"I am what I am"
"Someone once asked [former Beatle] Ringo Starr the secret of his success," relates Andy Breckman, creator and executive producer of the USA Network Original Series Monk. "And Ringo's answer was, 'When the boys asked me to join their little band, I said yes.'"
Breckman chuckles, tickled by the anecdote. "That's my secret, too," he confides. "The secret of my success in TV is that I said yes."
Monk, USA Network's critically acclaimed television series about the infamous defective detective, premiered on July 12, 2002. But its genesis dates back four years earlier to a completely different era for Breckman.
"I was writing features," explains the screenwriter of such comedies as Moving, I.Q., Sgt. Bilko, and Rat Race. "It never occurred to me that I might want to be in the TV business. Ever. I had never written a television script. I had never even explored it. And then, in early nineteen ninety-eight, I had lunch with David Hoberman."
Hoberman, then president of the Motion Picture Group of Walt Disney Studios, wasn't exactly a stranger. "I had written some bad screenplays for David," Breckman relates. "Because writing bad screenplays was my specialty."
Be that as it may, Hoberman knew Breckman as an extremely funny man, a veteran from the writing staffs of Late Night with David Letterman and Saturday Night Live. He also knew of Breckman's fondness for mysteries. And that's what he was counting on.
Hoberman had heard that ABC Television was looking for a new detective show, something in the Inspector Clouseau (of Pink Panther fame) vein. The idea caught Hoberman's fancy and he began musing about variations on that theme. "And then, I don't know how the idea popped into my head, but I began thinking about the superstitions I had as a child, obsessive-compulsive stuff," he says. "And I thought, what if someone who was wracked with phobias and anxieties was also a brilliant detective. Someone who had trouble leaving his home, much less going out into the world and solving cases, but somehow he managed to every day."
Hoberman pitched--and sold--the concept to ABC. Not bad for a man who, like the character he would soon help to create, remains reluctant to ride in elevators.
It was then that Hoberman invited Breckman to that lunch. "David said, 'Do you think we could do a TV show about a cop with obsessive-compulsive disorder?'" the writer recalls, "and I immediately saw the possibilities. It was a vehicle where I could use my lifelong passion for mysteries. I grew up reading Sherlock Holmes and watching episodes of Columbo. I knew this idea was the perfect fusion of my passion for mysteries and my passion for comedy."
The next time Breckman spoke with Hoberman, he had a name for both the show and the character: "Monk." "I've always thought that 'Sherlock Holmes' was a great name and I was determined to come up with something similar," Breckman says. "It had to be a simple, monosyllabic last name, with an unusual, colorful first name. 'Adrian Monk' sounded kind of quirky, and it was in keeping with the Sherlock Holmes mold."
The Baker Street detective provided more than just an inspiration for Monk's name. "People who know Sherlock Holmes recognize all the components of Monk," Breckman notes. "It's structured exactly as Conan Doyle structured his stories," which, he says, are quite different from the stories that other writers, such as Agatha Christie, crafted.
"Agatha Christie mysteries are about the intricacies of plot," Breckman explains. "Her plots are assembled like Swiss watches, and I always think reading them is hard work. Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes mysteries, on the other hand, are about the fun ride. Conan Doyle wasn't as concerned about the logic of filling every plot hole and making the story perfect. And Columbo was the same way. Columbo was about the fun ride. As soon as I saw that show, I knew I was in love. [Columbo creators] Richard Levinson and William Link did what Conan Doyle did, in that they were concerned with making the stories as much fun as their central character."
Breckman soon had sketched out a seventeen-page document, rough notes defining the show's structure and characters. "Monk is a remarkable man for two reasons," the notes began. "One: he's a great detective--a modern-day Sherlock Holmes. And two: he's nuts."
The rest of the document sketched out the primary beats for the pilot and suggested short storylines for ten possible follow-up episodes. Prior to taking on Monk, Breckman had never sat down to write a mystery. "However, I wouldoften get ideas for them and make notes," he says. "I had a closet full of those ideas. One that I'd had for years was about what appeared to be a failed assassination attempt on a candidate, but was actually the successful murder of a Secret Service agent. I worked that into the Monk pilot story." Hoberman and Breckman developed the story into an hour-long dramedy (TV parlance for a hybrid comedy/drama series) and Breckman wrote a script that he called "Mr. Monk Meets the Candidate."
"From the very beginning I wanted to title the episodes as if they were children's fantasy books," explains Breckman. "Like 'Mr. Monk Goes to the Symphony' 'Mr. Monk Takes a Vacation,' 'Mr. Monk and the Blankedy Blank.'" The titles hint at the detective's childlike nature and imply that every day is an adventure for Monk, who must try to carry out his grown-up job while dealing with a life that's completely dominated by childish fears.
"Everybody at ABC loved the script," says Jackie de Crinis, who at the time was Jackie Lyons, vice president of drama series at ABC. But there was a problem. ABC had bought the project with a "cast contingency" clause. The network had full control over who would play the title character and, notes de Crinis, "the right actor just didn't appear. ABC had a very physical type of comedian in mind, and that limited it."
"I can't express how depressing those casting sessions were," says David Hoberman (who is now president of Mandeville Films). "We had people coming in doing tics and Tourette's syndrome, and you name it. Everybody felt that they needed to embody an extreme physicality for Monk. But that would have gotten old and annoying very quickly."
Two development seasons--two full years--passed as numerous actors were considered, most prominently, Michael Richards, after he had wrapped up his role as Kramer in Seinfeld. But eventually, says de Crinis, "Other projects started to trump Monk at ABC. Projects that sit on the shelf for too long become stale. People just get tired of hearing about them."
De Crinis, however, hadn't given up on the project and when, in November 2000, she moved to the USA Network as senior vice president of original series, she took a copy of "Mr. Monk and the Candidate" with her. "I thought that the quirky script probably made more sense for cable," she says. "When I showed it to the group here, everybody loved it, too."
"Jackie had been part of developing that amazing Monk script," says Jeff Wachtel, executive vice president of original programming at USA Network. "In the first thirty seconds of reading it, you knew you had something. It had a wonderful sense of familiarity yet was done in a new way. Which is exactly what we needed at USA. I said, 'We have a diamond here, and our job is to create the perfect setting for that diamond.'" The network executives made an offer to Touchstone Television, the Disney arm that was working with ABC, and soon acquired the show.
USA, being a basic cable network, didn't have the public awareness or the financial stability of premium cable channels like HBO, which made the chance to develop the project a groundbreaking opportunity. "At the time," Wachtel says, "USA was kind of uncharted territory. We wanted programs that would raise the bar for all of us and make viewers go to Channel 242. Now we'd been given the gift of this diamond, that's what our discussions on Monk were about."
That and, of course, casting.
"It was in casting hell, which is exactly what had brought it down at ABC," Wachtel says. The USA team considered a number of actors, including Dave Foley, John Ritter, and Henry Winkler. "The producers all wanted the network to say yes to one of them," Wachtel laughs. "It could have been the building's security guard who was reading for the part and they'd have yelled, 'Great! Let's just do this show!'" But Wachtel was unconvinced. "I thought we should find a brilliant actor who people outside of the professional community wouldn't know that well," he recalls, "someone who would get under the skin of the character and don him as his own. Then I suggested--insisted. actually--that we go after three actors, Stanley Tucci, Alfred Molina, and Tony Shalhoub."
Shalhoub was already aware of Monk. "My manager had read the pilot script because she was looking for roles for another one of her clients, a woman who she hoped could play the nurse character, Sharona," Shalhoub says. "And while she was reading for her, she thought of me as Monk."
As it turned out, Tucci and Molina were working and unavailable. Shalhoub had a different complication. He'd recently completed a pilot for a broadcast network, and was legally restricted from doing another until a decision was made as to whether that pilot would become a series. Nevertheless, USA decided to woo him.
"We brought Tony in and pitched the role to him," Wachtel says. "At the time, USA wasn't the most notable home to come to, so we really blew it out with the whole cheese plate, fruit salad, and designer coffee thing. We said, 'Tony, this is a career-making role. This is the one people are going to remember you for.' That was our pitch." Wachtel laughs. "We never dreamed it would come true the way it has."
