CBS’s Elementary? BBC Sherlock’s Producers Threaten Legal Action!

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes
Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock often exhibits a mix of suspicion and disdain. We know how he feels.
My opinions are subject to revision, of course, but when first hearing the official news (hat tip: digital spy) about CBS’s Sherlock-series pilot late last week, I thought, UGH! Can’t possibly NOT suck.

I know, I know, there are talented Justified alums involved, but that doesn’t guarantee lightning strikes twice. Are any of these hard-core Sherlockians like the UK version’s producers, creators, and writers, the team of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, who also stars as Mycroft? Or, are these talented types just coming in as hired guns, so to speak? 

Well, I took the cowardly position that if I couldn’t say something nice, yadda, yadda…

Back in September, we reported the non-specific network inklings about a similar franchise update in the works for U.S. television. Now we know. CBS has firmly announced its own contemporary, Sherlock-themed series called *shudder* Elementary, which will be set in New York. We at HQ are, as before, dubious about its prospects of not sucking donkey danglers.

Since that very recent news, however, the plot has thickened considerably! The Daily Mail reports that the producers of BBC’s Sherlock are now threatening legal action if CBS’s series has too many similarities:

’We understand that CBS are doing their own version of an updated Sherlock Holmes’, said executive producer at Hartswood Films Sue Vertue [also the wife of series producer/creator/writer Steven Moffat].

’We are very proud of our show and like any proud parent, will protect the interest and wellbeing of our offspring,’ she told The Independent.

Ms Vertue said that CBS had made an offer to the BBC ’a while back’ about filming a remake of the series but nothing had come of it.

She added that reassurances had been made about the network’s integrity during talks and she hoped that their own version did not resemble the BBC’s production.

The current series has been a huge hit in the States but is currently shown on PBS.

Now, let’s belatedly talk about the pachyderm in CBS’s earlier press release, the thing that made me temporarily speechless with squick.

ELEMENTARY? Seriously?! (Why don’t you update Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone With the Wind and call the series Frankly, My Dear, I Don’t Give a Damn? Perhaps a Cary Grant biopic called Judy, Judy, Judy?) Naming the upcoming series to refer to one of the most frequently misattributed and misquoted lines is not the way to get canonical fans on your side. Even if “Elementary” was the sole content of Sherlock’s response via Arthur Conan Doyle, it still feels like thumbing serious fans in the eyes with your disregard for the original stories. Maybe that’s just my take, but I thought it presaged weak sauce indeed.

And how could this re-imagining not be weak if the network did, in fact, originally inquire about a straight-up remake of BBC’s and is only now scrambling something else together after being refused? Remaking the UK version is also a crappy notion, by the way, but slightly less misguided, as Forbydelson did find life as The Killing. Of course, that Danish series wasn’t filmed in perfectly transferrable English or aired here on another channel!

Since the BBC series will air here long before the CBS series can be produced—the former not only updating the canon, but employing magnificent production values and acting while winking and nodding to Conan Doyle’s works in a frequent, fun, and reverential way—it’s impossible to see the CBS news as anything but network TV re-molding someone else’s hard-to-improve-upon notion into a Big 3 butt nugget.

And frankly, my dear, the prospective series’ title was all I needed to hear to dread that.

Clare Toohey blogs here and at Women of Mystery. She recently had a surreal short story published in Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices, and thinks in cases of art, if you can’t beat them, join the cheering section.


  1. Ron Hogan

    I still say that if you’re going to do a show with Sherlock Holmes living in contemporary New York City, you should get They Might Be Giants to perform the theme song.

  2. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    Completely with you on this.

  3. Kristin Franseen

    Definitely agree that this show needs They Might Be Giants. I disagree, however, with most of the folks who say it’s definitely going to suck, and that the title “Elementary” shows that the individuals behind it are thumbing their nose at the fandom. It could be a sarcastic nod to the popular image of Holmes. It could be well-written. It could present an interesting look at the mystery genre. We don’t know any of the particulars yet. Or maybe it will suck. I’ll wait until I see it, just like I waited (with no small amount of skepticism) to see Ritchie’s films and the new BBC adaptation–both of which I ended up enjoying. (That being said, Moffat’s attitudes towards the fandom and his critics in his most recent interview have made me a bit bitter about all the gushing over “Sherlock’s” accuracy.)

