How far would you go to meet the creators and star of BBC's Sherlock? When Steven Moffat and Benedict Cumberbatch came to town the other night, the line stretched down and around a city block. Fans arrived to try for a spot on standby as early as 5am for a 7pm start time. Others traveled long distances to attend, having won tickets from PBS's promotional drawing. One person had come all the way from South Korea to see the show's star, Cumberbatch — along with producers Moffat, Sue Vertue, and executive producer Rebecca Eaton at the PBS Masterpiece event, for a revealing Q&A.
We were wined, dined on snacks, retired to a screened excerpt of "A Scandal in Belgravia," the first episode of Sherlock season two, then given the real treat — an open, honest Q&A that covered much of the ground we were curious about. We watched the first 30 minutes of "Belgravia," in which Cumberbatch's modern-day Sherlock Holmes at last meets a fan-favorite foil from canon, Irene Adler, the woman who beat him. The updated Irene is still caught in scandalous relations with royalty, but with modern flair: here she's an unapologetic dominatrix reliant on a smartphone, seen frequently nude and exquisitely played by Lara Pulver.
The second season of Sherlock aired on the BBC in January, and it was acknowledged from the start that the die-hard crowd had all already seen the three-episode run. But the fan affection for the show is boundless, so the screening still received screams and shrieks and laughter in all the well-known places. A scene where Sherlock is wrapped in nothing but a sheet in Buckingham Palace was glorious to see on the big screen. When clips of Sherlock first showed on the PBS promo reel, it was as though the Beatles had landed.
The lights came up and the panel came out to an equally rock star reception and Benedict Cumberbatch in a coat with just a touch of Sherlockian style, and we settled in for an extensive and intriguing Q&A.
The first news: Sherlock season 3 will definitely be in production in "early 2013" and will be aired in America within that year.
When asked what the most difficult part of playing Sherlock was, Cumberbatch said that the deduction scenes are the most tricky to perform and film: "the birth of them is quite painful". Shooting hours are long, but he expressed his overwhelming gratitude for the opportunity to play the part and the dedication of the fanbase.
Moffat was asked to address "critiques of his female characters on the internet" and some of the controversy over his vision of the modernized Irene Adler, which received media speculation after "A Scandal in Belgravia" aired in the U.K. He grumbled that people have tried to extract his "personal sexual politics" from the escapades in the episode: "Her triumph in the original story was to move house with her husband." He discussed his love for the Conan Doyle original, "A Scandal in Bohemia," but noted that it has a better beginning than an end, and recalled wanting other resolutions for the story as a young reader.
There'd been debate over which Conan Doyle story the season one episode "The Blind Banker" drew from; some had thought it an original work, not a re-imagining. Moffat told us the source, "if you look carefully," is the lesser-known "The Dancing Men." He also gives a hint to the show's creation process, saying they "take a story, and then jump in all directions," rather than trying to fit in canonical hat-tips afterward onto a plot.
A fan asked Cumberbatch which of the characters he'd played he'd like to have tea with, and the same question to Moffat for a character he'd written. When someone shouted out Stephen Hawking as a suggestion (Cumberbatch portrayed him in the BBC drama Hawking), we heard one of the better revelations of the night: "I've had tea with Stephen Hawking."
Benedict tackled the question of our current pop culture Sherlock over-saturation from his perspective:
So did Moffat:
When asked what role he'd undertake in an ideal situation, if given a "blank check," Cumberbatch acknowledged that a "Sherlock" feature would be fun but revealed his true dream project: "There's a very good book called Kavalier & Clay," he said, referring to The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, which has long been stuck in Hollywood development hell.
The creatives weighed in on Elementary, the upcoming CBS show starring Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock and Lucy Liu as a lady Watson in contemporary New York City that has caught heat for copying Sherlock's updated formula. Vertue denied rumors that she is a consultant on the show, and the producers stressed that they have no involvement with the American incarnation. Cumberbatch defended the production, saying that there was space enough for multiple Sherlocks and wishing the best to Miller, who co-starred with him in Danny Boyle's acclaimed stage production of "Frankenstein."
