ONE of TV's best-loved crime fighting couples will part ways within the year with Chris Meloni confirming he would walk away from the role of Detective Elliot Stabler after season 12 of Law & Order SVU.
The decision already has led to tears, with castmate Mariska Hargitay breaking down when discussing how she and her character Detective Olivia Benson would cope with losing Meloni.
The pair has fronted Law & Order SVU since it spun off from Law & Order in 1999.
They survived a bitter contract dispute early last year which, at one point, led NBC to threaten to dump both actors from the show.
They had sought a share of the show's profits, in addition to the $US350,000 ($400,000) they earned an episode.
Although the issue was settled amicably, Meloni has decided to pursue other interests when season 12 completes. Season 11 debuts in Australia on Thursday on Ten while episode 15, season 11 is airing in the US. Production on season 12 begins later this year.
"I think 12 years is enough, a good number," Meloni told The Courier-Mail on set in New York recently.
"The writers will have fertile ground to figure out how to arc him (Elliot) out to another place – whether it's this world or the next."
Meloni said he was interested in pursuing theatre work as well as producing and or acting in "guerrilla-style sleeper" films when he leaves.
"It will be a very difficult transition. I mean, Jesus Christ, every day when you get used to getting up early and working these hours," he said.
"When you're an actor (not working) it's like, 'Has anyone called yet?'. And having to audition again, which I loathe."
Hargitay, for her part, said she wasn't "ready yet" to walk away from the show.
"It's been proven over and over to me that this (role) is the right thing for me to still be here," she said.
She couldn't control her emotions when talking about how Olivia would take Elliot's departure. "I don't think she could be without him. She loves him, he's her other half," she said, wiping tears away.