He's traditionally been Sherlock Holmes's brave accomplice and a faithful chronicler. Now, Dr Watson will be transformed into an "ass-kicking" female counterpart, played by Lucy Liu, in the curious case of the gender-changing sidekick.
John Watson will become Joan in Elementary, a radical, modern-day take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic mysteries, produced by the American network CBS. With Jonny Lee Miller cast as Holmes, the US series has made a bold move to distance itself from Sherlock, the hit BBC1 series, whose producers had threatened legal action if the drama infringed their copyright.
Set in contemporary New York, Elementary begins with eccentric Brit Holmes, a former consultant to Scotland Yard, struggling with addiction problems which forced him to seek treatment in rehab. His recovery is assisted by his Brooklyn housemate Watson, played by the Charlie's Angels star Liu, who in this version is a former surgeon who lost her licence while she was a consultant for the NYPD.
Liu is not the first female Watson. American actress Margaret Colin played Joan Watson, a private detective who thaws a cryogenically frozen Holmes in a 1987 CBS television movie, The Return of Sherlock Holmes.
The pilot episode will be directed by Michael Cuesta, who has already won acclaim for the award-winning "war on terror" series Homeland.
Holmes traditionalists have reacted with disdain to Liu's casting, which prompted comparisons with the Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd partnership in the 1980s series Moonlighting.
CBS will decide in May whether the response to the Elementary pilot episode is sufficiently positive to move forward with a full series, which would air in the northern autumn.Independent