Sherlock Holmes may not be so elementary after all

Last week, CBS ordered a pilot for a new show tentatively dubbed Elementary, a crime procedural which places Sherlock Holmes in modern-day New York City.

At the time, I commented that the pilot seemed quite similar to the concept for a currently running (and very popular) BBC show known as Sherlock, a crime procedural which depicts the detective in modern-day London.

Apparently, Hartswood Films, the studio which makes Sherlock for the BBC, has also noted the similarity, and is taking issue.

Now, I was originally willing to write off the development of the new series as just a natural progression of the current fascination with Holmes, especially after the recent, incredible Holmes films with Robert Downey Jr.

Of course, since the character is long out of copyright, anyone is allowed to use Holmes without having to ask anyone’s permission, but according to Sherlock producer Sue Vertue, Hartswood is prepared to take CBS to the courts over Elementary.


Because they allegedly approached the Sherlock show runners ‘a while back’ about creating an Americanized version of Sherlock, which Hartswood turned down, with the reasoning that the BBC show already has an American audience through iStore and DVD sales.

Meaning, if CBS wanted to buy and air Sherlock episodes from the BBC, they could, but the BBC did not want them to make a new Sherlock series which would compete with their own. CBS apparently accepted this and backed down, but then went ahead with their plan to create the new show anyway, without the assistance of the BBC.

Of course, as I mentioned, Holmes himself is in the public domain, so any attempt to create a new franchise based on the character is protected by fair use laws on both sides of the Atlantic. The issue is the idea of moving Sherlock into the modern era, and having the classic detective work in the world of cellular phones and laptop computers.

So is CBS’s newly developing show close enough to the BBC series to be an infringement? That will be up to the courts to decide unless the two networks can negotiate some sort of agreement or settlement.

It should be noted that CBS has thus far only ordered a pilot for Elementary, which was penned by Robert Doherty who also exec produces with Sarah Timberman and Carl Beverly. There is no cast, production or release details available yet.