SVU Boss Optimistic That Meloni and Hargitay (and The Show!) Will Return For Season 13

Any rumors of Law & Order: SVU‘s imminent demise have been greatly exaggerated. Sources close to the situation confirm to TVLine that NBC has already begun preliminary renewal talks with series leads Mariska Hargitay and Chris Meloni (whose respective contracts expire at the end of the season), while departing showrunner Neal Baer tells us he’s optimistic the pair will be back.

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“They’re as committed to playing Olivia and Elliot as they were the first day I walked in and saw them in the interrogation room,” Baer says when asked if he believes the duo will return for another season. “It’s an amazing thing that never lags. [Mariska and Chris] are so professional and the ultimate artists in that they’re there to realize their characters, making them as strong, believable and compelling as possible. And there aren’t a lot of opportunities to do that [in television].

“They’re the longest running drama duo in TV history,” Baer continues, “and I think [they’ll be around] as long as they can keep playing new angles within the parameters of the show.”

Before NBC can officially renew the series itself, the network needs to be certain its cast is on board — but Baer has every reason to believe SVU will return for a 13th season.  (Mind you, this TV vet has been through the pickup waiting game a time or two.) “I would say that chances [of renewal] are very good, given that it’s the highest-rated drama on NBC,” he offers.

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Baer points out that SVU “did really well last week, beating two first-runs on competing networks” — CBS’ Blue Bloods and ABC’s Off The Map. “That shows that there’s huge interest. It’s a real phenomenon if you think about it. Our researchers at NBC tell us we have 53 million unique viewers on average a week, across all platforms — that would [include] USA, syndication off-network and originals. So one-out-of-six people is watching the show still… in year 12! That’s so gratifying.”

Although “nothing is certain until the network decides,” Baer says “all of the stars are in line” for NBC to renew the sex-crimes procedural. “The show is in a really wonderful place creatively, storytelling-wise and ratings-wise, which a really nice way to leave it. When I left ER in year seven, I felt the same way. Of course, ER lasted eight more years, so I hope SVU will last eight more years, too.”

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Another indicator that NBC intends to renew the series comes in the form of the search for Baer’s successor, which is underway now with his help. And while this season’s finale will mark Baer’s last with SVU, don’t expect some sort of sappy sendoff at episode’s end. “I don’t have plans to write some farewell show,” he laughs. “It will just be a really good, twisty, turny and hopefully memorable episode.”

Aren’t they all?

Coming soon to TVLine.com: Even more SVU news, including the juicy scoop on an Elliot/Olivia jaw-dropper!

How are you feeling about this SVU update? Are you hoping NBC renews the drama for a 13th season? And, worst case, would you still watch without Benson and Stabler? Let us know in the comments.