Shalhoub wanted to say yes, but his previous commitment prevented him from shooting a one-hour pilot. But USA had a contingency plan. The actor was allowed to do other formats, such as a two-hour movie, and, Wachtel points out, "One of the advantages we have at USA is flexibility. If we shot a movie and then Tony's other series was picked up, our movie wouldn't have to sit on the shelf. We could air it anyway. And maybe we could have done a whole bunch of made-for-TV Monk movies, a la Columbo."
To facilitate USA's contingency plan, "I was asked to do something that writers are almost never asked to do," Andy Breckman states, "and should never be asked to do. I was asked to take a one-hour pilot that, in my opinion, was perfectly written and working fine, and expand it." This is the antithesis of the usual writing process, he explains. "When you write, you tend to overwrite certain things, and then you cut out the stuff that isn't working. But I was asked to go back and put that stuff back in. It finally hobbled in at an hour and forty minutes, but that was enough for us to get Tony Shalhoub."
In fact, Shalhoub decided that he wanted to be even more involved with the show. "I wanted to have input," he says, "so I asked if I could become a producer." As a result, the actor signed on not only as the star, but also as one of the series' three executive producers (along with Breckman and Hoberman).
During the rewrite, Breckman tailored the script to Shalhoub's unique talents. "Keeping the comedic and the dramatic equal without having one undercut the other takes delicate balancing," Shalhoub explains. "'Candidate' had been around for almost three years, with differentactors tiptoeing near it, so by the time I got to it, the comic elements had become a little too broad for me.
"I can't take responsibility for creating the character," the actor admits. "We collaborated in dialing back the comedic tone because we wanted to make a tragicomedy out of the show. But Monk was created by David Hoberman and Andy Breckman, who really fleshed it out. And they brought in all these other characters and created the universe of Monk."
All that work seemed to have paid off. The pilot episode aired successfully, and an additional eleven episodes filled out the series' first season. At the end of the season, the series won two Emmy Awards--Outstanding Main Title Theme Music for composer Jeff Beal, and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for Tony Shalhoub. In addition, Tony Shalhoub won a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series--Musical or Comedy, and staff writer Hy Conrad was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Television Episode Teleplay, for "Mr. Monk Takes a Vacation."
In the creative process there is the father, the author of the play; the mother, the actor pregnant with the part; and the child, the role to be born.
-STANISLAVSKI, An Actor Prepares
Andy Breckman made no secret of the fact that his central characters were, if not reincarnations, then certainly direct descendents of the protagonists in Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes mysteries. As mentioned earlier, Breckman had described Adrian Monk from the beginning as a modern-day Sherlock. His brother Ambrose (introduced in Season Two, in "Mr. Monk and the Three Pies") bears more than a passing resemblance to Holmes's older brother Mycroft. But while these, and others, were useful initial armatures for the inhabitants of Monk's world, they were only springboards to the unique personalities that viewers eventually saw on-screen.
Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub)
"Monk is a living legend," states Andy Breckman's initial story notes on the character. "Quick, brilliant, analytical ... [with] an encyclopedic knowledge of a dozen unconventional and assorted subjects, from door locks to horticulture to architecture to human psychology."
The police call on him, the notes continue, whenever they are stuck on a case. Somehow, Monk has the amazing ability to see the things that they can't.
It's a gift ... and a curse.
"Is Monk the smartest guy in the world or is he the luckiest?" reflects Tony Shalhoub. "Does he just happen to be in the right place at the right time to see or hear someone say the thing that triggers his insight? We talk about that all the time--the writers, producers, and me. I think perhaps Monk's antennae are just a little more finely tuned than most people. He's just superintuitive."
And yet, this twenty-first-century incarnation of Holmes is also, as the show's tagline loves to remind us, "defective." Breckman was pretty clear about that from the beginning: "Monk can barely function in the world. He's a walkingbundle of fears and neuroses and obsessive rituals. A poster boy for obsessive-compulsive behavior."
"I don't know if there's any patient that has all of the things that bother Monk," acknowledges Breckman. "Generally speaking, he likes things to be orderly, he avoids germs, he likes things to be even, and so on. I'm not sure if that cluster of symptoms is found in the real world. I think that OCD patients might suffer from variations of some of that."
Playing Monk is probably almost (but not quite) as difficult as being Monk. "He's such a massive mess of complications," sighs Shalhoub. "He's proud and has a certain amount of arrogance, but he's so frustrated with himself that he can't do certain things. The will to do them is strong, but the phobias and compulsions overtake him. He loses so many of those battles. But I keep reminding myself not to get into self-pity. It's okay for the audience to feel sorry for Monk, but I don't want Monk to feel sorry for Monk very often."
It would be easy to fall into that trap, particularly since the strongest emotion in Monk's life is shrouded with tragedy--his love for his dead wife. "I think Monk always carries the memory of Trudy," says Shalhoub. "In some ways, it's not even memory. It stays in the present and he still holds Trudy as a kind of living entity. She's ever present." So ever present, in fact, that the two women who've portrayed Trudy over the course of the series, Stellina Rusich and Melora Hardin, are as familiar to viewers as regulars like Stanley Kamel, who plays Dr. Kroger.
Shalhoub tends to draw on childhood experiences in his portrayal of the detective. "There are a lot of childlike qualities to him," the actor observes. "He sees things in that kind of wide-eyed wonder, and that helps to give him a clear, objective view of things." Of course, the same quality also contributes to Monk's social ineptness and his ignorance about pop culture. "He's just a terminally unhip guy," Shalhoub grins ruefully. "He's decades behind in terms of music, television, and movies. He probably missed the sixties, missed disco, all of that stuff. He was not at Woodstock."
It's unlikely that Monk has ever seen anything on Tony Shalhoub's eclectic resume, either. (We know for a fact--see "Mr. Monk and the Airplane"--that he's never seen the TV show Wings, in which Shalhoub appeared for six years.) And the possibility that Monk has risked the sticky floor of a cinema to see such big-screen hits as Men in Black and Galaxy Quest, or even art-house favorites like Big Night or Barton Fink, is unthinkable. But rest assured, the people that count are familiar with his work. "Tony is one of the great character actors of our time," raves Jeff Wachtel. "Every week Andy Breckman builds this diving board and Tony jumps off of it."
Sharona Fleming (Bitty Schram)
As admirable as Sherlock Holmes and Adrian Monk are, they aren't exactly people that an audience can identify with. They're too different, too smart, too eccentric. Hence the need for a more audience-friendly everyman, a Dr. Watson type. In Monk, that everyman is an everywoman called Sharona, whose name brings to mind a very familiar ditty by rock band The Knack.
"I guess I was trying to think of a colorful name," muses Breckman. "Something that would fit a blue-collar, working-class nurse who'd come from a tough neighborhood. The name just seemed to fit."
Like Watson, Sharona Fleming comes from the medical profession, a prerequisite that felt appropriate once Breckman understood just how screwed-up his main protagonist was going to be. "I realized that Monk was very low-functioning," he says. "He'd have a lot of trouble functioning in the real world. So he'd need a nurse, or a former nurse."
Sharona, he explains, was intended as the show's control character. "She was the one the audience would relate to, so it was important that she respond to Monk as they would. I think that any one of us, if he had to spend all day with Monk, would be thrilled--and also frustrated." Breckman notes that Sharona says it herself in the pilot: "It's the best job I've ever had, and it's the worst job I've ever had."
As indicated in the early story notes, Queen Latifah was the original prototype for Sharona: "Sassy. Outspoken. No BS." The producers toyed with the idea of offering the role to the rapper/singer/actress with the larger-than-life personality, but by the time the casting process began, "shed gotten too busy," recalls David Hoberman. "So we opened it up to anybody. It was an unbelievably difficult role to cast. You needed someone cute with personality who could play a counterpoint to Monk. And she couldn't be annoying."
