Doherty is a long-time fan of the original Holmes canon, and “a fan of the character in general,” following the iconic consulting detective into other works: the movies and comic books, and books written by authors other than Conan Doyle. “I wouldn’t say I’m obsessive, but I always enjoyed the character when we crossed paths.” At the time Doherty and Beverly were playing with this idea of doing their own Holmes adaptation for television, the first Robert Downey Jr. film had come out. “And I believe the first series of the BBC show had come out, and thought both were excellent. Really incredible, fast, fun, smart delivery systems for Sherlock Holmes.”
Searching for a new angle, Doherty wondered, “What’s the story we want to tell about this iconic character?” Latching onto Holmes’ relationships with drugs and women, combined with setting the series in New York, helped Doherty define Elementary.
Setting Sherlock in present-day New York offers the series’ writers some interesting possibilities, allowing them to explore Sherlock from a fresh perspective. “He’s a bit of a fish out of water,” Doherty explained. “He knows London like the back of his hand and he certainly knows the British culture. New York is such a mish-mash, and it’s big, and loud, and complicated, and rude, and wonderful. It’s this incredible soup, and to drop a guy like Sherlock, who is always in control of every situation,” was very appealing to him. But Elementary isn’t really a “fish out of water” series, at least not overtly. Realizing the usual getting lost in the subway system stuff “ultimately it didn’t feel true to the guy,” Doherty hasn’t played that card too often or over the top.
The touches tend to be subtler. Doherty explained, “I think Sherlock’s interactions with the NYPD are, I would imagine, different from what it was like working in Scotland Yard. Certainly in crime scenes and talking to people. We try to pick our moments. Again, whatever feels right given who this guy really is.”
Although many Sherlock Holmes fans consider Scotland Yard Inspector G. Lestrade as the detective’s main police contact Doherty went a slightly different direction, creating an American version of Tobias Gregson (Aidan Quinn). Doherty recalls “Lestrade as sort of a weasely type, and a sort of a glory hound.” On the other hand Doherty recalled that, “Gregson, was a little quieter, a little more intellectual.” But in Doherty’s mind two are a bit interchangeable. No matter the police counterpart, “it always sort of felt like Sherlock was, was perpetually amused by the investigators and what they did. He was very condescending in an essentially a lighthearted way. But it was still condescending,” Doherty said. Playing Gregson, Aidan Quinn brings a great earthiness to the role and an excellent counterpoint to Jonny Lee Miller’s portrayal of Holmes.