CBS President of Entertainment Nina Tassler just had one thing to say about her network’s new crime drama, Elementary. Being a fan of the story and of the BBC’s Sherlock that is also currently on-air, she admitted she thinks there is room for more than one version of such a classic tale.
“When you have an opportunity to build a show around one of the greatest detectives in all of literature, you’re going to jump at that,” Tassler addressed critics at the CBC TCA presentation in Los Angeles this morning.
“Rob Doherty came in with the pitch last season, and it was immediately a show that we gravitated towards. So may of the great detectives we see on television now owe their origins to Sherlock Holmes…[Rob] is a real Holmesian expert; he knew all the mythology; he was very well versed in the genesis of Holmes and the stories.”
From the moment Tassler and her CBS executives read Doherty’s script, it was a definite yes for pick-up, and she was thrilled to see that the Watson character was a woman in his incarnation because she considered it a “forward-thinking way of doing the show.”
Doherty himself took a few moments to share some of the elements of Elementary‘s first season, noting he’s “neck-deep” in the first few scripts and was excited to share who his version of Sherlock is and what his problems will be in the first season.
“Our Sherlock is a puzzle-solver. I really think that’s his obsession, to the point you might call it an addiction…in the source material, obviously that turned into a real addiction,” Doherty explained, noting that Sherlock in literature dabbles in cocaine and opiates, and in the pilot, his version has been in and out of rehabs lately, too.
Doherty felt that “most shows have a Sherlock in them, they just happen to call them something else.” Elementary, therefore, is a name and brand and mythology that people inherently treasure.
“Our Sherlock had those same problems but I think one of the big differences is our Sherlock hit a serious wall. Someone for whom the world and life came quite easily because he could see so many things…down to their simplest elements. Investigation has come relatively simply [to him but] to his great surprise the world’s not as easy as he thought; he spiraled out of control in London. Our Sherlock, at his core, as one tiny kernel of self-doubt…it’s not something were going to speak to very often, but it’s something that drives him.”
Though Sherlock Holmes has become an iconic figure, he really is just a guy with problems who falls into a way to use his oddities and quirks as a talent, turning them into something more lucrative.
“Flawed characters– having a history and having a mysterious past– is always going to keep the audience engaged,” series star Lucy Liu considered.
“Watson is just as unstable as Sherlock; it’s just not as obvious. She just tries to mask it to deal with him. She distracts from her problems with his.”
Watson in this incarnation is not only a woman but also much more serious, more akin to the “observant” style of Watson in the literature– the lore– than the more comedic interpretations film and television have adapted the sidekick role to be.
“I took a lot of the source material, and I read it, and I absorbed it, and as I go on, I will continue to use it,” Liu explained. “You get bits and pieces of [Watson], and I think Rob has really created a nice undercurrent of a storyline of how she was a surgeon and lost her license. It gives her a dark past.”
Series star Jonny Lee Miller also believed that it is the “relationship with Watson, friendship, for me that’s the bigger side, really, and sort of the more interesting side than the genius.
“The friendship is core; the partnership and they become colleagues, partners, there’s also the other reason that they have to be together– the sober companionship. As Rob said, if it’s a man and woman, it shouldn’t matter.”
For Liu, the banter that will develop between the two will be unique, not only because of the sticky professional nature of their partnership (she doesn’t actually know much about crime-solving but instead is supposed to keep an eye on him, babysitter style), but also because “Sherlock Holmes has a bit of an awkward relationship with the other gender, and so bringing that into play is a constant reminder of that division and that awkwardness.”
It is quality writing that makes potentially particular characters accessible to the audience, per Miller. And it is the challenge of bringing such a specific type to life in a relatable way that Miller gravitated towards.
“The actor’s dream is various challenges and wonderful characters. Tt’s not a boyhood thing for me [to want to play Sherlock Holmes]. I have discovered this character myself by reading. I’ve almost finished all of he literature…for me to discover that has been a real wonderful thing, to have that vast reservoir of information and research available to you, by just a terrific writer, that’s the dream, really.”
As the course of the first season of Elementary goes on, Liu believed Watson would be further fleshed out to see how she and Sherlock are actually more alike than you might imagine at first glance. Though Watson is quiet and guarded at first, we will get a better sense into her background and perhaps even meet her family.
Doherty, who admitted that “procedurals are just not my bag,” is eager to explore the relationships between his two main characters and those who made them the way they are, rather than “just” the case or crime of the week.
“Sherlock’s father, who I’m sure you’ve seen referenced in the pilot episode, is also somebody we’re moving closer and closer towards meeting. He’ll be an interesting, sort of shadowy figure in the series,” Doherty revealed.
“He’s a man with a finger in every pie, the man behind the man behind the man.”
Elementary premieres on CBS on September 27th 2012 at 10 p.m. Stay tuned right here for an advance review of the pilot coming closer to air.
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