Sherlock is only just hit­ting dou­ble fig­ures, while its amer­i­can ri­val, Ele­men­tary, has reached episode 100. Crime Scene cel­e­brates the cen­te­nary of NYC ’s Holmes with showrun­ner Rob Do­herty…


It’s an episode we all had cir­cled on our cal­en­dar,” Ele­men­tary cre­ator and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Rob Do­herty tells Crime Scene, as he looks for­ward to the 100th episode. “It’s sur­real when you think about how hard it is just to get a pi­lot through the de­vel­op­ment process and on the air. To think that we man­aged to do 99 af­ter that one is mind-bog­gling.”

Purists could have been for­given for be­ing scep­ti­cal about the CBS se­ries when it de­buted in 2012. Sea­son One of Sherlock had al­ready proved that Holmes could be mod­ernised. At first glance, Ele­men­tary might have looked like an at­tempt to ride the BBC’S coat­tails, and re­lo­cat­ing the de­tec­tive to New

York City did not seem promis­ing, given the poor track record that Amer­i­can net­works have in re­vamp­ing British hits. Com­pound­ing that was the de­ci­sion to pair Jonny Lee Miller’s ex­pat Holmes with a fe­male Wat­son who is, her­self, Amer­i­can.

How­ever, four years on it would be a cap­i­tal mis­take to dis­miss Ele­men­tary. It has reached Sea­son 5, an achieve­ment in it­self, so the se­ries must be do­ing some­thing right with the source ma­te­rial. In fact, Do­herty con­tends that the show largely owes its suc­cess to those lit­er­ary roots.

“The truth is, Co­nan Doyle did all the heavy lift­ing,” he ex­plains. “Ev­ery­thing a writer could ever need is al­ready in the canon. The char­ac­ters are time­less: they work in the past or in the fu­ture. In the case of Ele­men­tary, we’ve ob­vi­ously also made changes to gen­der and race but the dy­namic has al­ways stayed the same.

I think as long as you strive to re­main true to the spirit of the orig­i­nal char­ac­ters, there’s very lit­tle you can’t do with them.”

Those should be re­as­sur­ing words for those Holmes en­thu­si­asts who feel that see­ing Cum­ber­batch and Free­man in 221B Baker Street circa 2016 is al­ready ir­reg­u­lar enough. Ele­men­tary is an ar­che­typal Amer­i­can po­lice pro­ce­dural but Do­herty and his writ­ing team don’t take their debt to Co­nan Doyle lightly.

“Col­lec­tively, we try to keep our­selves hon­est when it comes to not just the canon but the spirit of the orig­i­nal sto­ries,” he says. “We take plenty of lib­er­ties with the source ma­te­rial be­cause that’s what the show is built to do but we al­ways come down to, ‘Is it true to the spirit of what came first?’ We let that ques­tion guide us.”

One of the most ob­vi­ous lib­er­ties Do­herty has taken is cast­ing Lucy Liu ( Char­lie’s An­gels, Kill Bill: Vol. 2) as Joan Wat­son. If Ele­men­tary had messed with that pla­tonic re­la­tion­ship, you can be sure the show would have taken its last bow long ago. Thank­fully, de­spite deal­ing with a male-fe­male dy­namic, Do­herty has avoided any hint of a ro­man­tic at­trac­tion be­tween the se­ries’ lead­ing char­ac­ters. On top of that, he found the right ac­tors to make their con­nec­tion re­ally work.

“You can never just as­sume it’s go­ing to hap­pen but, in the case of Jonny and Lucy, it was ob­vi­ous the first day of film­ing that there was a con­nec­tion and a mu­tual re­spect that made ev­ery­thing sing,” he says. “We knew that with a lit­tle good for­tune, they could be Holmes and Wat­son for a very long time.”

Like Sherlock cre­ators Mark Gatiss and Steven Mof­fat, Do­herty has pop cul­ture cre­den­tials ( Medium, Star Trek: Voy­ager). “I am a geek in so many re­spects,” he says. “As much as I know about Sherlock Holmes, I’ve met a few Sherlock Holmes geeks and I don’t feel like I’m quite up to snuff with them.”

He dis­cov­ered Holmes at a young age, both the Jeremy Brett se­ries and the sto­ries.

“The Hound Of The Baskervilles was on a sum­mer read­ing list that had come from my teacher,” Do­herty re­calls. “I thought, ‘There’s a dog in it. How bad could it be?’ I re­mem­ber that I liked it. I feel like I was still at an age when a lot of it was over my head and now, as an adult, I am such a com­pletist that I re­gret not start­ing with the first book, A Study In Scarlet. Around the same time, Sherlock Holmes also ap­peared in an is­sue of De­tec­tive Comics with Bat­man, and I read a lot more Bat­man than I did Sherlock Holmes back then. His as­so­ci­a­tion with Bat­man made him all the cooler for me.”

