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May 26, 2011  | by: Svenja van den Woldenberg

Chris Meloni

It was confirmed on Tuesday that Chris Meloni, who plays Detective Stabler on “Law & Order: SVU,” will not be returning for a 13th season.

Meloni has been on the show since it started in 1999. His partner on the show, Olivia Benson, played by Mariska Hargitay, has signed a contract to appear in the next season, which has been announced to return in the fall, but Deadline reports that she was only signed for the first 13 episodes.

Hargitay told Entertainment Weekly that she wants to lighten her work load to spend more time with her recently adopted daughter, Amaya Josephine, who is approximately eight weeks old.

Mariska Hargitay and Chris Meloni

It has been widely reported that Hargitay’s character, Benson, will be promoted to a supervising position during the 13th season thus paving the way for a new female lead to take her place. Several sources are reporting that Jennifer Love Hewitt, who appeared on the hit-tv drama as a rape victim in September 2010, will be the one to replace Hargitay but there has been no official contract offer. “[She] is someone we’ve been circling,” said Robert Greenblatt, the recently new NBC Chief, in an Entertainment Weekly article, “I don’t know whether that’s coming to pass or not.”

Last week, Greenblatt still sounded confident that Meloni would renew his contract, but it has been reported that the series creator, Dick Wolf, is already trying to find a replacement for the actor.

At least “SVU” has been confirmed for another season, unlike its sister show “Law & Order: Los Angeles,” which was canceled after its first season. But with all the changes, will viewers still watch?

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