Catching Up with CBS’ Elementary & Limitless at New York Comic Con

November 23, 2015

The casts and creative teams of CBS’ powerhouse dramas, Elementary and Limitless, made the rounds at New York Comic Con in October, and the DIRECTV crew was fortunate enough to catch up with them.

Elementary stars Lucy Liu, Jonny Lee Miller, and John Noble, as well as series creator Rob Roherty, were kind enough to share the inside scoop on the show’s current fourth season, the changing state of television viewing, and Comic Con itself. Likewise, Limitless star Jake McDorman and showrunner Craig Sweeny graciously chatted with us about the series’ first season, the challenges of serialized vs procedural drama, and why they enjoy conventions.

ELEMENTARY‘s Lucy Liu, Jonny Lee Miller, and John Noble, and Rob Roherty

DIRECTV: What can we look forward to during the new season of Elementary

Lucy Liu: What’s teased more about this particular season is how much more we learn about the characters—the deepening of their friendship and their journey as partners. The other storylines for the procedural aspects of the show are surprises, even to us! They’re so complicated that sometimes you have to read them over and over again just to understand what’s happening next.

Rob Doherty (creator): You can expect to see Sherlock’s father, Morland, joining the show! We will also be dealing with the aftermath of Sherlock’s relapse at the end of the last season. These two things happening at the same time prove a little problematic in the early going. It’s a lot to have on your plate when you’re trying to get past the kind of trauma that Sherlock went through, so ostensibly Morland is here to help, but it’s not help that Sherlock is quite ready to accept.

Of what are you most proud when you look at Elementary thus far? 

Jonny Lee Miller: Staying on the air into Season 4. It’s no small feat in this day and age. I’m very proud of the fact that (and I think I’ve figured it out) we’ve shot enough edited footage to make over 30 feature films—that’s edited footage, not raw—and we’re at episode 81 now [at the time of this interview], and we’re hugely proud of that. The fact that we’re trying to maintain some form of quality control while making a large volume of work and trying to have a good time doing it. For us we’re all proud of that, crew and cast.

Lucy: And also the fact that this show, when it first started, was viewed as just another iteration of the Holmes story. We’ve sort of been able to bypass that and that’s not a question anymore. It’s a matter now of what’s interesting, what’s next, not the question of “why”? The “why” surrounding this show has been answered, which was a huge hurdle to pass.

Jonny: That’s a really good point. No one gave us a chance because we were doing another version of something and the show does stand on its own feet.

Lucy: The landscape of television is changing quite a bit and the fact that our show is still able to produce 24 episodes a season and be in the fourth season is not a small feat. It’s like a dinosaur concept (network TV models) versus how entertainment is accessed now.

Rob: Every day that goes by without Sherlock and Joan falling into a romantic relationship is another wildly successful day for us (laughs). Because that’s all that anyone really wanted to talk about when the show started, so I’m happy to say that four years later we’ve stayed the course as far as that’s concerned.

The relapse at the end of Season 3 was an important moment for the show. It’s something we knew we’d get to eventually—it’s such a true aspect of addiction. It’s certainly not inevitable for anyone, so what we wanted to do was show that it’s something that can creep up and take you down, but it’s something that you can recover from…again. That’s certainly part of the business of the new season. The message is that it doesn’t end you—it doesn’t fundamentally change you or who you are. It’s a trajectory that we’ll be tracking pretty carefully as the season carries on.

Is there something you think this show hasn’t accomplished yet, or perhaps something you want to see incorporated in future seasons?

Lucy: I don’t think it’s about accomplishing anything; it’s about opening up and expanding more so. Being able to reveal certain relationships and certain qualities about each character. I think that’s something that Rob, the creator, is really great at. It’s a slow reveal; it’s never a big blast. Sometimes the set pieces or plot points in the procedural storylines are more shocking, you know? I think that draws the audience in to want to investigate and learn more about the characters every week. It’s not just about the actual cases themselves.

New York Comic Con this year isn’t your first convention. Do you enjoy attending these kinds of events and taking in the passion fans have for their entertainment programs? 

John Noble: I’ve been to a lot of these, and they’re always a pleasure because what happens is, [Rob’s] in the writer’s room, we’re in the studio working like we’re in a cocoon; overall we have very little idea how people are responding to it except, of course, for the ratings. And then to walk into a room and have two thousand people who know your show really intimately have really clever questions, it comes as a shock! And a really, really good shock. You leave a little elevated that we’re actually touching all these people.