Then Cumberbatch talked about the experience of "Frankenstein" and the endurance of his love for theater (he'd be interested in remounting the show in New York).
Moffat tackled a question that had io9ers and attendees equally excited: could we ever see a crossover between Sherlock and Doctor Who? And what would such a meeting be like? "It would be a very very odd meeting, and I don't think either of them would like it."
Dashing many hopes, Moffat said that he has no plans to intermingle his productions, though he rather likes to imagine the meeting of Dr. John Watson and Amy Pond.
Moffat took on whether we'll be seeing more of Sherlock Holmes's legendary narcotic indulgences, with much reference to cocaine and advertising executives. Cumberbatch chimed in as well, pointing out that the focus on Holmes's occasional drug use has been blown out of proportion, and that the show has already touched upon the themes by hinting at Sherlock's experimentation in his life before pairing up with the good doctor: "He has a past Watson doesn't know about." Cumberbatch doesn't think Sherlock will be indulging, however:
"It's about someone who operates at the highest level of his function, and you can't do that if you're inebriated." We also heard that the creatives did not develop extensive back-stories for the characters in the reboot process, wanting much of the same experiences and desciptives Conan Doyle gave his creations to remain their defining characteristics.
Then the panel was asked what their strangest fan interaction has been. Cumberbatch told a rousing tale of receiving a certain whip in the mail, while Moffat mentioned the recent experience of visiting Manhattan with his Doctor Who stars to shoot New York City-based scenes.
Afterwards, we spoke with executive producer Rebecca Eaton, and we passed along commenter javelina001's question about why the the edited Sherlock that shows for American audiences is 7 minutes shorter than the BBC versions. She explained that the edits are not her own –- in fact, they are processed by Sue Vertue's Hartswood Films and it is Vertue who makes the actual deciding cuts — but it is neither for censorship nor brushing over Britishisms: the American networks must simply constrain to different programming and promotional time constraints than their U.K. counterparts.
We also asked Eaton why British television was having "such a moment" right now. It's never been unpopular, but shows like Sherlock and Downton Abbey (which Eaton also executive produces) are proving to be American and international sensations, rather than the smaller cult followings our favorite BBC and other across-the-pond productions tended to build in the past.
Eaton said the popularity of British programming in America "has never not had a moment," but agreed that there had been a sea change and surge of interest that coincided with the rise of social media and online accessibility to shows streaming at all hours. Internet buzz has been massive in driving audiences toward PBS Masterpiece!, which has long been a hallowed name known for its classy and classic programming. More so, it has brought a younger and tech-savvy generation into the Masterpiece! fold – what was once seen primarily as a sort of parents or grandparents' network is now home to some of the the best series to fire up young brains in years.
Her favorite episode of Sherlock is "A Scandal in Belgravia." She could not answer my question about who her favorite character was, because she couldn't choose between Sherlock and John, as she sees the crime-fighting partners as "two halves of a whole." (In a random sample of the crowd, I got 2 votes for Sherlock, 6 for John, 2 for Mycroft, 2 for Molly, 3 for Lestrade and 3 Moriartys; there's someone for everyone in Sherlock, except perhaps for poor Anderson).
I asked the charming Ms. Eaton how she would answer the question set to Cumberbatch and Moffat earlier: what would she do with a "creative blank check"? Was there any work of literature or otherwise she was dying to adapt and reboot in a Sherlockian fashion? Given such an opportunity, she said would go even bigger – she'd love nothing more than to create the American version of Masterpiece!, drawing on the U.S.'s own rich canon to continue making the televised stories of "love, loss, betrayal, real estate, beautiful dresses" that have long stood as essential ingredients in the most dramatic of literary and cinematic productions.
Stir in the elements that have made Sherlock (and Downton Abbey) such a resounding success – poignant friendship, family ties, entangled relationships, murder, intrigue, comedy for levity and witty scripts as sharp as Benedict Cumberbatch's cheekbones – and we would definitely be into giving an American Masterpiece! a shot. In the interim, we'll console ourselves with the return of one Mr. Sherlock Holmes to our television screens Sunday, May 6th at 9pm on PBS Masterpiece! — and what a consolation it is.