"I think that the people coming in to read had heard that the part was written for Queen Latifah," notes Jackie de Crinis, "so a lot of them tried to be her, and she's really one of a kind. They all went over the top. And then Bitty Schram came in and she just played it so real, as someone who had such compassion and was very grounded and oddly accessible. It was clear there was nobody else that made more sense."
"It was just one of those great auditions," says Breckman. "Bitty made it all work and then some. She added a dimension that we'd never even dreamed about."
Perhaps best known for her stage work and her film debut in A League of Their Own as the sobbing right fielder who's taken to task by Tom Hanks because "there's no crying in baseball," Bitty Schram was nothing like Queen Latifah. She had a personality all her own, one that was more reminiscent of a different Sharona prototype that Breckman had had in the back of his mind. "Someone like Marisa Tomei's character in My Cousin Vinny," he says. "Very smart and sexy. Bitty was in that mold."
So Sharona became a New Jersey girl, a so-called "bridge and tunnel" type, per Ileane Meltzer, costume designer for Monk. "Sharona was kind of stuck in the 1980s," she says. "Her hair was from that era, her makeup. Sharona would never wear skirts that came down to the knee. It was always going to be miniskirts for her. And tight pants."
And yet, somehow it didn't matter whether her wardrobe fit into the San Francisco scene or not. It certainly didn't matter to Sharona, who definitely marched to her own drummer, right to the end. And although she was very fond of Monk, who she thought of as a friend as well as an employer, there was never any doubt that her family always came first. Which helps to explain why she was able to cut the cord in Season Three and unceremoniously relocate to New Jersey with teenage son Benjy (played in various seasons by Kane Ritchotte and Max Morrow) to remarry her ex-husband.
Natalie Teeger (Traylor Howard)
Like Sharona, Natalie is a single working mom, albeit with a young daughter, Julie (played by Emmy Clarke). Beyond that, there's not much resemblance, a point that Natalie herself has to hammer into Monk's head when she first goes to work for him. She has less patience with Monk's worst habits and she won't put up with some of the things that Sharona had come to take for granted.
"As sweet as Monk is, he is so selfish," chuckles Traylor Howard, getting into character. "He sees everything through his eyes. So, in her initial relationship with him, Natalie tried to set up some boundaries. She was, and is, very assertive. She has a lot of respect for him but she won't hand-hold him."
Natalie is definitely not a blue-collar girl. She's the black sheep of a wealthy family--the founders of a toothpaste dynasty.
"Natalie's family has money, but she won't take it," says Breckman. "She was a very wild, untethered kid who has traveled around a lot. Her husband, Mitch, kind of tamed her and settled her down. There's a bit of mystery attached to her early life."
Natalie initially enters Monk's life as a client in mid third season, not long after Sharona had left the scene. "She had a million different jobs," says Howard, "and she's been trying to figure out what's going on in her life when she meets Monk, who's having his own crisis (over Sharona's departure)." Impressed with her capable attitude and take-charge personality, Monk asks her to work for him, and, despite some misgivings, she accepts.
The new dynamic took a while to work out (and for the Sharona-familiar audience to adjust to), but soon it was clicking along. A veteran of several television sitcoms, including Boston Common and Two Guys and a Girl, Howard brings a certain physicality to the role that Breckman appreciates. "As Natalie, she's very tough. She handles herself and, in some ways, she's fearless," he says. "If it weren't for her daughter, she'd be Wonder Woman out there fighting crime on her own."
Captain Leland Stottlmeyer (Ted Levine)
If Monk is Sherlock Holmes and Sharona/ Natalie is his Doctor Watson, then that means the good captain must be Inspector Lestrade, the Scotland Yard inspector that always needs Holmes's help.
"Stottlemeyer's job is to serve and protect, and to catch the bad guy," says actor Ted Levine. "And, if he's got someone around who can help him do that, he's going to use him. Monk is a tool to him."
"We wanted a legitimate police captain, a friend and a partner, a supporter and sometimes an adversary," says Jeff Wachtel. "Somebody real. That's why we went to Ted Levine."
Levine certainly has a solid track record playing smart cops and military commanders, notably in such films as The Fast and the Furious, Evolution, and the recent remake of The Manchurian Candidate (although he may have gained more notoriety for his creepy turn as psychokiller "Buffalo Bill" in 1991's The Silence of the Lambs).
"Stottlemeyer is a tough role," notes Andy Breckman. "He's a smart cop, but he's not the smartest cop. He has to feel a little embarrassed that he always has to call in Monk. He still has to have his pride. And Ted seems to be able to do all of that. I consider Ted our secret weapon. He's very funny and very smart and he anchors the crime stories for us in a way that nobody else could."
Referred to as "Chief Rockwell" in the original character notes for Monk that Breckman put together to pitch the show in 1998, Rockwell became Stottlemeyer somewhere between the pitch document and the shooting script for the pilot. Why? It's not quite clear other than the fact that Andy Breckman writes with the television on and often pulls names out of the electronic ether. "A sports game was on, it must have been either football or basketball, and the name Stottlemeyer was on the back of a player's jersey," he recalls. "I just picked it up. It's a great name."
As described in the character notes, Rockwell is a "crusty, veteran Deputy Chief of Detectives ... ex-military, totally by-the-book."In other words, a classic sonovabitch. Rockwell "resents Monk and ridicules him mercilessly," referring to the detective as "The Freak" and "Mr. Clean."
If that description doesn't quite jibe with your impression of the man who ultimately became Monk's boss, Ted Levine is probably to blame. "It was one of those things that evolved," says writer Hy Conrad. "Ted would play scenes nicer than they were written. And then we started writing nicer. Actors contribute."
In Levine's hands, Stottlemeyer also became more real. "I think in the beginning he was more exasperated by Monk," says Breckman. "I like their relationship now--there's a real warmth to it, although he's still driven crazy by the guy. He's as close to a friend as Monk has. I'd like to have a friend like Stottlemeyer."
Lt. Randall Disher (Jason Gray-Stanford)
Alas poor Randy. The things people say about him ...
"He's the dumb cop to Stottlemeyer's smart cop," explains Jeff Wachtel.
"He was developed as a character that would idolize Stottlemeyer and was sort of groveling all the time," says David Hoberman.
"Disher is kind of obsequious and more ambitious than bright," Canadian actor Jason Gray-Stanford admits cheerfully. "Obviously, as the seasons go by, our characters grow and change. He's always viciously loyal to the captain and to the police force, which usually makes him the first to rebuff Monk's outlandish deductions. But at the same time, he's bright enough to know that Monk has the ability to make them all look very, very good. So he's come to tolerate Monk and even have an affection for him."
The character was a minor one in the series pilot, a guest star rather than a costar. "The show was developed as a three-hander, with Monk, Sharona, and the captain," says Gray-Stanford. "But after the shoot, Andy Breckman took me aside and said, 'You know what? We got picked up--and it's a four-hander now.' And that's how I came to the show."
Gray-Stanford's new status required a small adjustment. "He was Lt. Deakins in the pilot," Breckman says. "But Disher sounded better. It says a lot about Jason that he made the character memorable. When we went to series, I couldn't have imagined doing it without him."
He may be the right-hand man to Monk's Lestrade, but Gray-Stanford has also had the opportunity to play the big man himself; he provided the voice of Holmes in the Scottish animated series Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century. He's probably better known to Monk viewers from his turns in the film A Beautiful Mind and the science fiction miniseries Taken.
Dr. Charles Kroger (Stanley Kamel)
"In any given scene," says Tony Shalhoub, "Monk has multiple agendas, needs, and objectives. And with Dr. Kroger, he's relying on him as a confident and as a friend, but he's also trying to impress him. Whenever he's there, I always feel like Monk is hanging on for dear life, trying not to completely unravel. He's guarded and needy at the same time, looking for help but not 100 percent convinced that Kroger is really able to help him. He has to be there because it's sort of required of him, but sometimes it feels like the process is moving too slowly."
"The scenes between them provide a quiet moment where Monk gets to express things about himself that he doesn't get to express at any other time," observes actor Stanley Kamel. "When Dr. Kroger is in the chair his job is to simply listen and talk to Monk. He's very comfortable in that chair."
