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Source: nbc

Christopher Meloni Is Participating in the Paley Center Tribute, but Is He Coming Back to 'SVU'?

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Since the dawn of television, audiences have seen numerous crime-fighting duos on their screens doing their best to make the world a safer and better place. One of the most memorable and beloved on-screen duos of all time has been Detectives Stabler and Benson of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.

Stabler brought hot-headed passion and a good bit of machismo to balance Benson's more sympathetic approach toward victims and the crimes SVU investigates. And despite butting heads many times over the years, the two developed a bond that made them more than just partners: they would easily give up a kidney for the other, if needed.

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Source: nbc

And although Christopher Meloni, who played Elliot Stabler, left the show years ago, leaving Benson to work with a string of new partners over subsequent seasons, fans have always wondered whether Elliot Stabler would ever come back to SVU.

Why did Christopher Meloni leave SVU and when?

For fans not in the know, Christopher Meloni was part of the original Law and Order: SVU cast and starred in every episode until Season 12. His departure was somewhat sudden and after Stabler leaves the squad, his character never shows up again, which is strange given the recurrence of so many other more minor characters.

Reportedly, Stabler was only written off the show because of a contract dispute with actor Christopher Meloni, so there was no build-up to the departure and fans were left in shock when the Season 13 opener simply announced that Detective Stabler had left the police force after the intense Season 12 finale in which he sort-of-accidentally opened fire on a young girl.

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Source: nbc

Given the nature of his departure, fans have always held on to the hope that Stabler would one day come back to the show. 

And now it seems that Stabler's return is closer than ever. In an interview with E! News, showrunner Warren Leight expressed hope about Stabler coming back to the show.

"I don't know how, I don't know when, but yeah ... I think the fans and Benson and Stabler are owed that," he said, adding that he "would hope to see [Stabler] again."

Christopher Meloni even appeared in a recent Paley Center tribute to honor his character and time on the show. "There's a sense of reverence now," he said, "which I think there should be because we were a show that served a greater purpose than just being entertainment."

If Warren's wishes about Stabler returning come true, the character's comeback would address unanswered questions about his sudden departure and also provide some closure for his and Benson's will-they-won't-they relationship.

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Source: nbc

For his part, Christopher seems very open — dare we say, keen — to return to the show. "I was just recently talking about that," he said to Entertainment Weekly about a possible comeback. "I always presented that I'd be open to doing the last few episodes, so that's really all I have to say about that. It's not up to me."

With Law and Order: Special Victims Unit going strong in its historic 21st season with no signs of slowing down, it might be a while until Stabler returns for the final episodes — but we'll be waiting.

Law and Order: Special Victims Unit returns to NBC on Thursday, Jan. 10 at 10 p.m. for its winter premiere.