TCA: The curious case of Benedict Cumberbatch and his rabid fans

Actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Amanda Abbington speak during the "Masterpiece/Sherlock, Season 3" panel discussion at the PBS portion of the 2014 Winter Television Critics Assn. Tour at Langham Hotel on Jan. 20 in Pasadena.
Actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Amanda Abbington speak during the “Masterpiece/Sherlock, Season 3" panel discussion at the PBS portion of the 2014 Winter Television Critics Assn. Tour at Langham Hotel on Jan. 20 in Pasadena.
(Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images)

Benedict Cumberbatch is living proof of that elusive quality known as charisma.

Thin and somewhat awkward, with a long face, a pronounced nose and an impish smile, the British actor has seemingly set the world on fire.

Prior to his appearance on Monday at a PBS panel promoting the third (and highly anticipated) season of his television show, “Sherlock,” rabid fans could be seen camping out near the entrance of the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena.

They held signs and autograph books and affected slightly desperate facial expressions, as if they weren’t breathing very well and might soon need some form of resuscitation, preferably from Cumberbatch himself.

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There were more of them for him than there were for any other TV star who has appeared in the last week and a half of the Television Critics Assn. Press Tour -- including Matthew McConaughey.

So how on earth does Cumberbatch feel about such unadulterated adoration?

“Guilty, first of all, because I was late, and I had to run past them and say, ‘I’m on a tight schedule,’ ” he said. “But it’s extraordinary, really, and a little unnerving. I do feel that it has to be acknowledged, and I know that feeds the whole thing, but I’m a human being, and I have to acknowledge that they are so devoted and committed, and by and large intelligent and, for the most part, normal.”

Plus the type of devotion displayed by Cumberbatch fans, along with the runaway success of “Downton Abbey,” has propelled once-beleaguered PBS to new heights and a banner year.

Beth Hoppe, PBS’s chief programming executive, told the gathered news outlets that 4 million viewers tuned in to Sunday night’s Season 3 premiere of “Sherlock,” up from 3.2 million for Season 2.

In addition, Episode 3 of Season 4 of “Downton Abbey” reeled in 8.4 million viewers, up from 7.9 million for Episode 2.

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“Masterpiece Theater” executive producer Rebecca Eaton (whom Hoppe jokingly referred to as PBS’s true drama queen) added, “We are currently sold out for underwriters. I never thought I’d be able to say that to you. We are proud to be a part of the rising tide that’s lifting all boats at PBS.”

Cumberbatch and the cast of “Sherlock” are certainly a big part of that rising tide.

New to the A-team this season is Amanda Abbington, who plays Mary Morstan, the woman who marries Dr. Watson.

Her reception has been quite different from that of Cumberbatch. She says she has recieved death threats for daring to take on a role that may change the dynamic between Holmes and Watson. Nonetheless, her presence is welcome in a franchise that historically lacked strong female characters.

That’s definitely the feeling of the show’s co-creator Steven Moffat.

“Enter Mary. First of all, this is what happens in the original story and it really, really works,” he said. “The only thing the original series didn’t have is many women, and what ones are there aren’t necessarily the most vivid characters.”

Plus, he just likes the way women interact with Holmes.

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“If you put a female perspective on these men, it’s very funny and illuminating,” Moffat says. “Women see through Sherlock very quickly. They get him instantly and know when he’s showboating. It just made absolute sense to bring that character.”

As for Cumberbatch and his unstoppable fan base, he plans to take it day by day. He still rides public transportation and does his own grocery shopping. (“I don’t sit at home and send out minions,” he says.)

Also, he still gets starstruck, so he understands.

“At the BAFTA tea party, we bumped into Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston,” he said. “I know about the dry mouth and not knowing what to say.”


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