Cast and producers of the new CBS Sherlock Holmes series Elementary will be descending upon reporters within the hour at the TCA Press Tour, so you’ll be reading a lot more about it soon on various websites and on Twitter… but before that happens, we wanted to share our chat with the Elementary executive producers, Rob Doherty and Carl Beverly, from the press room roundtable at this year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego. What was it like to bring such an iconic character to U.S. television?
“It is a delight,” Doherty says about writing a modern day Sherlock Holmes. “It’s hard to get more iconic than Sherlock Holmes. I’ve always been a fan, Carl’s always been a fan. It’s an honor. It’s a privelege, and it’s a lot of fun, just because Conan Doyle created this really perfect character. It’s no mistake that the character is as popular as he is today, and that he’s coming up on 130 years old. He works all day long, and it is a lot of fun to write him.”
“I think he said it all,” Beverly adds. “It’s the challenge of taking one of the iconic characters of our time, and way before our time, and doing something new with it. Honoring it, respecting what’s there but also reinventing it, and finding something fresh to say about the character and about the world, and about the genre of mystery, and I think that was why we both were so excited about the challenge of trying to do this.”
Both Beverly and Doherty were well aware that comparisons would be made to other recent Sherlock productions, including the BBC’s Sherlock series and the movies starring Robert Downey, Jr., and the press room questions weren’t quick to let them forget. “By the time Carl and I started to talk about this, I had already seen the new movie, because I like Sherlock Holmes, and I had first series of the BBC show [Sherlock]. I saw them as a fan, again, of the character, and I thought both takes were tremendous. I thought the movies were great, and I love the first series of Sherlock. Both of them set a tremendously high bar, and I think that the creative forces behind those projects love the character. For me, it’s really about aspiring to that level of understanding of the character, that level of love for the character. Like I said, it’s no coincidence that the movies are as good as they are, and that the BBC series is as good as it is,” Rob Doherty explains.
“I always knew that it would come up, because somebody is always going to be doing something with Sherlock Holmes,” he continues. “He lives in the public domain; that’s just how it is. You balance your desire to write this iconic character against ‘maybe it’s going to be compared against something else.’ For me, at the end of the day, it’s worth it. I get to write Sherlock Holmes, whom I adore. I get to write Watson, whom I adore. It’s totally natural to compare the projects, but again, people have been making movies and shows and books and comics about Sherlock for well over a century now. I’m happy to compare all of them.”
“You just have to welcome the challenge,” Carl Beverly adds. “Easy for me, I don’t have to write it, but the truth is, there was deep skepticism in the press and the public as soon as it was leaked that we were doing [Elementary], and at that point, it was just about executing Rob’s vision. It was about Rob having a vision for the character and for the show, and executing that. And then, the rest of it, you guys and the audiences will decide for us, but I think, again, in a world where Sherlock has been done for 120 or 130 years, the public has actually embraced the idea that there are different visions for this character. So, at that point it just becomes about execution. Can we do something, can we say something that’s new and that’s fresh, but also honors and preserves the traditions of the character that people do like and hold dear? I think Rob was able to walk that line, and the audience, I think, will respect that, as they have done for many incarnations of this character. They’ve respected a movie with Robert Downey Jr., they loved Sherlock the TV show, and they loved countless movies, and comic books, and on and on and on. So, for us, the skepticism and the worrying, if you will, are just part of the territory, and at the end of the day, it’s about execution, and I think Rob has executed something pretty special.”
One major difference between Elementary and previous takes on the character is that Holmes’ sidekick/partner Watson, often male and named John, is now a female named Joan, and is played by Lucy Liu. Why the change? “I suppose one of the reasons I went with it, was that I knew people would ask questions,” Doherty says. “I knew it would be eye-catching, and for me, one of the challenges that I look forward to was being true to the spirit of the original relationship between Holmes and Watson without having ours wind up in bed. I know many people will want that, they’ll be waiting for it, they’ll be looking for it… it’s not what drives me. It’s not what I’m interested in. The challenge is building a genuine friendship between our Holmes and our Watson that’s as strong and powerful and important as the original relationship between the original Holmes and Watson.”
TV pairings like Bones and Booth or Castle and Beckett might tend to go against the notion that two attractive leads on a primetime series can keep away from each other for too long. Doherty insists that it can be done. “Personally, I have terrifically close friends who are men, I have terrifically close friends who are women… I’ve slept with none of them. So I know it can be done. I have no intention of writing these two into the sack,” he assures.
Another big change for Elementary is the “fish out of water” setting, as this Holmes is now in a very unfamiliar place – New York City. “It’s a very unpredictable place, even for someone like Sherlock,” Doherty says.
“The fish out of water element, to put him in that water, New York City… that seemed like such a great opportunity, because to the extent that he is ten steps ahead of everybody and everything, you’re not ten steps ahead in New York. People are New York, the city, the place, the geography, all of it… it just felt like the ultimate obstacle for Sherlock, and yet, it also feels like the perfect complement. It’s very London in its own way, and yet again, it’s not a journey that he knows. It’s not a city that he knows. That, in keeping with the theme of playing with ‘what does he know, how far ahead is he actually, and how far behind is he,’ that just gave us a great through-line for the show,” Beverly adds.
Elementary premieres September 27, 2012 on CBS.