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'Elementary' Creator Says Lucy Liu's Female Watson 'Started as a Joke' (Video)

The Gutsy Gumshoes
Peter Yang

Rob Doherty's choice to pair Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock Holmes with a woman resulted in fall's No. 1 new series, and inclusion in THR's 2012 Rule Breakers portfolio.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 10, 2013, issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

"It started out as something of a joke," creator Rob Doherty confesses of his decision to make the Watson in his Sherlock Holmes tale a woman. When he began to research the story's original characters, he came across a handful of experts who had written up psychological assessments of Sherlock; one of them had noted an aversion to women.

"I thought to myself, 'What would make Holmes crazier than taking the figurative rock he has in Watson and making him a woman?' I scribbled it down and then went back to my research," the 38-year-old Elementary showrunner continues. "The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to try it."

PHOTOS: 2012's Biggest Rule Breakers: 'Walking Dead,' Psy, Quentin Tarantino and 7 Others Who Rocked the Status Quo

The result: casting Asian-American film star Lucy Liu as the first female Watson opposite Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock and an impressive 13.9 million viewers tuning in weekly, making Elementary the No. 1 new series with total viewers this fall. (Among the key 18-to-49 set, the series ranks No. 2 behind only NBC's breakout Revolution.) And come February, the CBS drama -- one of the season's few hits with critics and audiences alike -- will get the coveted post-Super Bowl slot.

The show's stars, Liu, 44, and Miller, 40, still are making sense of the series' success, particularly rewarding because the show colors outside the lines in a way that excites both of them.

"To me, one of the best things you can do in this profession is to take a risk," says Miller, whose co-star plays sober coach to his recovering-addict Sherlock. Liu says the tweak in formula can liberate the story in other ways as well: "There's an endless supply of unpredictability that we can delve into and we can change and add. It will still be a pound cake, but it could be marble, it could be lemon, it could be poppy seed."

Click here to read the full list of THR's 2012 Rule Breakers.