Rob: I know nothing about features or that side of the business but the first con that I went to was when Elementary was a pilot. Getting to watch an episode with an actual audience, you really only get to enjoy that if you’re on the features side of things and sneak into a theater and observe people watching your piece, so yeah, I was kind of amazed of the reaction. You know they’re watching, you get the ratings each week, but to actually interact with the people who are helping you do what you want to do, in this case Elementary, it’s pretty amazing.

John: And they can be so knowledgeable, to the point where they know much more about it than I do. When I did Lord of the Rings, they knew much more about the stuff than I did. They’d been fans all their lives. It’s wonderful.

Do you miss any aspects of being on Fringe

John: Yes, of course I do. It was like someone had written the gift character for me, as if I wrote down, “This is the character I want to play for a few years,” and “Ok, you can play this one!” [Laughs] That’s what Fringe was kind of like for me. I did five years of it, and I’m enjoying this role (on Elementary) because it’s really the first straight role that I’ve played on American television, so it’s kind of interesting to be a part of a non-genre character.

LIMITLESS‘ Jake McDorman and Craig Sweeny

DIRECTV: What can you tell us about what we can expect in this season of Limitless?

Craig Sweeny (Executive Producer): I think that you’ll be able to look forward to having a lot of fun watching how Brian adjusts to this new role and that he concedes to the fact that he actually finds some meaning in it as the year goes on. Above all, you can look forward to the story of NZT and where it came from and what does Eddie Morra want with Brian and there are a lot of serialized elements that will pay off during the course of this year. Each week, I think you can just look forward to a fun ride. We want people to tune in and you don’t know what you’re going to get. We play with structure, we’ve done some really funny episodes, we’ve done some really serious episodes…

Jake McDorman (Brian Finch): I like what you said about serialized elements. The pilot sets the show up to be a procedural, and I think what’s cool is that Rebecca would expect that Brian would come work for the corporation in a best-case scenario, “I’ll keep an eye on him and we’ll work a case on a week-to-week basis”. But Brian, and the way he is with his rebellious nature, almost mischievously changes that dynamic completely. There are many serialized elements to the show right off the bat. We’re messing with the idea of a procedural show.

Craig: Yeah, it seems like the character himself has actually watched a lot of procedural shows. He knows what the tropes are, and we do like to subvert that when we can. [Laughs]

What do you think are some of the pros and cons of telling serialized vs. more traditional procedural stories? 

Jake: We definitely do have procedural elements of the show each week, no matter what, but the cool thing about it is that the case illuminates more about who Brian is, and his relationship with the FBI, his relationship with his family, and it’s always kind of encased in this advancement of the mythological kind of story. Whether it’s the origins of NZT or Eddie Morra and what his intensions are. I think we definitely have the best of both those story structure worlds. Instead of just being an ironclad procedural with an open-and-close, hit the reset button at the end of each week, there has not been one episode where the events of a previous episode have not been connected.

Craig: As far as pros and cons, the pros are obvious. Serialized TV is a more rewarding way to write. It’s more dramatic. You can tell longer form arcs for the characters. The con is the danger that I’m determined to avoid on Limitless, which is that, eventually you have to delay giving an answer and get into a prolonged tap-dance… I have felt that when observing other serialized material. I think the goal for us is to ask a question each season, answer it, and do another serialized story the next season.

Do you love entertainment conventions as much as we do? 

Jake: The first time I ever went to Comic Con was the San Diego Comic Con this year for Limitless, and it was awesome. I had always wanted to go to Comic Con but I treat it like Sundance. Like, I want to go when I’ve done something that I can be a fan of with the fans. It’s such a warm environment. We get so used to talking to critics and people who are looking to know things that are more aligned with the industry, so to me people who are just generally excited about what you have to talk about is so fun. That’s how I started my whole career—being an avid fan of movies.

Craig: I love it for that exact same reason. I’ve never had a chance to experience a convention as a conventioner; I’ve always been here on panels. I’ve never been to NYCC. But with San Diego, I’ve been a panelist a number of times and there’s such joy and good vibes at these. It’s very infectious.

Catch Elementary, Thursdays at 10/9c, and Limitless, Tuesdays at 10/9c, on CBS!

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