Nellie Andreeva

EXCLUSIVE: Just in time for NBC’s upfront presentation on Monday, Law & Order:SVU star Mariska Hargitay has closed a new deal to return to the crime drama for its upcoming 13th season, in which she will pass on the female lead baton to a new actress. I hear Jennifer Love Hewitt is being courted for the gig, though no formal offer has been made. Meanwhile, SVU‘s leading man Christopher Meloni still has no deal for next season.

Going into the contract negotiations, Hargitay had asked to scale back her workload on the show. The producers granted her request, and she will work fewer hours at her previous salary of about $385,000 an episode ($400,000 with backend and other payments included.) For the first 13 episodes, Hargitay’s character Olivia Benson will continue to solve sex crimes alongside her partner, presumably Elliot Stabler (Meloni), pending him closing his deal. Then Benson will be promoted to a supervisor position, with a new female detective taking her place. That is the role that the producers are eying Hewitt for. Hewitt is not a stranger to SVU — she did a memorable guest appearance this past fall. As for Meloni, whose current salary is the same as Hargitay’s, I hear the actor is seeking a raise but talks with the studio are in very early stages and moving slowly, so it doesn’t look like he will have a deal before NBC’s upfront. The last time Hargitay and Meloni’s contracts were up 2 years ago they didn’t sign new pacts until end of June.

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