The TV Column: ‘Partners’ is a case for Sherlock Holmes


From left, actress Sophia Bush, actor David Krumholtz, executive producers David Kohan and Max Mutchnick and actors Michael Urie and Brandon Routh defend “Partners,” a new CBS show. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
July 29, 2012

Television critics, who tend to largely ignore CBS because its prime-time shows are too mainstream and commercial for their artistic sensibilities, were all over the network at the Summer TV Press Tour on Sunday, charging its new series with ripping off other shows.

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

Pouring lighter fluid on their hot-and-bothered-ness, Steven Moffat, the executive 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, it had the cooperation of the estate of Sir Conan Doyle, who, you know, wrote the books.

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 he worried that if “Elementary” is bad it will “debase” Sherlock Holmes — as if he’s the gatekeeper or something, instead of the Doyle estate. Plus, if it’s too similar to his version — in which Holmes lives in the 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 Robert Doherty took the stage to announce they “officially have a plan” for introducing Doyle’s Moriarty character and Sherlock Holmes’s father to the show. And, of course, CBS’s Holmes is a recovering addict and Watson is his “sober partner” and is played by a woman: Lucy Liu.

One critic was disappointed to learn the writers don’t intend to delve into Liu’s ethnic heritage in the show, complaining it isn’t really exercising ethnic diversity. Doherty explained the show is not about “teaching cultural differences to the audience.” Karl Beverly, the other executive producer, jumped in to suggest, “You maximize diversity by not speaking to it. Putting Lucy into the show and not speaking to it is the way we live our lives in society. We don’t need to shine a light on it.”

And, of course, their Sherlock Holmes operates in New York City, and something terrible has happened to him while he was in London, causing him to spiral out of control and “hit a serious wall” — hence, his sober partner, Watson.

Immediately after the “Elementary” panel discussion, critics began snapping at the Mutchnick-Kohan series “Partners.” 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 work as professional partners (like Mutchnick and Kohan). They are architects — Mutchnick and Kohan are not. The pilot is directed by Jim Burrows.

Burrows directed a 1982 flick called “Partners,” about a police detective who works with a gay police clerk to investigate a series of murders in the local gay community. Burrows also directed the short-lived 1995 Fox 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, but one of them — the one played by Cryer — has “trouble” with women. That series was created by Jeff Greenstein, who tweeted, not long after CBS’s new-schedule unveiling: “My God. The new Partners even has the old Partners’ time slot.”

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

Anyway, TV critics, who 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” — went after them with fangs bared on Sunday.

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

“Our thinking was, let’s just do our show about our lives and our dynamic. I didn’t know Jeff Greenstein was gay — his wife is going to freak!” Kohan joked lamely.

“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 D.O.A.

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

Mutchnick and Kohan explained that 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!” Mutchnick said.

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