It's no mystery that "Elementary" has been a major hit for CBS. Joining the modern-day take on Sherlock Holmes on the network’s fall lineup is "Limitless," a spinoff of the 2011 thriller that starred Bradley Cooper as a struggling author who turns to an experimental drug to unlock his full mental potential.
Friday at New York Comic Con, the Hammerstein Ballroom played host to a fast-moving CBS panel showcasing both dramas, beginning with “Elementary.” On stage were executive producer Robert Doherty, stars Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, and “Fringe” and “Sleepy Hollow” veteran John Noble, who’s introduced this season as Sherlock’s father Morland Holmes.
Moderator Jason Tanz kicked off the discussion by reminding fans that “Elementary” ended Season 3 with Sherlock relapsing into his heroin addiction. "There will be consequences," Doherty promised. "As we come into the season, things are very complicated and that's when Mr. Holmes, Sherlock's father, arrives from England."
"We like to keep things as real as possible," Miller said about Sherlock’s relapse. "This is something that just isn't going to go away. It's something always inside … something that is always going to be there."
Of course, his relapse can open many possibilities for Joan Watson. After all, as Sherlock's sober companion and friend, this is her worst nightmare.
"I think the main the thing is that their relationship has developed outside of just being a sober companion," Liu said. "At this point they are friends and partners. She is not just going to be someone working for him … as the characters' connections deepens, it creates a nice connection for the audience."
Liu added that addiction sets Miller's Sherlock apart from other portrayals of the famed detective. "His Kryptonite makes him human," Liu said.
Beyond the tragic relapse, the other major change in Sherlock’s life is the arrival of his father Morland.
"For the first three seasons," Doherty said, "our characters have literary counterpoints that serve as starting points. Sherlock's father doesn't have that. So it was intimidating."
The questions turned to Noble, as Tanz asked what kind of parent sired Sherlock.
"It was such an honor to walk into such an extraordinary story," Noble said, "joining characters that have grown so much over three seasons." He explained that Morland “is very confidant with his wealth, and he has produced this genius child. He has to deal with everything about this child -- and Watson."
"It's interesting having Sherlock just be annoyed," Miller said in regard to Holmes' interactions with his newly arrived father. "He's pretty frustrated for a great deal of the time. I think he’s expecting more reaction to his disdain for his father … but it doesn’t go anywhere for him. Morland never really takes the bait, so he’s pretty frustrated.”
“It’s not so uncommon that a genius child is eccentric, you know?” Noble quipped, gesturing toward Miller to the crowd's delight.
Sherlock isn’t the only character who will have to deal with the elder Holmes' arrival. Liu promised that Joan will also be profoundly affected by his presence. “People’s personalities start to change,” she said. “It’s subtle and important.”
But Liu promised the show won't be bogged down in family drama, as there will be more complex and memorable crimes to solve. "You don't want it just to be soap opera,” she said. “It will be dosed and spiced with everything fans love."
The conversation then turned to Sherlock's nemesis Moriarty, played by “Game of Thrones” actress Natalie Dormer, whose name elicited cheers from the crowd. Asked whether fans could expect her return in Season 4, Doherty replied, "We would love to have the opportunity. We talked to Natalie a few weeks ago to discuss a few scenarios. But she actually is co-writing and producing a movie, and that's a logistical problem. But you never know."
"We keep the show grinding all year," Miller joked. "Schedules are bound to sync up."
Liu revealed she will return to the director’s chair for the season’s 22nd episode. "Everyone's been so supportive and wonderful,” said the actress, who made her directorial debut with the Season 2 episode “Paint It Black”: she followed that with Season 3’s “The Female of the Species.” “It's difficult to be on both sides.”
"It's a wonderful thing to see dreams and ambitions come true," Miller said. "We have a very tight-knit crew … and Lucy is an actor's director. All the actors really enjoyed working with her … it's really cool to see."
The first audience question came from a woman who revealed she has been battling mental illness and thanked the cast for such a realistic portrayal of Sherlock's illness.
"Sherlock's addiction was part of our story since day one,” Doherty said. It was the kernel that our show sprang from … The truth is we all have someone in our lives who has battled addiction, unfortunately. Research was easy. It takes a village, it's a story that we all cultivate."
The next fan asked how they come back to their characters after taking time off.
Another fan asked Liu how she’s avoided playing characters that perpetuate Asian-American stereotypes. "First of all,” she replied, “the most important thing is the doing of an action. So when I'm told that Watson will have a boyfriend, I asked if he could be Asian. So the question led to inclusion. Open your mouth. You always have to open your mouth and ask for diversity or realism."
One the subject of diversity, another fan whether “Elementary’s” version of Ms. Hudson, portrayed by transgender actress Candis Cayne, might return. "Maybe," Doherty replied. "We are shooting our 11th episode, but her name comes up quite a bit."
Noble had a chance to address a commonality between some of his more famous roles as a fan pointed out that Denethor from "The Lord of the Rings," Walter Bishop from "Fringe" and Morland from "Elementary" all have estranged sons.
"I'm not estranged from my real children," Noble joked. "It all comes back to writing. There’s something deep within me for that … fundamentally underneath, there is hopefully an unconditional love that will surface by the end.”
A fan asked Miller about the difference between his Sherlock and some of the more inhuman Sherlocks from modern popular fiction.
"When I'm facing the challenge of facing Sherlock Holmes, I went back to reading the novels," Miller revealed. "I found some things that I wasn't expecting. One of the main things he was very human and very caring in the books. I really wanted to infuse that into the show."
The final question dealt with Miller's role in the 1995 film "Hackers."
Miller revealed he just attended a 20th-anniversary screening, adding, “Hopefully, I’m just better than I was then.”
With that, the stars and showrunner of "Limitless" took the stage: Jake McDorman ("American Sniper"), Jennifer Carpenter ("Dexter") and Executive Producer Craig Sweeny.
After screening a highlight reel, Tanz introduced the show’s concept, explaining that when slacker protagonist Brian Finch ingests the mysterious miracle drug NZT, his mind reaches the limit of human potential. Finch teams with a tough-as-nails FBI agent (Carpenter) and helps the agency solve dangerous cases.
Sweeny began the discussion by giving fans the rundown of how "Limitless" went from the big screen to network television: "I had lunch with an executive from CBS, and he told me the property could be acquired. I told him not to talk to anyone else about it. We spent six weeks talking to Bradley Cooper, and finally, we wrote the script."
It was Cooper who, having worked with McDorman on “American Sniper,” recommended him for the “Limitless” role. “I read the script loved it,” the actor said, “and Bradley pushed for me to take the part."
In regard to keeping such a high-concept show grounded, Sweeny said, "Humor is a huge part of it. We want the show to be a number of things, but above all things, we want it to be entertaining."
The next question dealt with whether McDorman and Carpenter's characters would be romantically linked.
"I don't think so," Sweeny said. "Rebecca is too many things to Finch. I don't think it would occur to either of them; it's too deep a friendship."
Comparing her characters from "Dexter" and "Limitless," Carpenter said, "It feels much more fun playing Rebecca. Deb [from ‘Dexter’] was broken in many ways. Rebecca has a levity, I don't know how I survived 'Dexter.' Wait, I didn't."
"Elementary" returns Thursday, Nov. 25, while "Limitless" airs new episodes each Tuesday.