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Elementary

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New Drama
Debuts Sept. 27, 10-11 p.m., CBS

For a network that already has nine crime procedurals on the air, it’s almost shocking that CBS has never attempted to co-opt Sherlock Holmes for its lineup. But now that it’s finally pulled the trigger with Elementary, there’s a lot more competition on the big and small screen. The eccentric detective originally devised by writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887 has been quite the hot property in recent years thanks to Robert Downey Jr.’s blockbusters, as well as the BBC’s critically adored Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as a modern-day sleuth in London. So when showrunner Rob Doherty (Ringer, Medium) decided to build his new CBS procedural around the conceit of Sherlock as a fresh-out-of-rehab police crime consultant in present-day New York City, not everyone was convinced it was a smart idea — including the man approached to play the detective himself. ”I was skeptical,” says Jonny Lee Miller, 39, who consulted with his best friend, Jude Law (who plays Watson opposite Downey on the big screen), before signing on. ”Then I read the script. I was pleasantly surprised by how different it was.” Besides setting the series in NYC and addressing Sherlock’s history with drug use head-on, this adaptation has a truly novel twist that’s likely to rile some die-hard fans: Sherlock’s long-established roommate, Watson, has been recast as a female live-in sober companion, Joan Watson (Lucy Liu). It’s an idea that Doherty says began as a joke. ”I started to do research and I noticed that Sherlock did not always have a healthy or warm relationship with women,” he explains. ”It made me think, ‘What if Watson was a woman? Wouldn’t that make him crazy?”’ He scribbled the idea into his notepad, only to keep coming back to it. ”Ultimately,” he says, ”I decided I wanted to change it up really just to see what happens.”

On set in Long Island City, Queens, Liu, 43, is chatting with her costars while waiting to film a scene inside a drab interrogation room. When the cameras start rolling, she slips into character as the reserved Joan, intently watching Sherlock through a glass panel as he prepares to interrogate a tormented teen. Though Liu tries to crack Miller up by making goofy faces at him through the glass in between takes, her version of Watson is anything but merry. ”I think that Watson is fragmented and very fragile, and she’s trying to appear very strong for her client,” says Liu of her character, a surgeon who left medicine for mysterious reasons. ”But her own personal life is pretty damaged.”

The chemistry between Liu and Miller has sparked speculation about whether their characters will become more than just friends. But Doherty insists it’s not going to happen — ever. ”I feel like pretty much anytime you have two leads, one a man, one a woman, inevitably somebody out there wants them to get there. I absolutely get it. Doesn’t mean you have to do it,” he says. Adds executive producer Carl Beverly, ”It would be a little bit cliché to make Watson a woman and then immediately make their relationship a romantic one.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean there won’t be any romance on the series. Doherty is already thinking about introducing separate love interests for Sherlock and Watson. ”I’d like for one if not both of them to develop other relationships that are compelling, and complicated by the fact that they’re still living together,” he says. Along the way, he’s also hoping to bring on Sherlock’s father as well as his notorious archnemesis, Moriarty — but first, Doherty just wants Sherlock fans to give the series a shot. ”I absolutely respect the devotion that a true Sherlockian has, whether it’s for the books or the movies or the BBC show,” he says. ”But at least give us the opportunity to turn you off.”

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