A Chat with Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (“Sherlock”)

The characters of Sherlock Holmes and his trusty associate Dr. John Watson have been interpreted every which way but loose since their original inception in 1887, courtesy of Arthur Conan Doyle, and with Guy Ritchie’s take on the Holmes mythos having only just hit theaters last year, it would seem to be a bit premature to put Baker Street’s most famous detective onto the small screen as well…but, then, “Sherlock” – premiering here in the States as part of PBS’s “Masterpiece” on Sunday, Oct. 24, bears precious little resemblance to Robert Downey, Jr.’s big-screen adventure. This is a modern-day look at the characters and their mythology, and for those who might be skeptical that they can successfully survive such a transformation, I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I’ve only seen a portion of the first episode (“A Study in Pink”) thus far, but it was more than enough to sell me on tuning in on the 24th. Mind you, I also had the advantage of sitting down with the series’ executive producers, Steven Moffat and Mark Gattis, whose enthusiasm for the project proved decidedly contagious.

Bullz-Eye: Steven, you and I met in passing a few years ago at the “Jekyll” panel…a show which I loved, by the way…

Steven Moffat: Oh, thank you. Oh, good!

BE: …and, Mark, I didn’t realize it at the time, but I now know that you made an appearance in that series.

Mark Gatiss: That’s right!

BE: So, Steven, what do you enjoy about the challenge of contemporizing British icons? I mean, you can argue that Dr. Jekyll is an icon of sorts, but then you’ve got Doctor Who, and now Sherlock Holmes.

SM: Well, being honest, for me, there isn’t really…it looks like there’s a narrative through that, that I’m trolling for things, but I’m really, really not. “Jekyll” was a totally different experience to this, the one big difference being that it was a sequel set in the modern day. And, really, it looks as if I’ve just been doing that, but, really, seriously, it wasn’t that. This is a completely different experience, and the challenge of this…well, they’re just joys, aren’t they?

MG: It’s true, yeah.

SM: There are so many things that…well, once having started talking about this, we realized it was going to work, because he can still be coming home from Afghanistan, a flat share is what we now call sharing rooms, we’ve gone back to sending telegrams by sending texts…it’s just perfect.

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TCA Press Tour, Summer 2010: Days 9 and 10

Although the TCA Press Tour actually ended on July 8th, there were so many things going on and so many different series and specials being covered that I simply didn’t have time to tackle them all while I was still out there. Plus, let’s be honest: once we get past the broadcast networks, do you really need full-fledged coverage on every single one of them?

Well, maybe you do…and if you do, then I’ll be glad to give it to you, since it’s never too late for a TCA member to delve back into the archives and produce the highlights of the tour’s various panels.

In the meantime, though, here’s a quick list of what was covered during the course of PBS’s two days of the tour, along with what the network itself has to say about the programs in question. If you want a straighter strain of dope on any of them, just say the word…

* American Experience: Freedom Riders:

Award-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson returns to the Sundance Film Festival with his latest documentary “Freedom Riders,” the powerful, harrowing and ultimately inspirational story of six months in 1961 that changed America forever. From May until November 1961, more than 400 black and white Americans risked their lives—and many endured savage beatings and imprisonment—for simply traveling together on buses and trains as they journeyed through the Deep South. Deliberately violating Jim Crow laws, the Freedom Riders’ belief in non-violent activism was sorely tested as mob violence and bitter racism greeted them along the way.

“Freedom Riders” features testimony from a fascinating cast of central characters: the Riders themselves, state and federal government officials, and journalists who witnessed the rides firsthand. Despite two earlier Supreme Court decisions that mandated the desegregation of interstate travel facilities, black Americans in 1961 continued to endure hostility and racism while traveling through the South. The newly inaugurated Kennedy administration, embroiled in the Cold War and worried about the nuclear threat, did little to address domestic Civil Rights. Organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the self-proclaimed “Freedom Riders” came from all strata of American society—black and white, young and old, male and female, Northern and Southern. They embarked on the Rides knowing the danger but firmly committed to the ideals of non-violent protest, aware that their actions could provoke a savage response but willing to put their lives on the line for the cause of justice.

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Each time the Freedom Rides met violence and the campaign seemed doomed, new ways were found to sustain and even expand the movement. After Klansmen in Alabama set fire to the original Freedom Ride bus, student activists from Nashville organized a ride of their own. “We were past fear. If we were going to die, we were gonna die, but we can’t stop,” recalls Rider Joan Trumpauer-Mulholland. “If one person falls, others take their place.” Later, Mississippi officials locked up more than 300 Riders in the notorious Parchman State Penitentiary. Rather than weaken the Riders’ resolve, the move only strengthened their determination. None of the obstacles placed in their path would weaken their commitment. The Riders’ journey was front-page news and the world was watching. After nearly five months of fighting, the federal government capitulated. On September 22, the Interstate Commerce Commission issued its order to end the segregation in bus and rail stations that had been in place for generations.

