Law & Order: SVU cast, from left: Dann Florek as Capt. Donald Cragen, Richard Belzer as Det. John Munch, Danny Pino as Det. Nick Amaro, Mariska Hargitay as Det. Olivia Benson, Ice-T as Det. Odafin "Fin" Tutuola and Kelli Giddish as Det. Amanda Rollins
09/16/2011 at 10:00 AM EDT
After 12 years on NBC, major upheavals
are afoot for Law & Order: SVU
First came word that Emmy winner Mariska Hargitay, who welcomed baby Amaya
in March, would be scaling back
on the job. Then, reports hit the Internet that Jennifer Love Hewitt would be stepping into the lead role.
's executive producer and showrunner, Warren Leight, says "all of that changed" when longtime cast member Chris Meloni departed
"That plan made much less sense," says Leight.
Now, Hargitay "is in all 22 episodes" – though scaling back a bit.
"She has a new baby, so we're trying to get her scenes shot in four days, not five. She cut back to a 65-hour week instead of an 80-hour week," says Leight. "She's very hard working."
In the meantime, SVU
vets Diane Neal and Stephanie March will be returning.
"I felt the show, after 12 years, needed to be rejuvenated," says Leight. "It's going to be an exciting season."