If Kamel's face is familiar to television audiences it's because he's been in just about everything, from guest spots on The West Wing and Dark Angel to recurring roles on Murder One (as an unscrupulous psychiatrist), Beverly Hills 90210, and Melrose Place.
Kroger was described only as an unnamed shrink in Breckman's initial character notes and defined as "an intermittent character; Monk probably has to see him once a month, like a parole officer."
As it turns out, Dr. Kroger sees Monk a lot more often than that--once a week on average (although viewers don't always see them together), and twice a week when he's really upset. And there are times when it's hard to tell which of them dreads the visit more.
"Well, they're both long-suffering people," chuckles Shalhoub. "And when you have two long-suffering people in the same room at the same time, it can only lead to laughs."
"Mr. Monk Meets the Candidate"
Written by Andy Breckman
Directed by Dean Parisot
Original Airdate: July 12, 2002
In a sunny apartment in Santa Clara, California, a small contingent of uniform cops, detectives, and forensic personnel has gathered to investigate the murder of Nicole Vasques, the young woman who lies dead on the floor. At the moment, however, Nicole is not the center of their rapt attention. That distinction belongs to the impeccably dressed man who is moving about the room, absorbing the details of the crime scene. This is Adrian Monk, once a highly respected member of the San Francisco Police Department, now the somewhat less respected private consultant who assists the local constabulary in some of their more perplexing investigations.
It's not that Monk's insight and investigatory skills are any less sharp than they once were; he's already discovered a number of useful clues in Vasques's apartment that the local cops missed. It's just that he has a few behavioral quirks that occasionally interfere with his ability to do his job. Quirks that have led some to refer to Monk as "the defective detective." Quirks that drove his former watch commander, Captain Leland Stottlemeyer, to take Monk's badge away and give him a psychological discharge.
Not that anyone actually blames Monk for his behavior. The detective's entire life fell apart after the murder of his beloved wife, Trudy, four years ago. Her death so traumatized him that Monk's lifelong compulsion for cleanliness, attention to detail, and orderliness in all things exploded into a severe anxiety disorder. Dealing with the world outside of his excruciatingly neat apartment became a terrible strain--one with which he's able to cope only with the assistance of his assistant Sharona Fleming, a former nurse. He's slowly improving and Monk harbors not so secret hopes that his psychologist, Dr. Charles Kroger, will recommend him for active duty on the force in the near future--but that's not likely to happen while he's still compelled to rearrange the pillows on Kroger's sofa whenever he visits.
In the meantime, however, there's his consulting work. Although Monk quickly ascertains that Vasques's murder was premeditated--not the work of a panicked burglar who'd been caught in the act, as the police had suspected--he doesn't have a clue as to who the murderer could be. As he grapples with the details, he's called in to work on a second case. Someone has just tried to assassinate upcoming mayoral candidate Warren St. Claire at a campaign rally. The shooter missed St. Claire but killed his bodyguard. The incumbent mayor wants the case solved quickly so he orders Stottlemeyer, who's overseeing the investigation, to call in supersleuth Monk. Stottlemeyer complies, although both he and his right-hand man, Lt.Randy Deakins, have understandable reservations.
After meeting with St. Claire and his wife, Miranda, as well as St. Claire's business associate, Jesse Goodman, and campaign manager, Gavin Lloyd, Monk investigates the high-rise location where the would-be assassin was situated when he fired at St. Claire. To Stottlemeyer's surprise, Monk hypothesizes that the sniper may have been the same person who killed Nicole Vasques. Was Vasques involved with St. Claire's campaign? Monk asks Jake, a campaign staffer, to look into it--but not long after, Jake turns up dead. Although Jake's death initially looks like an accident, Monk proves that it was nothing of the kind--and Stottlemeyer discovers that right before he died, Jake had turned up evidence that Vasques was indeed a campaign worker; she worked with the campaign's bookkeeper.
After Monk is nearly run over by a mysterious black sedan, the defective detective is excited. He's sure it means he's getting close to the truth! He and Sharona begin to narrow the list of suspects. After discovering that Warren St. Claire is worth $150 million, Sharona expresses her belief that Mrs. St. Claire ordered a hit on her husband for the money. But Monk isn't so sure. Jesse Goodman may have motive; he's worked for St. Claire for a long time, yet never has been promoted to partner at the firm. And he's been having an affair with Miranda St. Claire. But while Miranda and Jesse each admit to the affair, they both deny any intent to kill Warren St. Claire.
In the meantime, Stottlemeyer tracks down the sniper who killed St. Claire's bodyguard, but the shooter gets away--thanks in large part to Monk's inability to climb a fire escape in order to stop him. But Monk did get close enough to the man to realize one thing: the sniper wasn't the man who tried to run him down. There are two culprits at large, not one. And not long after, Monk realizes who the second one is. Reassembling everyone at the site of the campaign rally, Monk explains that the sniper wasn't trying to kill Warren St. Claire; he was actuary hired to kill St. Claire's bodyguard. Why? Because Gavin Lloyd had tried to hire the bodyguard to kill Nicole Vasques, who'd inadvertently discovered that Lloyd was embezzling money from St. Claire's campaign. After the bodyguard refused to carry out Vasques's murder, Lloyd had to find a different assassin--someone who'd silence the bodyguard as well as the girl.
Monk produces his proof: a newspaper photo taken immediately after the shooting showing Lloyd pointing up at the location of the sniper. But, says Monk, because Lloyd's sight line to the building was obscured by a bunch of balloons, and because echoes of the gunfire off the surrounding buildings would have masked the direction of the shot, there was no way Lloyd could have known the location of the sniper. Unless, of course, he had hired him in the first place.
After the hired sniper takes a shot at Lloyd, Sharona takes off after him and chases him into the sewers--where he promptly captures her. Realizing her peril, Monk temporarily pushes aside several of his biggest phobias in order to capture the sniper and save Sharona, proving that with time, there may yet be hope of his returning to active duty.
"We open the show with this: fifteen seconds of total silence," states Andy Breckman's original notes for the Monk pilot.
Silence? Is this any way to launch a new TV show? With a trumpeting fanfare of silence? Isn't that counterintuitive? Ever since those seminal days of home entertainment when audiences were being drawn away from radio by a new technology that brought pictures into their living rooms, broadcasters intuitively have understood that, pretty pictures or not, television is an audio medium. Verbally elucidating upon what's on the screen allows viewers to raid the refrigerator for the very product being advertised without losing track of the dialogue, plotline, or message. So what's going on here?
"Monk is studying--'reading'--the crime scene," the notes continue. "It's almost Zen-like."
And somehow, just as the cops in the room are captivated by what they're seeing, so is the audience. We sense that we're in the presence of someone with a gift, someone magical, who's superior to us commoners--
And then Monk begins kvetching about his stove being left on. His assistant tries to reassure him, but he won't let the thought go, can't let the thought go. The stove is on. He can't focus, the heck with the victim, check the stove.
With that creative spark, Breckman had found an original way to introduce not only the title character, but also the show itself. This, his writing proclaimed, was going to be different. This was going to be something new.
The visuals shown under the opening credits contributed to that feeling. Credits are the place where, traditionally, a show about a detective will provide the viewing audience with shots of the protagonist looking at clues. And impressing a femme fatale with his brilliance. And punching out bad guys. Instead, the audience watching Monk's pilot was treated to a sequence of scenes showing this new detective ... attending to his personal hygiene. Doing housework. Dressing. Talking to himself. Preparing for a trip to his psychiatrist.
For an audience used to predictable "must see" type television, such an opening sounds like a death wish. But it was nothing of the sort. It was ingenious. And hilarious.
The audience got the message immediately. They weren't watching a traditional police procedural. They were watching Monk, a detective show that doesn't really operate in the real world.
"Monk is a fantasy," Breckman explains. "It just doesn't take place on the planet Earth. We have a police department that doesn't do forensics and doesn't deal with DNA. For the most part, they don't have computers and don't use informants. They live in an insane world that we've created. The show is a mystery/ comedy/fantasy with the fantasy as big a part of it as any."
