What Are the Chances of Stabler & Barba Returning in ‘Law & Order: SVU’ Season 21?

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NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images; David Giesbrecht/NBC

Law & Order: SVU is in its 21st season — it’s the longest-running live-action primetime show in TV history — so when better to bring back a couple familiar faces?

Raúl Esparza (Barba) and Christopher Meloni (Stabler) participated in The Paley Center Salutes Law & Order: SVU special, leading fans to hope they may have been filming for the show. While it doesn’t sound like that was the case, that doesn’t mean you have to rule out seeing at least one of them back this season.

“I hope I can make that work,” executive producer Warren Leight told E! News of a possible Barba return. “Raúl and I are partners in crime. … I’m hoping we can make that work sooner rather than later.” In fact, he even narrowed down a possible time frame for such an appearance: “I think we’ll see Barba before the third act begins.” For Leight, the season is broken into three acts, with Episode 12 (airing January 30) the middle of the second.

Esparza’s Barba left in Season 19, choosing to leave the District Attorney’s office. Philip Winchester brought his Chicago Justice character, Peter Stone, in to replace him. He left at the end of Season 20. Then, in the Season 21 premiere, Peter Scanavino‘s Carisi moved from the squad to the DA’s office.

(Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

However, Leight couldn’t really speak to a return from Meloni as Stabler, calling that “above my pay grade.”

Fans have been eager to see Stabler again ever since he left after Season 12. The character retired at the time, but there are always more stories to tell with these characters. After all, the series is still going strong in its 21st season.

Law & Order: SVU, Thursdays, 10/9c, NBC