“This was the first unambiguous victory in the long history of the Civil Rights Movement. It finally said, ‘We can do this.’ And it raised expectations across the board for greater victories in the future,” says Arsenault.

“The people that took a seat on these buses, that went to jail in Jackson, that went to Parchman, they were never the same. We had moments there to learn, to teach each other the way of nonviolence, the way of love, the way of peace. The Freedom Ride created an unbelievable sense: Yes, we will make it. Yes, we will survive. And that nothing, but nothing, was going to stop this movement,” recalls Congressman John Lewis, one of the original Riders.

Says Stanley Nelson, “The lesson of the Freedom Rides is that great change can come from a few small steps taken by courageous people. And that sometimes to do any great thing, it’s important that we step out alone.” (Winter / Spring 2011)

* American Masters: LENNONYC:

This fall, as the world remembers John Lennon on what would have been his 70th birthday, and the 30th anniversary of his death, American Masters airs “LENNONYC,” a new film that takes an intimate look at the time Lennon, Yoko Ono and their son, Sean, spent living in New York City during the 1970s. “New York became a part of who John and I were,” said Ms. Ono. “We couldn’t have existed the same way anywhere else. We had a very special relationship with the city, which is why I continue to make this my home, and I think this film captures what that time was like for us very movingly.”

Following the breakup of the Beatles, Lennon and Ono moved to New York City in 1971, where Lennon sought to escape the mayhem of the Beatles era and focus on his family and private life. At the same time, he created some of the most acclaimed songs and albums of his career, most of them written at his apartment at The Dakota on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, including “Mind Games,” “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” “I’m Losing You,” and “Woman.” He also remained highly active in the anti-war movement as well as numerous other progressive political causes. As much as New York made an impact on Lennon and Ono by offering them an oasis of personal and creative freedom, so too did they shape the city. At a time when New York faced record high crime, economic fallout and seemed to be on the verge of collapse, Lennon and Ono became a beloved fixture in neighborhood restaurants, at Central Park, at sports events and at political demonstrations.

Lennon and Ono also bonded with millions of their fellow New Yorkers in their experience as immigrants. The film traces their struggle to remain in the U.S. when the Nixon administration sought to deport them, supposedly based on a narcotics violation, but which Lennon insisted was in response to his anti-war activities. “LENNONYC” features never-before heard studio recordings from the Double Fantasy sessions and never-before-seen outtakes from Lennon in concert and home movies that have only recently been transferred to video. It also features exclusive interviews with Ms. Ono, who cooperated extensively with the production and offers an unprecedented level of access, as well as with artists who worked closely with Lennon during this period, including Elton John and photographer Bob Gruen (who took the iconic photograph of Lennon in front of the skyline wearing a “New York City” t-shirt). (Nov. 22, 2010)

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Steven Moffat discusses 2010 “Doctor Who” Christmas special…but not very much

Given that the annual “Doctor Who” Christmas special is still several months out, I knew full well that Steven Moffat wouldn’t be willing to offer up much in the way of information about what we could expect to see come December, but since I’d been fortunate enough to sit down with him – along with Mark Gatiss – in connection with their work on “Sherlock” (which comes to PBS in October), I couldn’t very well miss the chance to ask about it, anyway.

I started off with a non-specific question, asking how Michael Gambon had found his way into the “Who”-niverse.

“We sent him a script, asked him to do it, and he said, ‘Yes,'” said Moffat. “Simple as that.”

Had Gambon been a fan of the show?

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I didn’t get the impression that he was a fan of ‘Doctor Who,’ except insofar as everyone in Britain is at the moment, but it’s really…with these guys, send them a good part and there’s a really stonking chance they’ll do it. I mean, if it’s a good script…and you think it is…they’re being offered prime-time on Christmas day, really, so there’s a real chance you can get anyone for that. But it’s very exciting. He’s brilliant. Of course he’s brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. What a voice.”

The time had come to make the jump and ask something specific, so I wondered aloud if the teaser line at the end of season finale about the Orient Express in space would indeed come to pass come this Christmas.

“Who knows?” replied Moffat, stonefaced.

I told him he was a terrible person…which caused the stone face to break into a laugh.

“You wouldn’t really want to know,” he said. “I can tell. Also, what you have to keep in mind that I genuinely lie. I do. I actively lie to people about what’s going to happen in ‘Doctor Who.’ I’m not officially employed with the BBC. I can say any old thing I like. Even if I told you something, there’s no guarantee that it’s true. Disinformation and the white noise of nonsense is how we get through this!”

  

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