It's the most coveted piece of real estate in television: the time slot immediately following the Super Bowl. Standout shows such as "Friends," "Grey's Anatomy," "The Simpsons" and "Glee" have all aired there -- and been rewarded with hefty ratings boosts.

So what lucky series will serve as postgame dessert this year? Why, it's "Elementary," dear viewer -- the freshman CBS crime procedural that offers a fresh take on the adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

"We could not be more excited. ... It's a tremendous honor to get it as a first-year show. And we're going to do our level best to keep a lot of that audience in their seats after the game," executive producer Rob Doherty told reporters at the recent TV critics press tour.

The decision to go with "Elementary" is a bit of a departure for CBS, which bestowed the prized slot upon reality shows three of the past four times it has carried the Super Bowl. In 2001 and 2004, the network aired editions of "Survivor"; in 2010, it was the premiere of "Undercover Boss." In between -- in 2007 -- CBS went with the drama "Criminal Minds," which was in its second season.

"Elementary" hasn't exactly been a blockbuster hit. Of the 14 million viewers it averages, only 59 percent reportedly watch it live. But it's still a solid performer for CBS, and the massively watched lead-in could help grow its audience.


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"The fact that CBS is giving us that slot after the Super Bowl only maintains that they are really behind the show. We feel very honored," says Lucy Liu, who plays Joan Watson opposite Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock Holmes.

You heard right. Watson is a woman. And Asian. That might come as a surprise to viewers checking out the show for the first time. But it's not the only major tweak to be introduced by "Elementary," which plunges Arthur Conan Doyle's fabled sleuth into the 21st century.

As presented by the charismatic Miller, this Holmes is an English expat working as a police consultant in New York City. A brusque genius damaged by addiction, he just recently left rehab and has a bit of darkness to him, which Miller enjoys playing.

"When you are trying to bring a character to an audience and tell stories, any time you get to color that with history and emotion and those dark sides that are part of all of us, that's really the bread and butter of what we do. ... One thing I love about this character is that he's quite raw, and his struggles are on the surface," he says.

Some avid Holmes devotees (they call themselves Sherlockians) have groused about the changes, but Les Klinger, editor of "The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes" (W.W. Norton & Co.), is a big fan of the show -- especially of Miller's performance.

"He actually does a nice job of portraying the character as I envision him to be," says Klinger, who developed a keen interest in Holmes during his college days at UC Berkeley. "A very brilliant man, but one who isn't all that likable -- a guy who tramples on people's feelings, not because he means to, but because he's just oblivious and socially awkward."

But why all the recent fascination with Holmes, a character created in 1887? The iconic mastermind has been the subject of Robert Downey Jr.'s big-screen hits, as well as the BBC's critically adored "Sherlock," starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

"Because he's just cool," Klinger says. "I think we would all like to believe we can think our way out of problems like he can, and to be in charge and in command. He's someone who sees things coming long before others do."

In the case of "Elementary," he's someone who is starting to develop an interesting friendship with Watson. From the start, Miller and Liu have shared a red-hot on-screen chemistry -- so hot that they've reportedly been asked to cool their jets. Doherty, for one, is very reluctant to have Holmes and his no-nonsense sidekick hook up.

"People will always anticipate that. Many people will be desirous of that," he says. "But we love to defy expectations on this show. For as long as I'm a part of the show, it's not something I will want to see, mostly because I don't think we need it."

Then again, you can't always hide what is clearly there.

"I think if you have chemistry with somebody, you have chemistry with them," Liu says. "I think that's what makes the audience excited to tune in."

Those who have followed "Elementary" know the series has begun to delve into the Holmes mythology, from Irene Adler to the detective's notorious nemesis, Moriarity. Also, Doherty says that fans soon will be introduced to Sherlock's former dealer from London, and the show will take on more of a serialized format as the second half of the season unfolds.

"The window into Sherlock and his experience in London will be opened that much wider," he teased.

As for the Super Bowl episode, titled "The Deductionist," Doherty is stingy with details. The plot line has Holmes pursuing an "unpredictable" criminal played by Terry Kinney and being forced to work alongside an FBI profiler (Kari Matchett) during the case.

"(The postgame slot) is an incredible opportunity to expose the show to people who may not have checked it out yet. So we tried to take all that into consideration as we developed the story," he said. "We felt that it's not only a good example of what the show can do, but something that our regular audience would really have fun with as well."

Read Chuck Barney's TV blog at http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/tv, and follow him at Twitter.com/chuckbarney.

'Elementary'

When: 7 p.m. Sunday (time approximate after the Super Bowl)
Where: CBS