Elementary hits a major milestone with 100 episodes! Hypable spoke with creator Rob Doherty about what keeps him excited after five seasons.
Holmes and Watson are the subjects of constant reinvention. But only Elementary can boast that their Sherlock and Joan (not John) have consistently played the duo the longest.
Rob Doherty, the creator and showrunner of Elementary, took the time to speak with Hypable about his experience adapting the crime-solving pair.
When you set out to break season 5, how did you approach this 100 episode milestone?
Rob Doherty: I confess it was a bit challenging in that the 100th episode was the 4th episode of the season. Every episode is important, but I’d say as far episodes that land in the four spot, more often than not they are stand alone pieces.
You always want to start your season with a bang and so first and foremost we had to handle the premiere. We’re always looking ahead to the sweeps period and how we will wrap up a season.
Never have we got together before the season starts to think about our fourth episode.
In the first episode because we wanted to get our larger story arc going with Shinwell Johnson (played by Nelsan Ellis). But we were peeking ahead to number four.
On the problem with bringing characters back
RD: We were looking for ways to show how things changed and how they stayed the same after five seasons. We toyed with the idea of bringing back a character from the first season, Sebastian Moran who is played by Vinnie Jones. I had so much fun with him and we loved his character, but we just couldn’t quite get our schedules to jive.
It’s tricky depending on the returning character, you want to set expectations — for example, even if we thought we had an opportunity to bring Moriarty back for the fourth episode the timing isn’t good.
If Moriarty is coming back you are hoping you can arc that, you can leave a meaningful footprint on the characters in the episodes that follow. We didn’t feel we could do that.
We started to focus on different types of stories that would again celebrate the partnership and give us and the audience an opportunity to look back and see how far we’ve come.
Where does that leave us for episode 100?
RD: The writer of the episode, Bob Goodman, had an idea that worked out and was nice fit for what we were trying to do. He came across an article on something the NYPD does every year called medal day. It’s an opportunity for the department to recognize achievements of note.
He liked the idea that Gregson’s squad would be recognized and that Gregson wanted Sherlock and Joan to be included in the recognition but that there would be push back.
At first it sounded smallish to me, but the more Bob talked about it the better I could see it and I ended up loving the way he did it.
I think he gets it to a bigger and more reflective place by the end. There is a really lovely scene between Sherlock and Joan in the last act of the show. It is the culmination of the story Bob wanted to tell.
It’s really lovely and has everything to do with Bob’s passion for the story and John Polson’s direction. It’s going to be a lovely moment. It’s one of those moments in the series that people will remember.
You mentioned Bob just pulled this story from research. At this point in the series, what is your approach to incorporating the canon? Is it something you look to every episode?
RD: It’s interesting, when the show started we would certainly take our opportunities to dive into canon and pull characters or cases. But we never felt an obligation.
We have the best of all possible worlds. The writers are free to come up with what they felt were cases that were appropriate to detectives like Sherlock and Joan. At the same time we have the freedom to turn to canon and look for things that excited us.
And at the beginning I feel like the first series, aside from the characters of Holmes and Watson and Gregson and eventually Moriarty, we mostly stuck to cases and smaller elements. We weren’t going to make a bigger story out of characters from canon.
But as we matured as a series we had these great opportunities to tell longer stories about characters like Mycroft, Kitty Winter and, this year, Shinwell Johnson.
Those characters tend to keep giving, a couple of them only appeared in one story. Kitty Winter only ever appeared in “The Illustrious Client.” We got to take someone who, for all I know was this brilliant little throw away from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, we got to explore her story.
It was a particularly rewarding arc. We had the good fortune of working with Ophelia who could not have done a more amazing job with the character. She found so many layers there. Watching Ophelia take the part on, I got a better sense of how to write her.
At any given time someone on staff is looking back into the canon. There is a lot to be inspired by there. That’s a very long-winded way of saying we’ve always had a nice committed yet casual relationship with the original story.
What do the actors bring to the characters that inspires you?
RD: The one thing you pray will be there but you can never count on is chemistry. The time they took to get to know each other and to know their characters at the beginning paid off immediately.
There is this spectacular connection between Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson as of the pilot. Something that everyone could see and helps get us on the air. I’m thankful for that everyday.
In the very beginning I would liken our Sherlock to a raw nerve. For him the volume is always at 11, he is sensitive to everything… That’s what sent him into this drug addiction. It was all about turning down the volume.
I thought I understood what that meant. And then I saw Jonny [Lee Miller]’s Sherlock and something crystallized.
In the beginning as Sherlock, Jonny was all sharp edges. There was as physicality that Jonny added to the role that I never pictured. The way he interacted with people, the things he would look at, the ticks he entertained during an interrogation, the flare ups, the client moments, everything you see in the beginning of the series is a choice by Jonny.
That helped me continue to hone in on his character’s tastes and instincts and preferences. I’m very grateful for all of that. It was a learning experience.
RD: Lucy [Liu] helped me ratchet in on was the empathy that comes with Watson. Again, during development I had a strong handle on why a Sherlock Holmes needed a Watson. Why in canon the stories are told by Watson and not Sherlock.
Watson is the only human in the equation. [She’s] the only one we can hope to teach us about an alien like Sherlock. We can relate to Watson. We can’t relate to Sherlock because there is no one like him.
What I found was how much empathy needed to come from our Watson, how much patience how much understanding. That’s something we see radiates pretty naturally, and of course makes its way into [Lucy’s] intention for the character. She could be empathetic.
Five seasons in, what keeps you excited about ‘Elementary?’
RD: At the risk of sounding immodest I love the characters. But I can’t sound immodest because they weren’t really mine to begin with.
I love playing in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s universe and I do love what Jonny does as Sherlock and love what Lucy does as Joan. I love Aidan [Quinn] and Jon [Michael Hill].
It’s a good thing to be asked in general going into a fifth season of a show. I hear those voices so crisply in my head. The stories are as hard to come up with as they ever were, but the voices are always there.
I love finding them, I love writing them. I have a staff here that feels the same way. When the series goes away, many, many years from now, I’m sure that’s what I’ll miss the most. I’m sure I’ll still hear them.
Watch Elementary season 5, episode 4, “Henny Penny the Sky is Falling,” Sunday, October 30 at 10:00 p.m. ET on CBS.