Longtime 'SVU' staple Christopher Meloni left the series and showrunner Neal Baer also said goodbye. However, the cast and crew are taking the departures in stride, welcoming new and returning faces to the fold.
"This year, Season 13 of 'SVU,' is a bit of a rebirth," new showrunner Warren Leight told a group of reporters on the 'SVU' set recently.
Now that 'SVU' is the only 'Law & Order' series on the air, Leight said the new season of 'SVU' will feature elements from the franchise's other shows. To honor 'Law & Order,' there will be more legal elements, and 'SVU' has brought back Stephanie March and Diane Neal to play their ADA roles and Linus Roache to reprise his 'Law & Order' role.
In addition to the beefed-up legal elements, Leight said the show will dive into the motivations of perpetrators, something 'Criminal Intent' was known for. That's something Leight is very familiar with -- he was showrunner on 'Law & Order: Criminal Intent.'
"So this year -- it's still 'SVU' -- the show is emotionally driven and loaded, but there will be elements of both of the shows that are no longer on the air," he said.
In an effort to fill Meloni's void, Kelli Giddish and Danny Pino have been added to the cast as new special victims unit detectives. Giddish, who starred on NBC's 'Chase,' plays Amanda Rollins, a more by-the-book detective who has worked her way up the ranks. Pino, known for his role on 'Cold Case,' plays Nick Amaro, who Leight said is more empathetic in his police work.
The two new detectives won't be partners, nor will they immediately partner up with specific characters. Look for the detectives to work in rotating pairs.
"It's great coming in as the new kid on the block," Giddish said. "You're coming into a family that's been together for 12 years ... it's a just a really nice flame to carry."
Fans of 'SVU' needn't be worried, the show deals with -- and will continue to address -- the departure of Meloni's Detective Elliot Stabler character.
"We don't ignore the loss of Stabler, we address it," series co-star Richard Belzer said. "It's a deep loss in terms of both personally for us as actors and on a human level. It was a huge loss, emotionally and as an actor it's a challenge. Chris was such an integral part of the show."
While Stabler's exit brings new faces to the squad room, it also creates some emotional issues for Mariska Hargitay's Detective Olivia Benson.
"Everything is new and that's what's so exciting," Hargitay said. "For me personally it's a completely different Olivia, which obviously as an actor is very exciting to play. With Elliot's departure, Olivia's been turned really upside down. She's missing an arm. I think she sees everything through a new prism and is quite lost in a place where she wasn't lost at all -- in a place where she had clarity, power and direction and focus."
Hargitay credits the new actors and status quo as giving the show a fresh feel.
"It's been very exciting to also welcome our new actors and again have something completely different to play," she said. "It's a different game in the same construct so that's exciting and fresh and new. Luckily we got some pretty great new actors."
Get an exclusive behind the scenes look at Season 13 of 'Law & Order: SVU.'