Because the East Coast is familiar territory to Breckman, his original concept situated Monk in New York City, and he'd envisioned a chase through the city's subways for the pilot. But by the time the show was ready to go before the cameras, the series's setting had changed.
"We wanted to put Monk in an urban environment where people walk around, and where he would encounter life on the street," David Hoberman says. "In Los Angeles, you're in cars all the time." So L.A. was out. New York fit the bill but, as Hoberman notes, "shooting in New York is very expensive."
The producers settled on San Francisco, which had the right kind of urban feel. But while the beautiful city on the bay would receive some prerequisite location shooting to set the scene, the bulk of the pilot was shot in Vancouver, British Columbia. "You get morebang for the buck in Canada," comments Paulo de Oliveira, then senior vice president of creative affairs at NBC Universal Television Studios. "And Vancouver seemed the right place to double for San Francisco, because there aren't a lot of hilly streets in other cities, and hills are something that's recognizable for San Francisco."
But what about those subways? Shooting in Vancouver offered an opportunity to go in a different direction, although still underground. Monk, it was decreed, would walk through the sewers. "Vancouver has postal service tunnels that were built during the war," Tony Shalhoub observes. "We put water in them and for days people were standing in that water." The actor wrinkles his nose. "It was pretty scrungy."
As noted in the introduction to this book, the script for "The Candidate" was rewritten several times. However, the final draft wasn't completed until the fall of 2001, during a period when humor was difficult to generate. "Andy was working on it right after 9/11," recalls Tom Scharpling. "There was kind of a pall hanging over everything. The feeling for all of us was, 'I don't think I'll ever be able to be funny again.'"
But as anyone who's ever subscribed to Reader's Digest knows, laughter is the best medicine--and Breckman apparently tapped into a brand new strain of literary penicillin as he worked through the script for "The Candidate." He was matched, beat for beat, by the performance of lead actor Shalhoub, who brought every last one of Monk's eccentric quirks to life.
Finding the right director for what is, essentially, the prototype of a new series is always a challenge. Just as the actors have to find that balance, the correct tone, so too does the director who must drive the filming forward. For "Candidate," the reins were handed to director Dean Parisot. "While we were trying to develop the show at ABC, the first person I went to was Dean," says Hoberman. Parisot's credentials included numerous television shows and films, including the uproarious sci-fi parody, Galaxy Quest, which, coincidentally featured Tony Shalhoub in the cast.
Timing is everything. At the time Hoberman first contacted him, Parisot was unavailable. But after the show moved to USA, Jeff Wachtel explains, "Dean became available and he agreed to do it."
The director's tasks include finalizing the casting, and one of the actors he asked to see was Jason Gray-Stanford. "Dean had directed me in a pilot called The Marshall," the actor recalls. "I auditioned to play the bad guy in Monk's pilot, but after I finished, Dean said 'No, I want you to play a different part, the police captain's right-hand man," Randy Deakins (later Disher). Gray-Stanford has the honor of being the first person on-screen to refer to Monk as "the defective detective."
While working on the show, the filmmakers had used a temporary soundtrack of music by jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt to accompany the visual flow. When the time came to finalize the pilot, the producers sought out a composer who could match that sound, and also "deliver the comedy." Jeff Beal fit the bill. "They wanted music that was fun," Beal says. "We all liked the jazz guitar they'd been using, so I wrote a score in that style. We used a kind of bouncy beat because Monk can be like a little kid. But jazz also has the potential to be cerebral, with melodies that weave in and out like littlepuzzles, and I think Monk's whole take is to solve puzzles." Beal was surprised and pleased at the accolades his theme song received. "As soon as Monk premiered, I started getting tons of mail about the theme," he says.
The principle photography period went perfectly--and early edits of the pilot tested exceptionally well in front of trial audience screenings. In the end, USA Network executives, again taking advantage of the flexibility that cable broadcasting allows them, chose not to air the piece as a full-length movie. They shortened it to eighty-one minutes by cutting several nonessential scenes, including one in which Monk visits the home of two women known as the Street Sisters. But the extracted footage would not go to waste; the scene would show up intact in "Mr. Monk and the Billionaire Mugger."
The Quotable Monk:
"So that's the famous Adrian Monk."--First Cop "Yeah, the living legend."--Second Cop. "If you call that living."--Detective.
The Weirdest Clue: The drawstring to the blinds in the sniper's nest is kinked, as if it had steadied the gunman's shot--a Green Beret technique.
Idiosyncrasy of the Week: Fear of milk, fear of heights, fear of rat-infested sewers ... you name it, he's got it.
The Clue that Breaks the Case: The newspaper photo of Lloyd pointing up at the location of the sniper.
"Mr. Monk and the Psychic"
Written by John Romano
Directed by Kevin Inch
Original Airdate: July 19, 2002
Kate Ashcombe is driving much too fast for the twists and turns of a dark mountain road, but she doesn't care. Her beloved dog has been injured in an accident--or so her husband has just informed her via cell phone. As Harry Ashcombe fills her in on the grim details, he drags two large ramps into the middle of the winding road and urges his wife to hurry. A moment later, Kate's car hits the artificial incline at seventy-five miles per hour, and car and passenger sail over the side of the cliff road. Looking down from the top of the steep incline, Harry observes the mangled wreckage of his wife's car with satisfaction. It's the perfect murder--and he ought to know, seeing as he's the former San Francisco police commissioner.
Monk and Sharona offer Commissioner Ashcombe their assistance in locating his missing wife, but the body is discovered by so-called psychic Dolly Flint, a known charlatan who's been busted for fraud a number of times. Dolly claims to have been drawn to the scene of the crash by Mrs. Ashcombe's aura--but Monk, who doesn't believe in psychic powers, rejects that possibility.
After attending a memorial reception at thecommissioner's house, Monk begins to suspect that the death wasn't an accident. He and Sharona track down the woman they believe to be Ashcombe's mistress, Jennifer Zeppetelli. She readily admits to the relationship, but says she broke it off because she knew he'd never leave his wife's money. However, Ashcombe has continued to call her, and Jennie, like Monk, has some suspicions about Mrs. Ashcombe's death. Ashcombe, she warns Monk, is dangerous.
Monk is curious about how Dolly Flint could have found her way to the body, particularly after taking her usual dose of sleeping pills. The only access to the site is down a service road that people can't find under the best of circumstances. Monk thinks the commissioner killed his wife, but needed someone else to discover the body so he could claim the insurance money. But Monk doesn't think Dolly was working with the commissioner--at least, not so far as she knows.
Later, Monk and the police gather at Ashcombe's residence, where Dolly uses her "powers" to lead them to the body of Jennie Zeppetelli. After Dolly accuses the Commissioner of his mistress's murder, Ashcombe declares that Dolly is a fake. But, Monk protests, Dolly found Mrs. Ashcombe's body. The rattled Ashcombe blurts out that Dolly found nothing; he drove her to his wife's body!
The truth revealed, Jennie "miraculously" returns to life. The snare proved what Monk had suspected: Ashcombe's access to Dolly's police file led him to select her as the ideal candidate to find his wife's body. Already in a stupor from the sleeping pills, it was easy to drive her to the crash site in her own car. When Dolly awakened, she just assumed her bogus powers were real and that she'd come there on her own. Faced with the evidence, Ashcombe now declares that he has nothing to say, but as Monk assures him, he's said enough.
By Monk's second outing, it was clear to the USA Network that its defective detective was a winner. "Monk scores like crazy for USA," crowed the Hollywood Reporter, one of Tinseltown's preeminent showbiz trade magazines. The cable network was so pleased with the series's viewership--estimated at over three million homes--that it green-lit a second season.
But while the enthusiastic response warmed the writing team's collective hearts, "Mr. Monk and the Psychic," the first episode to air after the pilot, wasn't a creative favorite at their East Coast office. "Okay, we were just learning how to do this," Breckman laughs. "We didn't quite have a formula yet, so it was a little rough around the edges."
