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Sherlock Holmes Reborn


LOS ANGELES—Jonny Lee Miller is far from the first actor to portray Sherlock Holmes, a tradition that goes back more than a century. But he is the most recent. He just has the unfortunate handicap of following one of the best versions ever, the similarly contemporized, multiple Emmy-nominated British take, Sherlock (also one of the worst, in the Robert Downey Jr. movies).

“I think (the British) version is extraordinary,” acknowledges CBS network president Nina Tassler. “The show was out there. People were watching it. People were going to the movies. People are reading the books. We’ve seen so many great actors over the course of film and television history play that role, he’s iconic.”

As writer/producer Rob Doherty has now become fond of saying, “Sherlock’s shoulders are broad enough for all of us.”

So why not go there again?

Depends on whom you ask. Everyone here seems intent on fostering some kind of exclusion war between the modern-day Sherlocks — the British Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock already airing on PBS, and the new American version played by Miller in CBS’s Elementary, debuting this fall.

Turns out the two TV sleuths are actually the best of pals. Last year at England’s National Theatre, the two co-starred in a stage version of Frankenstein.

“Even before this project came along, I loved what Benedict did with the role,” says Miller, who counts Cumberbatch among his closest friends. “I called him up, like some kind of groupie, after every episode came out, and we talked about it.

“And yes, we did have a discussion about this project as well, but that was private. He has been very, very supportive, and I wanted to reassure him how very different this script was, and this project was. All the other differences will be apparent in time.”

He’s right, Elementary is very different. And quite markedly American. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. Aside from the gimmicky conceit of having him and his Watson — a somnambulistic Lucy Liu — portrayed as a recovering drug addict and his keeper, the new version is just your basic brilliantly deductive procedural, an archetype dating back to Columbo and including The Mentalist and even House.

“I feel like I turn the dial and I see Sherlock everywhere,” says Doherty. “I see his DNA and his fingerprints on almost every procedural show. Most (of these) shows have a Sherlock in them, they just happen to be called something else.”

Miller’s Holmes is tattooed, testy and quite a bit darker than the ones we are used to. He has a mysterious father somewhere in England who still exerts a powerful influence. He takes less delight and pride in his reasoning, although, like almost all his predecessors, he pretty much lives inside his head. And then there’s his addiction.

“Our Sherlock is a puzzle-solver,” Doherty says. “I really think that’s his obsession, to the point that you might call it an addiction. I think in many senses he has something of an addictive personality. In the source material, that turned into a real addiction — the original Sherlock dabbled in cocaine, dabbled in opiates. Our Sherlock had those same problems.”

The other main difference is, he’s having them in New York.

“New York is perfect for our Sherlock,” Doherty affirms. “It’s very different from London, but is also in some ways very much the same. It’s a busy, crowded metropolitan city, and yet there are some parts of it that are really quite Victorian.

“For all his British ‘otherness,’ this is really where he belongs. The city is very much a reflection of his inner life.”

There is, however, only so far you can go before Sherlock ceases to be Sherlock. And Doherty assures that at least one Holmes touchstone will not long be missing from the Elementary canon.

“We officially have a plan for our Moriarty — we look forward to introducing him as we go along.

“We’re very excited about telling our story.”

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