Sunday, May 26, 2024

“SVU” Shocker: EP of NBC’s Long Running Hit Show Leaving After Year of “Law & Order” Upheaval


This is a surprise.

Warren Leight, executive producer of “Law & Order SVU,” is leaving the show after a three year run. “SVU” is NBC’s 5th highest rated scripted show, and the ratings leader on Thursday nights sandwiched between the revived (and lukewarmly received) “Law & Order” classic and Chris Meloni’s flailing “Organized Crime.”

Leight returned three seasons ago after a break. He’d been with the series for five years, then left. During his absence, “SVU” went into a tailspin and was almost cancelled. But Leight revived the series. This is the 23rd season and it was thought he’d take it to its 25th.

But the whole Dick Wolf “Law & Order” situation has been a mess all season at other shows. “Organized Crime” trails in the ratings and depends on the Mariska Hargitay-starring franchise to stay alive. The “OC” executive producer Ilene Chaiken was let go a couple of months ago and replaced by Bryan Burroughs as the Meloni show’s ratings plummeted.

In February, Wolf revived the original “Law & Order” after failing to produced a show he promised NBC called “Law & Order: For the Defense,” That show simply never materialized after NBC cancelled the popular “Manifest” to make a “Law & Order” night out of Thursdays. For the first half of this season, with “For the Defense” on the air, NBC had to improvise until the revived “Law & Order” was ready.

The constant upheaval around crossover shows to bolster “Organized Crime” may have been what sent Leight to the doors. This week the 8pm show, “Law & Order,” announced that Hargitay would be crossing over to that show as well for their finale.

What’s most surprising about Leight’s exit is that in his three years, “SVU” ratings have increased tremendously. While all network shows have declined, “SVU” went from Season 21’s average of 3.6 million total viewers to this season’s 4.5 million. Meantime, “Organized Crime”‘s average this season has been just 3.37 million. “SVU” was also handily beating competitor “Grey’s Anatomy” on ABC every week.

“SVU” fans will be sorry to see Leight go. He had a big following on social media, which built a community for the show’s hardcore viewers.

Leight kept it classy in a series of Tweets last night when “SVU” wrapped its 23rd season. (The bold facing is mine.) He wrote:

“The final day of shooting is always bittersweet. Today was a little more than that. As some of you have already figured out, I am stepping down at the end of #SVU23. The last two years of show running during a pandemic have been arduous, and I’ve decided to take a break.

It’s a privilege to work on #SVU, to write for @Mariska, @FINALLEVEL, @KelliGiddish, @PeterScanavino, @octaviopisano and all the former regulars and guest stars who come to our stage. It’s a joy to write with everyone @SVUWritersRoom, I’m especially grateful to @JulieMartinNY

And our on-set writer/producers @ItsAlwaysBreezy, @svubrendan and Bryan Goluboff. Speaking of producers, @Orsonb63, @ciliento and Ken Brown are the best in the business. Norberto somehow directed 5 eps this season, while shepherding 7 new-to-SVU directors thru their shoots.

At least once a week this year a brick came thru the window. This person quarantined, that location lost, another show fell behind and our guest star was no longer available. Each time casting, camera, design, wardrobe, locations, h/mu, props, drivers came up with a save

And when they didn’t, our editing room, led by the indefatigable genius, Arthur Forney did. Somehow the obstacles pulled us all closer together. The episodes stayed on track and seemed to get stronger the longer the season went on

It was an honor to work with this team, and I thank Dick Wolf, Peter Jankowski, @WolfEnt, and Lisa Katz, Pearlena Igbokwe, Erin Underhill and @NBCUniversal for their support and that privilege

Finally, I’d like to thank the fans. You’ve stayed loyal to the show, and vocal in your support and occasional dismay, for 23 years. No other show can say that, and so you know, EVERYBODY at #SVU is grateful to you for that commitment. You too are part of this team.”

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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