TV: It's 'Elementary': Sherlock Holmes revamped, again, for the 21st century
The idea makes so much sense it's stunning no one thought of it before.
CBS, the home of "CSIs," "NCISes," "Criminal Minds" and an unending stream of procedural crime dramas, is bringing Sherlock Holmes to the network. A 21st-century Sherlock Holmes, that is, in the new procedural crime drama "Elementary."
It feels like a perfect fit. And perfectly natural.
"[When] I turn the dial on my television, I feel like I see Sherlock everywhere," said "Elementary's" executive producer, Rob Doherty ("The Mentalist," "Medium"). "I see his fingerprints on almost every procedural show."
Even if you confine the genre to just various incarnations of Holmes himself, hundreds of actors have played the part before Jonny Lee Miller, who takes on the role in "Elementary." According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Holmes is the most-portrayed literary human character in film and television history.
That number stands at 254 times before "Elementary" debuts. Some of those portrayals were good, some great, some laughably bad. Which means you have plenty to live up to and plenty to live down. "It's a challenge," Miller said. "There's different versions of it out there, recently, and so it may be a little bit of pressure."
Miller's pal Benedict Cumberbatch who plays the title role in the BBC/PBS production of "Sherlock," another 21st-century update of the character called it a daunting task "for any actor to play an iconic character. There's huge pressure associated with delivering something that everyone knows."
Like Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss, the producers of "Sherlock," Doherty labels himself a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Like them, he was determined that "if we were going do this, I wanted to make sure that I had my own take on it.
Like them, Doherty isn't making any apologies for bringing the character into the year 2012. Nor does he apologize for his three major twists on the Sherlock Holmes legacy.
First, his Sherlock is a recovering drug addict who "spiraled out of control." Which greatly ups the ante from Conan Doyle's brief references to Sherlock's use of opiates in his novels and short stories.
"The original Sherlock dabbled with cocaine, dabbled with opiates," Doherty said. "I think one of the big differences is our Sherlock hit a serious wall. Something terrible happened to him in London. He spiraled out of control."
Second, his Sherlock is solving crimes in New York City, not London.
"It's just sort of an Englishman in New York that sort of vibe," Doherty said. "I was immediately attracted to the idea."
And, third, in "Elementary," Dr. Watson is a woman Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu), an addiction specialist hired to keep Sherlock sober.
"He could have made Watson a man," Liu said. "The only reason he didn't is because, in the stories themselves, you'll see that Sherlock Holmes has a bit of an awkward relationship with the other gender."
True enough. Although, at the same time, Doherty is trying to not just update but re-create the original Holmes-and-Watson dynamic. "It seems foolish to not take advantage of the relationship that was built in the books," Doherty said.
Miller agreed: "The friendship is core. And they become colleagues, partners."
You could also argue that, in Conan Doyle's stories and novels, Watson disapproves of Holmes' drug use and tries to get him to stop. Just like Joan Watson in "Elementary."
Sherlock Holmes purists might complain, but to Doherty's way of thinking, the fact that Conan Doyle's literary creation has been interpreted so many times in so many ways is a good thing.
"He's been through many, many, many hands," he said. "I think that's actually one of the upsides to the character. I think if so many people couldn't put their own spins on it, I don't know that he would exist in the popular culture the way he does."
CBS approached the producers of "Sherlock" about adapting the British series for the American network, but they declined. And Doherty and his partners pitched "Elementary," which differs greatly from "Sherlock."
CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler expressed great admiration for "Sherlock," but added she was immediately taken with Doherty's spin on the characters, which she called "forward thinking." "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 opportunity," Tassler said.
"Elementary" and "Sherlock" exist in a world where Robert Downey Jr. has starred in a pair of "Sherlock Holmes" action movies, with a third tentatively scheduled for 2014. Which doesn't bother Doherty or Moffat at all. "I enjoyed both movies," Doherty said. "They're very different from this show."
Moffat praised the movie franchise because of what it did to "really reinvent Sherlock Holmes as a Hollywood blockbuster" while at the same time doing it "with great knowledge of the original material and great respect and reverence for it."
