Elementary's creators explain why Sherlock's worth reinventing

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Dec 17, 2012, 3:27 PM EST

Move over, Robert Downey Jr. And you too, Benedict Cumberbatch. There's a new Sherlock Holmes on the screen, and he's not like any Sherlock we've seen before, said the creator and executive producer of CBS's Elementary, Robert Doherty, in an exclusive interview with Blastr.

Jonny Lee Miller plays a modern-day version of the detective, who with Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) solves crimes in New York City. Elementary, which premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET, offers a take on the material that is "very modern, very New York, very twisty in a traditional Sherlockian sense," said Doherty.

Miller's Sherlock is a recovering addict who left London after a fall from grace. Liu's Watson is Sherlock's sober companion, hired by his father to make sure he doesn't slip. Watson had her own fall from grace, and together they discover they were meant to be a team as they solve cases for the NYPD. Elementary also stars Aidan Quinn as Captain Tobias Gregson.

"I was drawn to the idea of a Sherlock who is repairing himself," he said. "At his core, our Sherlock is struggling a little bit. ... We will not let the audience forget that he's emerging from that dark place, but the show is not going to be about him fighting the desire to disappear down a bottle again or fall back into drugs. Again, it's an important part of his backstory, but that's not what the show is built to do. The relationship between him and Watson is fun. And he's just brilliant and fascinating to watch."

As far as "how the show will work, we're not really combing through the original stories and looking to contemporize them. Not because we don't love them. It's just not really what we built the show to do," said Doherty. "For us it's about a character many people have a great familiarity with, putting a character like that in a new place with new people and, frankly, pulling him into new stories and new mysteries and cases. We definitely want to play a bit of the fish out of water, the Englishman in New York of it all."

But why Sherlock Holmes when there is already a hit movie series with Robert Downey Jr., and BBC's astonishingly good modern-day Sherlock?

"Sherlock Holmes is arguably the smartest and most interesting and most successful character in popular literature over the last 150 years. He sustains. At the end of the day, it's all about what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did with the characters in his original stories. ... There's room for all of us."

And, Doherty said, there's also room for a female Dr. Watson.

"I think his expectation/anticipation was that she wouldn't be able to keep up. This would be a very temporary thing. ... She's not really worth a second thought, initially. But over the course of our pilot, I do think he is surprised to find great value in her companionship. And that sets the stage for the rest of the series," he said.

"We have a really interesting story to tell, and I think we have two tremendous actors in two very iconic roles who really get it and have an interesting way of really bringing the stories to life. And also we will look to twist and turn and tell complicated stories, just like Conan Doyle did in the original books. To merit the attention of a mind like Sherlock, you need a really compelling and twisty case. So it's on us as the writers to try to come up with stories that really feel different and could only be told on our show because we have a character like Sherlock," said Doherty.

Here's a preview:

Elementary airs on Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.

Will Jonny Lee Miller be a worthy Sherlock Holmes? What about Lucy Liu as Dr. Watson?