May 24, 2011 at 6:37 PM ET
Terrible news, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" fans. According to Matt Webb Mitovich and Michael Ausiello of TVLine, star Christopher Meloni will not be returning with the show this fall.
A source told TVLine that contract talks between the actor, who plays Det. Elliot Stabler, and NBC fell apart on Tuesday. (TODAY.com is powered by msnbc.com, which is a joint venture between Microsoft and NBC Universal.)
"It is true -- 12 great years and time for the next chapter," Meloni's rep confirmed to our friends at E! Online.
Fans aren't the only ones surprised by the news. "Honestly.. The news about Ch ris today was a BOMB to me too! Sad. But you never know what to expect in this TV bizz... Stay tuned," tweeted co-star Ice T, who plays Fin Tutuola.
Show creator Dick Wolf is reportedly already looking for someone else to play opposite Mariska Hargitay's Det. Olivia Benson.
Hargitay just finalized her deal for season 13 earlier this month. Word is that her Det. Benson will receive a promotion midseason and a new female detective will be brought on board. (Rumors that the new co-star would be Jennifer Love Hewitt are false, a source told Scoop columnist Courtney Hazlett.) Now it seems there could be a new set of detectives at the heart of the show.
But perhaps the network should consider passing the baton to detectives John Munch and Fin Tutuola instead. The two are already a dynamite crime-fighting team and could add a little levity to the show as Stabler bows out and Benson moves up.
Can the show survive without Stabler? How should "SVU" move on next season? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page.