A Little Bit of Sherlock in 2013: New Two Hour PBS Doc to Explore the Great Detective’s Cultural Impact

Though it would be lovely if this post were actually about the Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss-produced brilliance that is the BBC adaptation of Sherlock (trust me – I wish!), it’s not. However, as we round the anniversary of a year since the UK transmission of The Reichenbach Fall, there is at least a tiny bit of happy news on the horizon for all us Holmesians out there. (And, no, it’s got nothing to do with Elementary.)

During their session this week at the Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour, PBS announced the premiere of a new two-hour documentary, How Sherlock Changed the World, which will explore the real-world impact of history’s most famous fictional detective. (It may surprise you to know that this goes way beyond our modern day Sherlock’s obsession with his Blackberry!) This special will explore the effect that Holmes has had on the development of real forensic and investigative techniques and will feature noted forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee

Per the official press release, How Sherlock Changed the World will demonstrate that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s hero not only revolutionized the world of fiction, but also changed the real world in more ways than one. Holmes was a scientist who used chemistry, fingerprints and bloodstains to catch an offender in an era when eyewitness reports and “smoking gun” evidence were needed to convict criminals, and police incompetence meant that Jack the Ripper stalked the streets freely. In many ways, the modern detective can be seen as a direct extension of Conan Doyle’s literary genius.  

Through the use of compelling archival material and reconstruction, How Sherlock Changed the World tells the true stories of the scientists, detectives and even criminals who were inspired or influenced by the legend of Holmes. The program explores real crimes that were solved thanks to a piece of equipment Holmes used, a technique he popularized or invented, or even his method of reasoning. The special will also assess the history of Holmes’ techniques from the 1880s to the present, showing how the scientific techniques Holmes introduced to the world have evolved into the stunning CSI-style forensic labs of Scotland Yard and the FBI.

“It is clear, especially of late, the lasting impact that Holmes has had, both nationally and internationally,” says Trish Powell, Executive Producer at Love Productions. “The worldwide success of the BBC drama on Masterpiece Mystery and recent box-office hits Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows have proven Holmes to be a timeless source of entertainment“. This documentary is meant to demonstrate how the legacy of Holmes, as the first crime profiler, was not solely a reservoir of brilliant stories and wonderfully drawn characters, but that it has saved lives and led to the capture of some of the worst criminals in modern history.

There’s no denying this would be more exciting news if this announcement had somehow snuck in an update on Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, but this documentary still sounds like a worthy (and quite interesting!) way to pass the time during the BBC version’s hiatus. How Sherlock Changed the World is slated to air this Fall, but no official date has been set as yet.

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