It's Holmes, Sweet Holmes

Meredith Henderson is scanning the breakfast menu at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, where dozens of TV critics have gathered to preview the new season. The adults at the table have placed their orders and the waiter is looming at the young Canadian actor's elbow.

"I think I'll have the American breakfast," says Henderson, who hails from Ottawa. "And can I have that with the bacon and the sausage?"

Well, a girl's got to eat, especially a growing girl like the 14-year-old star of The Adventures of Shirley Holmes. Especially a girl whose show, aired for the last two years on YTV, is taking off internationally, debuting this year on both the new Fox Family Channel in the US and on the BBC.

While other adolescent TV stars may starve for the sake of glamour, watch their dress sizes and TV-Qs as closely as their grades, Henderson is not that kind of star. And Shirley Holmes is not that kind of show.

Henderson hardly seems a star at all. She displays none of the glibness and overweening cuteness sometimes found in child stars; she seems a natural, well-adjusted 14-year-old, even if a little uncomfortable at being the center of attention.

The character she plays is a bit unusual as well. Shirley is the great grand niece of Sherlock Holmes and she shares her relative's love of a mystery and some of his eccentricities. She's smart, but can be terribly single-minded, focusing on her investigations at the expense of everything else.

"Shirley is a bit of an outsider," said Kim Todd, who produces the show in Winnipeg for Credo Entertainment and co-producer Forefront Entertainment of Vancouver. "You see that in her wardrobe, in her attitude, in the choices she makes. But she's an outsider who's attractive to kids, because she sets her own trends."

The original idea for the show came from Winklemania, a British company that has recently produced a line of books based on the series. It suggested Shirley as an eight-year-old who would find lost animals and solve other simple mysteries.

Credo and Forefront came up with an older Shirley, the daughter of a diplomat, a girl whose mother had disappeared in a refugee camp in Rwanda. She would be surrounded by an ensemble of friends and rivals, including her own Dr. Watson figure, Bo Sawchuk (John White), Alicia (Annick Obonsawin), a pop culture fanatic, practical joker Stink (Brendan Fletcher) and her nemesis, the sneaky Molly Hardy (Sarah Ezer).

"We wanted to make sure we didn't underestimate kids," said Todd. "We wanted to write it well and shoot it well. Sort of like Murder, She Wrote, but a lot younger and without the dead bodies. Because I think when you invoke the name Holmes, you had better come up with tightly scripted mysteries and you better make sense."