  4. Clare 2e

    Well, I could be wrong, musichistorygeek. I’ll be happy to have an extra great show worth watching if I am, but given that they wanted first to remake the UK version, I suspect that they’re not coming at this franchise because the showrunners have had a long-simmering desire to celebrate the material. It seems like a Gold-Rush, network-driven project, a “band” assembled by a music producer and packager. This show fits the suit, Johnny Bravo. (apologies for Brady Bunch reference!)

    BBC’s Sherlock isn’t perfect in my book–there is no ONE right answer–but it is awfully good. And the Big 3 whiff on shows so many times each season that laying odds against Elementary being a critical or ratings winner is only statistically rational. Big hits are outlying black swans, one reason they hope to start with an already-friendly audience. TMBG is the right answer for music, however! Maybe it’s their theme song that will build the Baker St. in my soul : )

  5. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    [quote]clare2e wrote:[/quote][quote]”I suspect that they’re not coming at this franchise because the
    showrunners have had a long-simmering desire to celebrate the material.”[/quote]That’s the issue for me. (And Clare, never, ever apologize for a Brady Bunch reference.)

    I’m one of the few people (at least here at Criminal Element) who enjoyed U.S. version of The Killing, and who didn’t mind that the first season ended without a resolution. Even so, I’m skeptical about the direction the show will take. I suspect the producers aren’t nearly as clever as they think they are. I think the same will be true of Sherlock Takes Manhattan.

  6. Angela Korra'ti

    I just cringe at the very thought of Elementary.

    Part of it is the ongoing weariness of the trend of remaking every single idea that was ever popular in the last 50 years over and over and over and over and over. This goes for TV AND for Hollywood movies. Enough with the remakes and reboots already.

    Part of it is the disgust with the idea that any fun concept out of non-American media or culture has to be “Americanized” in order for American audiences to actually watch and enjoy it. Certainly this doesn’t seem to be a problem at all for American geek culture–though I sadly admit that it’s a legitimate concern once you’re outside said geek culture.

    Part of it is certainly the bad timing of trying to launch this show while Sherlock itself is still in active production.

    (I’m not inherently opposed to another attempt to modernize Holmes, mind you. I’m not even inherently opposed to porting Holmes and Watson over to the States–in the hands of suitably awesome writers, such a porting could be pulled off. There was a graphic novel a while back that explored an alternate history for Superman, asking the question of what would have happened if baby Kal-El’s ship had crashed in the Soviet Union instead of Kansas. My partner, who’s read it, liked it quite a bit.)

    But really, what it boils down to for me is just not trusting that the idea won’t suck. Mostly because of the fear that in transferring Holmes and Watson not only to the modern day but out of England entirely, too much will be lost that make these characters recognizably Holmes and Watson.

    So yeah, I’m extremely dubious. Though I also have to admit that I’m curious enough that I’ll keep half an eye on this and see what reviews are like once the show finally shows up.

  7. Deborah Lacy

    A) I want this to succeed. I don’t think it will but more and different Sherlock could be good.
    B) It’s lame to even talk about suing when there is so much derivative Sherlock already. Conan Doyle could sue if he were alive, the BBC, come on.
    C) The BBC should run new episodes here at the same time as they do elsewhere. It spoils the fun (really it spoilers the fun). People just get on the Internet and watch anyway. More of my friends have watched the entire new seasons of Sherlock and Downton Abbey on the Internet than are waiting for PBS to run them.

  8. Allison

    Rather than another remake of one of my fave new shows (I so enjoyed the BBC SHERLOCK and am looking forward the Season 2) I’d rather someone develop something far more original, even if keeping to the Sherlock theme. For example, a descendent of Holmes and Irene Adler — I think there was another woman he’d been involved with but I can’t remember her name, and it’s been (cough) several decades since I’ve read the books.

    But a descendent with Holmes’s mind would be fun and different, especially if she was a girl 🙂

    I’ll give the new series the benefit of the doubt because I really enjoyed the modern US remake of PRIME SUSPECT; but if it’s just a knock-off I’ll be disappointed.

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