"Here's what happened." says Breckman. sounding uncannily like his titular character. "After the pilot tested well, the people at the network hired me to come up with three trial balloon episodes." Breckman chose three ideas out of the stash of mystery concepts he'd been keeping for years, and the newly assembled writing staff went to work, jointly fleshing out each story's key plot points and twists. Then the scripts were turned over to individual writers. Breckman himself would write "Mr. Monk Meets Dale the Whale," he and Tom Scharpling would cowrite "Mr. Monk and the Beatle" (which later became "Mr. Monk and the Red-Headed Stranger") and John Romano would write "Mr. Monk and the Psychic."
"John was the grown-up in the room," Scharpling says. "The rest of us were still just trying to figure out how many acts there were in a TV show." Which explains why "Psychic" was the first of the three scripts to be completed--and to be filmed.
"We had asked the question, 'If a man killed his mistress and needed the body to be found in order to make his alibi work, what would he do if the body was then accidentally buried," Breckman recalls. "While kicking it around, we stumbled on the idea of a psychic that could be influenced [by the killer] without being aware of it." The gentle absurdity of the premise amused the writers and it stuck.
Unfortunately, things didn't play as well as they imagined when filming began. "I remember going to see the very first dailies," Scharpling says. "The footage was supposed to be the big summation scene where the body was buried. But it turned out that the owner of the location wouldn't let them dig a hole on his property and, as a result, they shot it so that the body was just lying there, with some leaves pushed over it. My gut feeling was, 'Well, maybe this could become a little cult show, but please don't let it be a punchline!'"
The filmmakers reshot the summation scene several weeks later, but somehow that first day had set the tone. "I guess the first episode of anything is going to feel less successful," sighs Scharpling. "But coming off the pilot, which was so elegant, 'Psychic' just felt rickety."
Having shot the pilot in Vancouver, the production started its regular episodes on sets on the other side of Canada, in Toronto. There were several reasons for the move. Permanent, as well as economic, production facilities were immediately available in the eastern city, and Andy Breckman's writing staff was located in New Jersey, so shooting the show in the same time zone would make the writers' trips to the set much easier.
One more change was made from the pilot. The actor playing Benjy, Kane Ritchotte, was recast. Sharona's son would be played by East Coast resident Max Morrow for the rest of the season. Ritchotte, however, would be back for Season Two.
The Quotable Monk
"Unless I'm wrong--which, you know, I'm not."
The Weirdest Clue: The five empty Beaujolais bottles on Jennifer's mantle lead Monk to conclude that her affair with Ashcombe lasted five years.
Idiosyncrasy of the Week: Ataxophobia (fear of disorder). Monk "helpfully" tidies up Captain Stottlemeyer's desk.
The Clue that Breaks the Case: Monk realizes that Dolly, the psychic, couldn't possibly have found the service road that leads to the murder scene without some help.
"Mr. Monk Meets Dale the Whale"
Written by Andy Breckman
Directed by Rob Thompson
Original Airdate: July 26, 2002
The late night call to 911 is unusual. Superior Court Judge Kate Lavinio sounds as if she's in a panic. A man named Dale Biederbeck has broken into her house and is going to kill her. Over the phone line, the police dispatcher can hear utter bedlam: furniture being smashed, animal-like growls ... and finally the judge's scream of terror as the attacker breaks into her room. Then the line goes dead.
The next day, Monk and Sharona are summoned to the crime scene. Judge Lavinio has been murdered and Stottlemeyer wants Monk's input, although the captain already seems to know quite a bit. Inside, the home is a mess. There is a lingering smell of smoke in the air; Stottlemeyer says the judge was cooking when the intruder came in, and the food burned. In the living room, a chair has been placed under a smoke alarm. The alarm is located in front of some windows; Stottlemeyer notes that a little girl walking past the house observed a fat man turning off the alarm. All of this seems rather odd--but not nearly as odd as Stottlemeyer's revelation that Lavinio identified her killer before she died. However, the man she mentioned couldn't possibly be the killer because Dale Biederbeck, a.k.a. "Dale the Whale," weighs over eight hundred pounds and hasn't left his penthouse apartment for years.
Monk is familiar with Biederbeck. Years ago, his wife, Trudy, wrote an unflattering magazine profile of Biederbeck and he sued her. Trudy spent a grueling year in litigation hell and theMonks lost all their worldly possessions in court costs. Monk is certain the fat financial despot is guilty; a ruling by Judge Lavinio caused him to lose hundreds of millions of dollars. That's all the motive he'd need.
Unfortunately, a visit to the Whale's luxurious abode confirms that he couldn't possibly get out of bed, let alone his bedroom, a fact his personal physician, obesity expert Christiaan Vezza confirms. Stottlemeyer can't convince a judge to issue a search warrant, so Sharona accepts a night nurse position with Biederbeck to gather evidence. But all she gets for her efforts is a peek at Biederbeck's videos of Lavinio's television appearances and a far more unnerving peak at his corpulent body, which confirms that all that blubber is nauseatingly real.
Monk's interview with the girl who saw Biederbeck inside the house plants a seed in the detective's fertile mind. A subsequent visit to Dr. Vezza's obesity clinic brings the thought to fruition. Monk has cracked the case. Biederbeck orchestrated the murder, although he didn't actually carry it out. Dr. Vezza--who imitated Lavinio's voice on the 911 call--killed the judge while wearing a fat suit from his own clinic, making sure that someone observed him in the house. Since Biederbeck couldn't possibly have committed the crime, the evidence would have represented a dead end for the police investigation if it hadn't been for Monk's sleuthing. After Vezza agrees to testify against his boss, Monk informs Trudy's old nemesis that he's going to jail--although they'll have to remove a window and lower him by crane to send him on his way.
"Columbo had completely 'open' mysteries," explains Andy Breckman. "You knew who did it, and why, and how. The question on the table in that show was 'How will Columbo break this man's alibi?' That's a great question to ask, but other kinds of mysteries ask different questions."
"Mr. Monk Meets Dale the Whale" is the series' first example of Breckman's favorite formula: the "semi-open mystery." "That's where Monk knows who did it, but he doesn't know how he did it," says Breckman.
The episode is also a great variation on a "locked room mystery," where someone is killed in a place that the murderer couldn't possibly get in or out of--a room that's locked from the inside, for example. In this case, however, the impediment to reaching the victim is killer Dale Biederbeck's own body! "I love that," Breckman says happily. "I love the idea that Monk suspects an eight hundred-pound man of murder, but the man can't even fit through the door."
"Mr. Monk Meets Dale the Whale" was the first episode Breckman wrote after the pilot. "I was trying to show the people at the network the kind of unique stories that I hoped to tell throughout the series," Breckman recalls. But while the setup was certainly unique, the resolution wasn't something that Breckman is quite as pleased about. Having a different character pose as the suspect while committing the crime wasn't clever enough, he admits. "It's not exactly an Edgar Award-winning mystery."
It didn't look as good as it could have, either, according to Tom Scharpling. "The production values fell a bit short," he points out. Dale the Whale should have looked awesome, and not in a good way, judging by Sharona's reaction when Dale plays "I'll show you mine" with her. "But he didn't look great," says Scharpling. "It was as if they'd inflated a kid's wading pool over Adam Arkin's body and then just draped a blanket over the pool. When we saw that first shot, the air just went out of the office. We all said, 'Ooooh, noooo.'"
However, the fat suit that Dale's accomplice, Dr. Vezza, wore to kill the judge was a big hit with at least one of the cast members. "Wearing that suit was one of my favorite bits in the whole series," enthuses Jason Gray-Stanford. "It was like a scene within a scene. Monk was giving the summation, and there's Disher, demonstrating the fat suit and then trying to get off the chair and not knowing what to do." The humor surrounding Disher's predicament, he admits, was "a little broad, maybe too close to what I call the crazy zone, but it's also the kind of scene that keeps my character alive and three-dimensional."
