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TV Column
Posted at 11:31 AM ET, 07/30/2012

TV critics question bona fides of CBS Sherlock Holmes drama and ‘Partners’ comedy


Cast members Jonny Lee Miller (L) and Lucy Liu participate in a panel for CBS series "Elementary.” (PHIL McCARTEN - REUTERS)
TV critics, who tend to largely ignore CBS because its primetime series are too mainstream and commercial for their artistic sensibilities, were all over the network at Summer TV Press Tour 2012 on Sunday -- to charge its new series with ripping off other shows.

They’ve had their undies in a bunch since May, when CBS announced that comedy writing partners David Kohan and Max Mutchnick (“Will & Grace”) were doing a semi autobiograhical comedy series called “Partners,” and that the network had bought a new Sherlock Holmes drama while PBS still has a Sherlock Holmes series in its wheelhouse, to which TV critics have pledged their allegiance.

Pouring lighter fluid on their hot and bothered-ness, Steven Moffat, the exec producer of PBS’s Holmes drama – the Benedict Cumberbatch edition, not the Jeremy Brett edition — took to IGN to say CBS had approached him about having his team do a Sherlock Holmes series and “we said no, we weren’t ready to do that yet, but keep in touch.

“And then a few weeks later we discovered they were just going ahead and doing it anyway.”

Yes, CBS dared to order a Sherlock Holmes drama without Moffat – though, with the cooperation of the estate of Sir Conan Doyle, who, you know, created the character and wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Moffat said it was just “another example of what happens in L.A. television” and, in case critics weren’t too clear, added he “wasn’t very impressed by it.”

Moffat said worried that if ‘Elementary’ is bad it will “debase” Sherlock Holmes -- like he’s the gatekeeper or something, instead of the Doyle estate. Plus, he said, if it’s too similar to his version (in which Holmes lives in present day and uses modern technologies to solve crimes) “We’ll have to take action.”

This may explain why, before the “Elementary” Q&A session got underway, exec producer Doherty announced they “officially have a plan” for introducing Doyle’s Moriarty bad-guy character and Sherlock Holmes’s father, to the show. And, then, of course, CBS’s Holmes is a recovering addict and Watson is his “sober partner” and is played by a woman -- Lucy Liu.

And, of course, CBS’s Sherlock Holmes is in New York City, after something terrible happened to him while he was in London, causing him to spiral out of control and “hit a serious wall” – hence sober partner Watson.

One critic, who noted “Elementary” star Jonny Lee Miller starred in a stage production “Frankenstein” with PBS’s Sherlock, a.k.a. Cumberbatch, wanted to know if Miller had ever spoken with Cumberbatch about his new Sherlock, and/or Cumberbatch’s Sherlock. Miller answered that even before “Elementary” came along he loved Cumberbatch’s Sherlock and would call him up “like a groupie” wanting to discuss it.

“We had discussions about this project as well,” Miller continued, bravely, adding, “Benedict has been very supportive” and that he had assured Cumberbatch the CBS show would be different from PBS’s.

The show panelists wisely made many references to the original Holmes stories, written in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Doyle, to remind some critics that Moffat doesn’t own the character, and educate others who may not have read Doyle’s work, like the critic who talked about Watson as “comic relief” — you know, like Nigel Bruce played him in the famous late-30’s/40’s flicks. In the books, Liu corrected, Watson is “incredibly observant” and they are, in fact, written from his perspective.

Immediately after the “Elementary” panel discussion, critics began snapping at “Partners,” a new series from longtime comedy partners Max Mutchnick and David Kohan. It’s about two guys -- one is gay, the other’s straight (like Mutchnick and Kohan) -- who have known each other since they were kids (like Mutchnick and Kohan), and who are professional partners (like Mutchnick and Kohan). They are architects – Mutchnick and Kohan are not. The pilot is directed by Jim Burrows.

Jim Burrows also directed a 1982 flick called “Partners,” about a police detective who partners with a gay police clerk to investigate a series of murders in the local gay community.

Burrows also directed the short-lived 1995 Fox network TV series called “Partners” about two best friends, played by Tate Donovan and Jon Cryer, who work together as — aspiring architects.

They’re both straight, only one of them – the one played by Cryer -- has “trouble” with women. That series was created by Jeff Greenstein.

“My God. The new Partners even has the old Partners’ time slot,” Greenstein tweeted, exasperated, in May when CBS announced its “Partners.”

Clearly Mutchnick and Kohan cannot claim theirs is the only Burrows project about partners called “Partners.” The best they can hope for is that theirs will go down in history as the best Burrows-directed comedy about partners called “Partners.”

Anyway, TV critics think Mutchnick and Kohan are engaged in some Hollywood rannygazoo — especially since the two hired Greenstein to work on “Will & Grace” after presumably reviewing his credits, which would have included “Partners.” And they said so in no uncertain terms Sunday at Summer TV Press Tour 2012.

Mutchnick and Kohan reacted like Hollywood writers unexpectedly bitten by a rabbit.

“I didn’t know Jeff Greenstein was gay… his wife is going to freak!” Kohan joked lamely, when critics began to give them the business.

“Did you think of maybe not making them architects?” one critic wondered, like a detective asking a lord of the underworld where he was on the night of July 22.

Mutchnick and Kohan explained their partners originally were writers, but that felt too “insular.”

And of course, it’s well known in Hollywood that the only antidote for “too insular” is “architect.”

The critics noted that in Greenstein’s short-lived series Donovan’s character has just gotten engaged to Alicia, while in the pilot of Mutchnick and Kohan’s series, the straight architect, played by David Krumholtz, gets engaged to a woman named Ali.

Mutchnick called it “an unfortunate coincidence.”

“So it is an unfortunate coincidence my character’s name is Tate Donovan?” joked star Krumholtz. The gag died in the room.

“We may change that,” quipped Mutchnick — also DOA.

And, did they really have to call the show “Partners” critics asked suspiciously.

Mutchnick and Kohan explained they kicked the tires on other titles, but decided “Partners” best explained what the show is about.

Another critic noted for the record, in case Mutchnick and Kohan were contemplating any more rannygazoo, that Greenstein currently is directing a Web series called “Husbands,” about a gay marriage.

“Really? God bless!” said Mutchnik.

By  |  11:31 AM ET, 07/30/2012

 
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