But in the latest episode of The Law & Order: SVU Podcast, showrunner Warren Leight reveals that not only will fans not have to wait long for Stabler’s return, but his first appearance will be on SVU. “It’s pretty clear that Elliot will be in the SVU season opener,” Leight says. “I think that much I know. Whether we get to see his family as well remains to be seen.”
Earlier in the conversation, Leight and the other writers -- Julie Martin, Denis Hamill and Monet Hurst-Mendoza -- reveal that they had plans to slowly reintroduce Stabler and his family -- to ease his transition back into the L&O universe.
“We had heard distant thunder about Chris Meloni coming back in the fall and we were going to lay a little groundwork for that,” Leight says. “We were going to see [his wife] Kathy Stabler come back very upset. Her son had been rolled by a team of ne'er-do-wells and may have been drugged, and we were going to revisit [Benson’s half-brother] Simon's seeming overdose and we were going to get to know the stresses on the Stablers -- what had happened to the Stabler family after Elliot both left SVU and apparently left them.”
This was all supposed to unfold in the final few episodes of season 21, which was shortened by the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to the death of one SVU crew member and halted production on the series. “We were just going to lay some groundwork down in anticipation of Elliot's return of course in his own series. We had the sense that the first episode of next year for SVU was going to bring Elliot back, so we were going to foreshadow that and explain a little more what happened to Simon,” Leight adds.
While bringing back Stabler to SVU is not only fun for fans, but it also services Wolf’s larger vision of launching a new series, which will follow the former detective as he returns to the force to head up the Organized Crime Division of the NYPD. “It's not just about the SVU season opener, it's how do we help launch the new series and how much crossover will there be between Elliot and Olivia as the season goes on,” Leight explains.
“There’s a 10-year gap of no reference point whatsoever,” Martin says of the back-filling they’ll have to do to explain what happened during Stabler’s absence and fill in the gaps for viewers.
In the meantime, Law & Order: SVU has been renewed through season 24, giving the writers plenty of opportunity for crossovers and reunions.