If Disher had trouble with the fat suit, it's nothing compared to the problems the sound department has dealing with Monk's normal wardrobe. Actors are routinely fitted with tiny wireless microphones hidden under their clothing for scenes where an overhead boom mike would be seen in the shot. But Monk's constant fidgeting invariably causes the fabric of his snug-fitting clothes to rub against the mikes. The sound and wardrobe departments worked together on the problem, ultimately placing tiny sticky-backed "furniture feet" alongside microphones in order to make Monk's clothing lay smoothly while not rubbing on the sound equipment. Most of the time, they report, it works.
Although his appearance left something to be desired, Dale the Whale was certainly memorable, and the writers wouldn't hesitate toroll the pudgy villain back on-screen the following season, in "Mr. Monk goes to jail," albeit with a different actor under the swimming pool.
The Quotable Monk
"Bite me, Lieutenant."--Sharona
The Weirdest Clue: Dr. Vezza's uncanny ability to mimic female voices.
Idiosyncrasy of the Week: Making things even. Monk "helpfully" balances Judge Hackman's scales.
The Clue that Breaks the Case: Dr. Vezza's revelation of his age, which doesn't jibe with the doctor's tale about being named after Christiaan Barnard.
"Mr. Monk Goes to the Carnival"
Written by Siobhan Byrne O'Connor
Directed by Randy Zisk
Original Airdate: August 2, 2002
Lt. Adam Kirk arrives at a low-rent carnival amusement park to hook up with an informant named John Gitomer, but although Gitomer is the one who arranged the meeting, he's surprisingly uncooperative. He refuses to disclose his information out in the open; he wants Kirk to join him on the Ferris wheel. Minutes later, however, Gitomer starts screaming that Kirk is trying to kill him. The ruckus draws the attention of everyone on the ground and Kitty, the Ferris wheel operator, halts the ride.
Confused, Kirk leaps out of the basket. "What did you do?" Kitty asks accusingly, bending over Gitomer.
"Nothing!" Kirk responds. "I didn't touch him!"
But somebody obviously did; Gitomer has a knife sticking out of his chest. He's dead--and the only suspect is Kirk.
A short time later, Captain Stottlemeyer, Kirk's ex-partner on the force, grills his old friend about the incident. It looks like an open and shut case against him. Everyone saw him in the basket with the victim and Kirk has a history of using excessive force with suspects. Disher wonders if Monk can help clear Kirk. Stottlemeyer is reluctant to contact Monk--he's facing the police review board in an effort to win back his badge--but eventually the captain agrees.
Although impressed with Monk's improvement, the review board opts to reserve judgment until they hear from Monk's former commanding officer: Stottlemeyer. Monk is skeptical about Kirk's innocence, but he agrees to investigate because his cooperation may influence Stottlemeyer's testimony.
At the carnival, Monk finds a clue: a discarded claim ticket that fell from Gitomer's pocket. Monk and Sharona track the ticket to a dance club, where they claim Gitomer's knapsack, and the cell phone within. A check ofthe call records establishes that Gitomer recently had been in touch with Leonard Stokes, an accused murderer who was jailed on the basis of Kirk's testimony. Stokes has long maintained that his confession to Kirk was beaten out of him; now that Kirk has been accused of murder, the judge has no recourse but to release Stokes. Clearly there's a connection between Stokes, Gitomer and Kirk--but what is it?
Monk is devastated when Stottlemeyer admits he didn't recommend him for reinstatement, but his keen mind refuses to stop analyzing the clues, and he solves the case. With the ostensible goal of discrediting Kirk, Stokes told Gitomer to claim that the detective roughed him up on the Ferris wheel. Then Stokes upped the ante on his revenge by having girlfriend Kitty, the ride operator, stab Gitomer after Kirk exited the car, thereby framing Kirk for murder. A grateful Stottlemeyer tells Monk not to give up on his dream of reinstatement. When he's ready for it, it'll happen.
"'Carnival' is the show where we hit our stride," observes Tom Scharpling. "The series took a step forward."
However, the original nugget for the episode seemed a little implausible to the folks at Universal. "Andy told us, 'I want to do an episode where a guy is alone on a ski lift and when he comes off the top he has a knife in him and he's dead," says Paulo de Oliveira, then senior vice president of creative affairs at NBC Universal Television Studios. "Now, that's impossible, so we were a little skeptical."
But that was the whole point, explains AndyBreckman. "I had it worked out as an impossible murder," he says, so the initial skepticism didn't discourage him. There were, however, more insurmountable problems with setting the crime on a ski lift. "For one thing, we were shooting in the summer," Breckman notes. "For another, Monk lives in San Francisco. How could we explain him traveling? So we rethought the ski lift, and it became a Ferris wheel and that's when the formula began to come together for us."
The episode contains two elements that would become a fixed part of the show, one that perfectly illustrates its style, and the other that sharply defines the relationship between two key characters.
Early in the episode Sharona and Monk argue about who's going to drive her car. "That scene goes on much longer than anyone at the network wanted it to go on," admits Breckman. "It was just a digression, a left turn from the mystery. But it showed that you could stop the mystery and just have fun. With that scene the show became Monk. It wasn't a straightforward procedural anymore. It was a fun ride. The fun ride trumped the mystery.
"The episode also has a great defining moment for Ted Levine," Breckman adds. "Stottlemeyer doesn't recommend Monk for reinstatement, and that sets up who Stottlemeyer is in Monk's world."
So despite the fact that the two men have a history together, and that the captain isn't unsympathetic to Monk's situation, the bottom line, according to Ted Levine, "is that Stottlemeyer's a cop. For him, that's what it's about."
Still another ingredient that contributed to the winning Monk formula was the addition of Randy Zisk to the production team. As the director of "Carnival" (he would later become an executive producer on the series), he admits to two snafus that occurred during his initial shoot.
"We had set up the carnival on an asphalt parking lot and the temperature was over one hundred degrees. I think it was the hottest week in Toronto in years. The people on the carnival rides were yelling, 'Stop the ride, stop the ride,' because they were passing out from the heat."
And there was a miscalculation with extras. "The first day we had fifty of them," Zisk recalls. "And that wasn't enough. It looked like Monk had rented out the carnival for a private party!" After an additional 350 extras were hired for the rest of the shoot, says Zisk, "the place looked really great. But to this day when I watch 'Carnival,' I can tell which shots are from that first day--although I think I'm the only one who can."
The Quotable Monk
"It's a gift--and a curse."--Monk
The Weirdest Clue: Ceiling fan + tube sock filled with batteries = the victim's bruises were self-inflicted.
Idiosyncrasy of the Week: Excruciating attention to meaningless detail. Monk knows how many jelly beans are in the jar at the carnival because he saw the discarded candy boxes in a pile of trash.
The Clue that Breaks the Case: The killer, Stokes, and Kitty, the ride operator, both wore orange "Straight & Sober" pins.
"Mr. Monk Goes to the Asylum"
Written by Tom Scharpling & David Breckman
Directed by Nick Marck
Original Airdate: August 9, 2002
Monk arrives home with a bag of groceries and plans to make chicken cacciatore. But something isn't right. For one thing, he can't find the large casserole dish. For another ... he's in someone else's house! As he turns to leave, Monk finds himself face to face with two uniformed police officers. Things go downhill from there, as Monk is escorted to the Medford Psychiatric Institute for two days of "observation and evaluation."
Dr. Kroger and Sharona try to be reassuring. At least no one opted to press charges. And the director of the facility, Morris Lancaster, is considered one of the top clinical psychologists in the country. After the pair departs, Monk has his first meeting with Dr. Lancaster, an avid sportsman with lots of fishing equipment in his office. Lancaster deduces that Monk went to the wrong house--a house that Trudy once lived in--because it was the anniversary of the couple's first meeting, something Monk had forgotten, at least at a conscious level. And Monk had wanted to make chicken cacciatore because that was Trudy's favorite dish. Impressed, Monk agrees to comply with Lancaster's prescription: take some time off from playing detective.
