Thursday, September 6, 2012

Anti-Elementary Bias

Apparently the Elementary pilot has been leaked online. I don't have a link, for I can't find it myself, so I suspect it's on torrents. I'm tempted, but it's going to premiere on September 27th anyway, so I might as well be patient. The reviews of the episode from people who've seen it have been mostly positive, consistent with the response at Comic Con and the buzz even before CBS picked it up.

But still there's bias from some Sherlock fans. They are apparently so die hard that they weave conspiracy theories about how Rob Doherty was actually hired to rewrite Josh Friedman's script from 2000. Other than the same title and modern setting, Doherty's version shares nothing with Friedman's. Friedman's Elementary is set in San Francisco, has a male Watson, tries to adapt Musgrave Ritual, employs a really clumsy framing device of Watson telling a case in flashback to a cop and a lawyer who really should not be in the least interested, and ends on a Moriarty cliffhanger. Nothing matches Doherty, and when I ask for a source, people don't give one.

Titles cannot be copyrighted and are reused all the time. For instance, according to Wikipedia, Possession is the name of of a 1919 silent romance film, a 1981 horror film starring Sam Niell, a 2002 film adaptation of A.S. Byatt's novel about Victorian poets and modern literary sleuths, a film with Sarah Michelle Geller, an Australian TV series, and a current horror film. These aren't rewrites of older material just because they have the same name. A generic title like "Elementary" is bound to be re-used, especially in a Sherlock Holmes concept. Are Sherlock fans so rabid about believing that CBS stole from Moffat & Gatiss that they want to think they stole from Josh Friedman too, and failed to credit him? Nobody ever suggests that Friedman's 2000 script was stolen and rewritten by Moffat & Gatiss. Moffat and Gatiss were talking about doing a modern Sherlock for years on the train, and never making it, because they assumed it was an obvious concept that someone else would think of too.

Of course other people think of it too. Of course there are Sherlockian fans in America (home of the Baker Street Irregulars and the term "Sherlockian"). Of course such a Sherlockian fan in Hollywood would write a pilot, especially in the resurgent environment created by the Guy Ritchie films and House and BBC Sherlock. Is the general concept stolen, then? No, of course not. If its details bear no resemblance to the other projects, then it is not the same. General concepts get reused all the time. How many vigilante shows have I watched since the A-Team? Tons. Copyright is about specific things that are unique, not vague concepts; Moffat & Gatiss own their characters and plots they created. They own nothing else in the "franchise" or "brand." Are all teen vampire shows stolen from each other too? Come on!

If you don't want to watch Elementary, then don't watch it. If you want to wish doom on it, then wish it, but don't claim it's all for poor, helpless Moffat & Gatiss who were robbed of money they could have had if they hadn't turned CBS down. Ranting about thievery is not going to make everyone else who's unbiased agree with you, or make everyone boycott the show. CBS is a juggernaut network, and although it does support prestige shows with low ratings like The Good Wife, CBS's viewership far outweighs PBS's. Elementary fits into CBS's quirky procedural brand and has a plum timeslot to help ratings. CBS has been promoting Elementary constantly, branding it with the same prestige as its Vegas show. So they believe it will be both a ratings and critical success. If the show flops, it flops. But it will because of its own qualities and its direct network competition, not because viewers think it's been stolen from Moffat & Gatiss.


Rebecca said...

I don't have a problem with Elementary being made because of Sherlock, especially since I found the last season of Sherlock nearly unwatchable. I have no interest in watching it because instead of introducing a strong and interesting female character, they've taken a man and turned her into a woman. That's just crappy writing right there. Making John Watson a Jane does not a good character make - but it does add yet ANOTHER example of "Brilliant, eccentric dick and his inept lady sidekick" a la Criminal Intent and the new show Perception.

Cress said...

Thanks for your comment, Rebecca. But what makes you think Joan Watson will be an "inept lady sidekick"? She seems to be treated has a co-lead and Doherty said that their relationship would be unaffected by her gender. I don't expect her to be inept anymore than I expect a male Watson to be inept nowadays, post-Nigel Bruce. Years ago I watched Criminal Intent sometimes, though I hated Goren, but I have no memory of his female partner being inept. I remember her as being quite professional and smart, just not a eccentric genius. I haven't seen Perception.