The same could be said for "Sherlock." And "Elementary." And it's safe to say, for future projects that aren't even on the drawing boards yet.
"You're never going to be the only one," Moffat said. "Just make sure you're a damn good one."
CBS' newest procedural crime drama which features Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 125-year-old literary creation, Sherlock Holmes premieres Thursday, Sept. 27, at 9 p.m. on Channel 2.
A few of the Sherlocks â¦
Here are just a few of the notables who preceded Jonny Lee Miller, Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr. in the role of Sherlock Holmes.
John Barrymore • The legendary actor played him in the 1922 film "Sherlock Holmes."
Clive Brook • Played him in the 1929 film "The Return of Sherlock Holmes" and the 1932 film "Sherlock Holmes." (Which seems rather nonsequential.)
Raymond Massey • Starred in the 1931 film "The Speckled Band."
Reginald Owen • Starred in the 1933 film "A Study in Scarlet."
Basil Rathbone • An icon when it comes to playing the iconic character, he played him in 14 movies from 1939-46, then reprised his role in a 1953 episode of the TV series "Suspense."
Alan Napier • Before he was Alfred the butler in the 1960s "Batman" TV series, he played Holmes in a 1949 episode of the TV anthology "Your Show Time."
Peter Cushing • Starred in the 1959 movie "The Hound of the Baskervilles," the 1965-68 British TV series "Sherlock Holmes" and the 1984 TV movie "The Masks of Death."
George C. Scott • He played a guy who thought he was Sherlock in the 1971 film adaptation of "They Might Be Giants."
Stewart Granger • In the awful 1972 "Hound of the Baskervilles," with Bernard Fox ("Bewitched") as Watson and William Shatner ("Star Trek") doing a bad British accent.
Christopher Lee • Sported a fake nose in the 1962 film "Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace"; used his own nose in a pair of TV moves in 1991-92.
Nicol Williamson • His Holmes was such a cocaine addict he ended up in the care of Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin) in 1976's "The Seven Percent Solution."
Christopher Plummer • Starred in 1977's "Silver Blaze" and 1979's "Murder by Decree."
John Cleese • The Monty Python troupe member actually played grandson Arthur Sherlock Holmes in the 1977 spoof "The Strange Case of the End of Civilisation as We Know It."
Peter Cook • If Cook as Holmes isn't unbelievable enough, how about Dudley Moore as Watson in the 1978 "Hound of the Baskervilles"?
Roger Moore • Woefully miscast in the 1978 film "Sherlock Holmes in New York."
Frank Langella • Starred in the 1981 TV movie "Sherlock Holmes."
Tom Baker • Doctor Who No. 4 starred in the 1982 miniseries "The Hound of the Baskervilles."
Peter Lawford • JFK's onetime brother-in-law played Holmes in a 1982 episode of "Fantasy Island."
Peter O'Toole • He voiced Sherlock in four 1983 cartoons.
Ian Richardson • Starred in a pair of 1983 TV movies "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and "The Sign of Four."
Michael Caine • He was an alcoholic actor hired as a frontman by the real detective Dr. Watson (Ben Kingsley) in 1988's "Without a Clue."
Edward Woodward • Starred in the 1990 TV movie "Hands of a Murderer."
Charlton Heston • Another bit of ridiculous casting in the 1991 TV movie "The Crucifer of Blood."
Jeremy Brett • Certainly one of TV's best Sherlocks, Brett played him in 41 episodes and TV movies from 1984-94.
Patrick Macnee • Starred in the 1993 TV movie "The Hound of London."
Matt Frewer • Best known as Max Headroom, Frewer played Holmes in four TV movies from 2000-02.
Rupert Everett • Starred in the 2004 TV movie "Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking."
Jonathan Pryce • Starred in 2007's "Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars."
A local Sherlock
Plan B Theatre and KUER present "Sherlock Holmes and the Blue Carbuncle," the seventh addition of their Radio Hour series. Utah playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett wrote the stage adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original novel.
When •Tuesday, Dec. 18, 7 and 8:30 p.m.; the first show will be broadcast live on KUER FM-90.
Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center's JeannÃ© Wagner Theatre, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $20; $10 students; at 801-355-2787 or http://www.planbtheatre.org.