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Chris Meloni talks reaction to Benson-Stabler reunion: 'I was not prepared'

"L&O: Organized Crime" creator Dick Wolf promised there would be more "SVU" crossovers.
/ Source: TODAY

Last week, the long-promised return of Christopher Meloni as Elliot Stabler to both "Law & Order: SVU" (his old stamping grounds) and "Law & Order: Organized Crime" (his new turf) turned out to be both a ratings bonanza and a huge thrill for fans.

It was also a chance for Stabler to reunite with his old partner in the "SVU" unit, Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay), and the pair had some seriously emotional moments together. As it turns out, that was true on and off camera.

Law & Order: Organized Crime - Season 1
Christopher Meloni in "Law & Order: Organized Crime."Virginia Sherwood / NBC

"Mariska and I have talked (since the shows aired), and the conversation went something like this: 'Wow! Congratulations!' 'Congratulations to you!' It was pretty overwhelming," said Meloni during a virtual press conference Wednesday. "I think she was expecting it more than I was. She's been in the 'L&O' stew; she's been in that world continuously for 20 years. I was not prepared."

And it looks like there will be more opportunities as the show continues for overwhelming moments. Franchise creator Dick Wolf (who co-created "Organized Crime" with Ilene Chaiken and Matt Olmstead) gave a greater shape to how "OC" would pan out over the full upcoming season: There will be three eight-episode arcs, the first echoing "The Godfather," the second echoing "American Gangster" and the third reflective of "Scarface."

"These villains are going to be really bad guys that really give Chris a constant source of energy, outrage, belief in justice and a different way of pursuing criminals than we've had before," he said.

Law & Order: Organized Crime - Season 1
Fans cheered to see Meloni (as Elliot Stabler) with Mariska Hargitay (Olivia Benson), his old partner, again. Virginia Sherwood / NBC

Namely that while there will be the "ripped from the headlines" moments the "L&O"-verse is famous for, the story arcs will be more connected show-to-show than the franchise is traditionally known for. As for those crossovers, he said if fans want to know how the show will blend with "SVU," just look at his "Chicago" shows ("PD," "Med" and "Fire"), which frequently share storylines.

"We will do it whenever it gives both shows a different way to shine," he said. "Obviously there's a portion of the audience that says, 'Jeez, this is frustrating, why don't you just put them both on the same show again,' he said. "This, to me, is more engaging."

Meanwhile, there was the question of just how much Stabler has changed. Wolf called him the "most pre-Miranda cop on television," referring to the Miranda rights assigned to suspects under arrest, and Meloni said we'd be seeing "Elliot 2.0."

"Hopefully (this is) his evolution to a clearer understanding," said Meloni. "To how you adapt to your reality of people punching you in the face."

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit - Season 22
There will be more crossovers with "SVU," but only when it makes sense for the story, the show creators said.Virginia Sherwood / NBC

They also revealed that we'll begin to see Stabler easing into the role of being a single dad with a very challenging job, which will give room for exploring his relationships with his children. "We will probably get to know Stabler in a way you've never gotten to know him," said Chaiken.

Still, despite the storytelling changes in this iteration of the "L&O"-verse, don't expect too much of a hard turn into personal matters. As Wolf noted, "You don't dole (personal stories) out with soup ladles, but with demitasse spoons."

Image: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Stabler and Benson, seen here in a 1999 "SVU" episode, are clearly going through a fraught time. Will it turn into more? Don't count on it.Jessica Burstein / NBC

Which might not be a great sign for fans who yearn for the show to lean hard into the newly single Stabler and the perpetually single Benson finally being more than long-estranged partners. For now, though, Meloni says he feels like he's in a really good place to create a more modernized Stabler.

"The pressure's off," eh said. "I feel less pressure than when Dick first tasked me with being Elliot Stabler. I'm freer to appreciate everything. It's a nice journey."

"Law & Order: Organized Crime" airs Thursday nights at 10 p.m., right after "Law & Order: SVU," on NBC.