Exit stage left: the list of actors leaving US hits continues to grow

Why Law & Order: SVU’s Christopher Meloni isn’t alone when it comes to saying goodbye

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Christopher Meloni returns this Saturday in a new-to-Channel 5 series of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit at 10pm. However, enjoy him while you can, for Meloni is just one of a number of high-profile actors currently bailing out of successful American TV shows.

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His character, Detective Elliot Stabler, will not be back for the 13th season this September in the States, leaving Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) in need of a new partner. But SVU isn’t the only US hit that’ll soon be looking very different:

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Laurence Fishburne is leaving his role as Dr Raymond Langston, who was originally brought in as a successor to William Petersen’s Gil Grissom back in 2008.

Two and a Half Men: Following Charlie Sheen’s well-publicised off-screen controversies, hedonistic bachelor Charlie Harper will be written out for the season nine premiere. In his place will be Ashton Kutcher.

House: Dr Cuddy is checking out of Princeton-Plainsboro as Lisa Edelstein has opted not to return for what will be the medical drama’s eighth – and most likely final – season.

The Office: an American Workplace: Scranton regional manager Michael Scott (Steve Carell) left at the tail end of the last series, and NBC are remaining tight-lipped as to who will be his permanent replacement. Catherine Tate is the current frontrunner.

Grey’s Anatomy: It looks like we’re OK for the upcoming season eight, but this run of episodes will be Patrick Dempsey’s last as Dr Derek Shepherd. Ellen Pompeo’s contract is also up at the same time and she’s on record as saying she’s unlikely to renew. So that’s no McDreamy and no Meredith by 2012.

Of course, a major departure doesn’t necessarily sound the death knell for a show. George Clooney departed ER in 1999, but County General hospital kept its doors open for another decade.

Similarly, Shelley Long’s exit from Cheers in its fifth series didn’t have quite the seismic effect that was expected and the beer continued to flow at the Boston bar for another six years.

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But in an increasingly competitive landscape, do long-running shows engender the same levels of loyalty as in times past? All will be revealed when audience numbers begin to be logged in the autumn.