The Dark Knight may have done more than Co­nan Doyle to make Holmes ap­peal­ing to Do­herty but don’t ex­pect to see ac­tual su­per­heroes in Ele­men­tary, al­though one episode does in­volve or­di­nary peo­ple per­form­ing good deeds as caped cru­saders. Like Sherlock, the se­ries is firmly rooted in Holmes’ com­mit­ment to de­duc­tive rea­son and sci­ence. When­ever he has the time, Do­herty thumbs through Co­nan Doyle’s tales to find ‘Easter eggs’ that ref­er­ence Ele­men­tary’s ori­gins, for view­ers who know the orig­i­nal sto­ries.

“A few years ago, a re-read­ing of ‘The Ad­ven­ture Of The Il­lus­tri­ous Client’ on a hia­tus was ex­tremely re­ward­ing, in that it got me think­ing about Kitty Win­ter,” he says. “That’s prob­a­bly one of the sto­ries I’ve read more than oth­ers. At that point, Kitty was a char­ac­ter who hadn’t re­ally jumped out but it just so hap­pened we’d wrapped a sea­son in which Sherlock and Joan sep­a­rate. I knew that I wanted Sherlock to re­turn with a new pro­tégé and it sud­denly oc­curred to me that Kitty fit­ted the bill.”

Al­though Do­herty doesn’t ad­here strictly to the Sherlock Holmes canon, he does put a high value on it. He un­der­stands that

Ele­men­tary must be au­then­tic in its ac­knowl­edge­ment of Co­nan Doyle’s cre­ation if it is to be true to the ma­te­rial it leans on. That’s why, when the time came to plan the show’s mile­stone cen­te­nary episode, early in Sea­son 5, Do­herty’s first thought was to bring back a char­ac­ter who Co­nan Doyle in­tro­duced in “The Ad­ven­ture Of The Empty House”.

“We were ini­tially very cu­ri­ous to catch up with a char­ac­ter from the first sea­son, Se­bas­tian Mo­ran, who is played by the in­cred­i­ble Vinnie Jones,” Do­herty says. “He was such fun to have on the show and he played such an in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ter. We were won­der­ing, is there a story to tell about him in the fifth sea­son of our show?”

Un­for­tu­nately, English foot­ball’s most fa­mous hard­man was un­avail­able to tackle the world’s only con­sult­ing de­tec­tive once again. As a re­sult, Do­herty’s team shifted their fo­cus onto a se­ries reg­u­lar who’s named af­ter an­other canon­i­cal char­ac­ter, NYPD Cap­tain Thomas (née To­bias) Greg­son, played by Ai­dan Quinn.

De­spite that en­forced change of plan, Do­herty is sat­is­fied that the cen­te­nary episode still ful­fils his in­ten­tion to hon­our Ele­men­tary’s land­mark achieve­ment: “The tim­ing was maybe a lit­tle un­usual, in that be­cause we do 24 episodes a year, our 100th hap­pened to be the fourth episode of this sea­son, which is typ­i­cally not a spot where you’d be aim­ing a lit­tle higher or look­ing to do some­thing that has a bit more to do with the canon of your show.”

By the end of Ele­men­tary’s fifth sea­son, it will have fea­tured al­most twice as many cases as Co­nan Doyle orig­i­nally cre­ated for Holmes. More­over, there will be around nine times more episodes of Ele­men­tary than of Sherlock when Se­ries 4 of the lat­ter has aired. That isn’t a bad record for a se­ries that cyn­ics might once have thought couldn’t be as big a hit as its British coun­ter­part. Given that both shows are still go­ing strong, Crime Scene asks Do­herty if he thinks there could ever be a meet­ing be­tween the two mod­ern Holmes.

“I re­mem­ber think­ing, in the early days, wouldn’t it be fun to have Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch and Martin Free­man pass by Jonny and Lucy, à la Al­fred Hitch­cock, in some sort of scene on a side­walk?” he ad­mits. “Then we could re­turn the favour in one of the Sherlock fea­tures. But that idea sort of flew through my head. I don’t see it com­ing to fruition.”

Do­herty is prob­a­bly right, be­sides, Ele­men­tary doesn’t re­ally need a nod from Sherlock to give it cred­i­bil­ity. Even if CBS did orig­i­nally give the show the green­light be­cause the first sea­son of Sherlock was a hit, Ele­men­tary is now a cred­itable Holmes adap­ta­tion in its own right. But maybe that means the two sleuths should come to­gether for its 200th episode? “Yeah, we’re up for it,” says Do­herty. Ele­men­tary Se­ries 5 airs on Sky Liv­ing.

Cast and crew cel­e­brate the show’s cen­te­nary. De­tec­tive­mar­cus Bell (Jonm ichael Hill), at left. Ai­dan Quinn as­cap­tain Thomas Greg­son. Rob Do­herty strives to re­main “true to the spirit” of Holmes.

Holmes and Wat­son keep it strictly pro. Holmes jumps for joy as he hits episode 100. Sadly, Vinnie Jones was un­able to reprise his role.

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