, and his emotions. A hotheaded and reactionary officer, Stabler’s attitude and short fuse were built into the character from the beginning, a template written by Wolf in Special Victims Unit 1×01 Payback, according to Meloni. In Organized Crime, Chaiken has “managed to take a very tough character and make him more sympathetic than he’s ever been,” praised Wolf. 

Chaiken promised, “we get to know Stabler in a way we’ve never gotten to know him.” Of course Stabler’s family story is a big part of Organized Crime, Chaiken reminded us he’s now “a single father of to a 14 year old kid”. The showrunner felt it was important for the family to bond before shooting, getting the cast together to talk about their characters. “My son Dickie is the only original from Day 1 SVU… some came later on,” Meloni clarified since Kathleen was recast, with Allison Siko taking the role in season 3. And in Organized Crime, “some were brand new”. 

In addition to brand new actors, Organized Crime is bringing a new narrative style for the Wolf-universe. According to Wolf, “this is the first Law and Order with literally completely different storytelling” since it’s more serialized than procedural. Wolf explained, “This is a very long, but not too long, period to really get inside both your protagonist and your antagonist’s heads. All you have to do it look at the casting in the first episode and realize this is not episodic casting. We’re shooting for bigger game.” Fans of first episode can only hope he’s referring to Stabler’s new hacker friend, Jet Sloomaekers, played by Ainsley Seiger. (SPOILER: she’s part of the team!)

As for the stories, and the challenges of shooting during COVID, Wolf spoke about the natural connection of the pandemic and mob stories, “I thought the oldest mob activity there is, or was, hijacking, and here is an opportunity to combine hijacking and COVID.” While the current climate does fit in nicely, it comes with it’s own drawbacks. Production has shut down multiple times and the season has been cut by one episode, but Wolf believes it hasn’t interfered with the story. 

Although the pandemic lent itself to the story – in reality, every chapter of the Law & Order franchise rips from the headlines – Wolf was adamant that writers don’t go out of their way do so, “I’ve had the same answer for 31 years: Law & Order is fiction. We take the headline, but not the body copy.” Regarding other recent headlines relating to policing, “Obviously, the people inside the company – the showrunners, the producers – we spend a lot of time talking about police behavior,” said Wolf. “We’re doing what we always do, which is listen very carefully, read virtually everything written about this, from both sides of the spectrum, from the far left to the far right, the shows will speak for themselves. If you’ve been watching Chicago PD, the question is asked and answered.” Wolf confirms, “of course we deal with what’s going on, but it’s never in a knee jerk way.”

Being a spin-off series led by a fan favorite character, undoubtably means the shows are intertwined. And launching with a crossover solidifies that fact, but how often can audiences expect to see characters on the alternate show? Chaiken understands, “these two shows live in the same (fictional, but very grounded) universe.” Without revealing too much Wolf explained, “we are going to do it whenever it gives both shows a different way to shine.”

New episodes of SVU and Organized Crime air Thursdays on NBC.

— Yael Tygiel

Want more SVU? Check out FANVERSATION’s after-show podcast, Law & Order: S-Re-View!

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