However, Monk finds it hard to keep his promise. Wurster, Monk's roommate at the facility, shares details of a murder that occurred there years earlier. Assistant Director Gould was shot to death, ostensibly by a patient who later overdosed on stolen drugs. But the murder weapon was never found, and Wurster says the alleged killer was a pacifist. The story piques Monk's interest, as does a different inmate'sstory that he saw Santa Claus hanging out near the building's chimney the night before. When Monk spots a swatch of torn red cloth on the chimney, he begins to wonder if there's a connection between Santa's appearance and Gould's murder.
When Dr. Lancaster hears about Monk's in-house sleuthing, he's extremely displeased. Not long after, evidence begins to surface that Monk is losing his mind. Even Sharona doubts his sanity until she discovers that Gould had been tapped as the institute's next director, a position Lancaster himself coveted. After Sharona manages to get that information to Monk, the detective is able to piece together the rest of the puzzle.
Four years earlier, Lancaster shot Gould, then framed and killed the innocent patient who was ultimately blamed for the murder. He stowed the gun in a long unused chimney. But now the institute's renovation work is about to reveal the crucial piece of evidence. That's why Lancaster has been up on the roof, "fishing" for the murder weapon in the old chimney. He wore a Santa suit because he knew the only person who might catch sight of him from his room was a delusional patient who believed in Santa Claus. Monk confronts "Santa" Lancaster on the roof just as the doctor retrieves the gun. He tries to shoot Monk, but the firing pin has oxidized over the years. As Sharona arrives on the scene with the police, Monk ruefully admits to Lancaster that, "Except for the murders and your trying to kill me, you really were the best doctor I ever had."
The concept for "Mr. Monk Goes to the Asylum" sprang from the mind of executive producer David Hoberman. "In every other episode, Monk is the most screwed up member of any group," Hoberman chuckles. "I thought it would be interesting to put him in a psychiatric hospital where he'd be the sanest, healthiest person in the room."
The writing staff thought it was a funny idea, one that would work particularly well when conjoined with another idea they'd beentoying with that involved a Santa Claus impersonator. "There's an old story about a kid who thinks he sees Santa Claus, but of course it's someone dressed up like Santa who's about to commit a crime," staff writer Hy Conrad explains. "That was our nugget. We changed the kid into a crazy man who's a super Santa Claus fan. He'd be in an asylum and Monk would be in the same asylum."
Besides the character of Manny, the Santa fanatic, the writers created Wurster (played by Saturday Night Live alum Kevin Nealon), Monk's amiable roommate who initially seems pretty normal. Wurster--who's named for a writer friend of Scharpling's--acts as Monk's guide through the asylum and intrigues him with details about Dr. Gould's mysterious murder. "We didn't want the guide to be somebody who's truly mentally ill, because then we weren't going to have any fun," Scharpling comments, "and it's a heavy episode to begin with. We made Wurster a kind of Zelig who assumes the identity of everyone he meets." Wurster's proximity to Monk not only gives the defective detective someone funny to play off of, but also serves as an investigative cohort at the asylum--a quasi-Sharona who comes in handy when Monk needs help in recreating Gould's murder.
The episode begins with a poignant mishap as Monk inadvertently breaks into Trudy's old house. "When Monk starts to focus on stuff related to Trudy, his emotions get in the way," Scharpling says. "That's his intellectual blind spot, and that's when he can be as wrong as he's usually right." At times like that, his brilliant mind seems to slip a gear. In this case, the subconscious memory of his first encounter with Trudy leads him to the place where she lived at the time. Memories of Trudy would again mislead Monk in "Mr. Monk and the Billionaire Mugger," sending him to the home of Kelly Street, who doesn't know any more about Trudy's death than she did the first three times Monk visited.
Although the story takes place at a mental facility, the series' resident psychiatrist, Dr. Kroger, appears only briefly. Actor Stanley Kamel, who accepts the fact that his character is a seasoning, rather than a main dish, wouldn't mind seeing Kroger sprinkled a bit more liberally. "The pilot was bookended by Kroger scenes," Kamel observes. "Monk came to Kroger at the top of the show, went off and solved the case, and then came back to Kroger to wrap it up. That worked real well for me."
The Quotable Monk
"Be careful--there's a lot of gravity up there."--Monk
The Weirdest Clue: A piece of Santa's red suit, found attached to the chimney of the psychiatric hospital.
Idiosyncrasy of the Week: Acrophobia (fear of heights). Monk doesn't want to climb on the roof.
The Clue that Breaks the Case: Sharona learns that Dr. Lancaster was seriously unhappy when Dr. Gould was named director of the facility instead of him.
"Mr. Monk and the Billionaire Mugger"
Written by Tim Lea
Directed by Stephen Cragg
Original Airdate: August 16, 2002
Billionaire software developer Sidney Teal leaves his mansion, ostensibly to deliver a lecture. But instead of heading for the college, Teal heads for the parking lot of a movie theater. There, he puts on a fake moustache and a hooded sweatshirt ... and waits. Soon, Archie Modine and his girlfriend enter the parking lot. Teal confronts them. "Give me your wallet," he growls. "Don't be a hero!" Modine reaches into his pocket--but to Teal's surprise, his victim pulls out a gun and fires. The billionaire mugger collapses and dies.
Sharona is relieved when Captain Stottlemeyer asks Monk to investigate the botched mugging. Her most recent paycheck from Monk has bounced because Monk's last client hasn't paid the detective. Sharona urges him to bug Stottlemeyer for a raise, but Monk won't focus on anything but the investigation, which is complicated by the revelation that a uniformed cop ran from the parking lot in terror after Modine shot Teal. The press corps jumps on the "Fraidy Cop" story, much to Stottlemeyer's dismay.
Because Sidney Teal was a man who didn't need money, Stottlemeyer suggests the would-be mugger was having a mid-life crisis. Teal's widow supports that theory, adding that her husband had begun engaging in atypically risky activities. Sharona urges Monk to accept that rationale and wrap up the case so he can collect his fee. But there are too many unanswered questions for Monk. Why was Teal wearing kneepads? Why didn't Archie Modine mention that he and Teal belonged to the same fraternity in college?
Modine sheepishly provides the answer to the second question: he'd had a brief fling with Teal's wife. When he saw Teal coming at him in the parking lot, he figured he was facing a cuckolded husband and fired in self-defense.
The cops find the story credible. But Monk doesn't buy it and he refuses to turn in his invoice for the case. Frustrated, Sharona quits, but although she tries to walk away, she's drawn back to the case after learning that Teal was involved in a very similar mugging while he was in college. In that case, however, he was the victim. In fact, the mugger had used the very same words Teal had recently uttered: "Don't be a hero."
That information allows Monk to crack the case. Back in college, Teal and frat brother Modine had cooked up a plan to impress Teal's then-girlfriend. Modine pretended to be a mugger that Teal successfully fended off. Twenty years later, Modine called upon Teal to return the favor so he could impress his girlfriend. Teal had donned kneepads because he expected to engage in a staged tussle.
Unfortunately, Teal was unaware of Modine's real motives. That "fling" with Teal's wife was actually a long-term relationship, and the two had conspired to get him out of the way permanently. Modine hadn't counted on "Fraidy Cop," an actor Teal hired to add authenticity to the fake mugging. When Monk tracks him down, Fraidy Cop provides all the proof Stottlemeyer needs to put the murderers away. And as an added bonus, Monk uses FraidyCop--in uniform--to convince his former client to settle his debts!
From a little acorn, a giant oak tree grows. In the case of "Billionaire Mugger," it was a rather inauspicious acorn: a comedy sketch that David Breckman had written while on staff at Saturday Night Live. The sketch, which never made it to prime time, revolved around an "Impress Your Date Service." where you hired somebody to mug you in front of your girl, then allowed you to beat him up instead.
"David and I were talking about that sketch," recalls brother Andy, "and over the course of things, it evolved into a nugget about [Microsoft founder] Bill Gates mugging a guy. We muse over these nuggets for months at a time--we kick them around, we go to lunch, we go to bed, always thinking, 'Is it possible that Bill Gates could be caught mugging a guy? How would that work? What are the ramifications? How do you get Monk into that story? How could that last for forty-one and a half minutes? Is there potential for comedy? Is there potential for an emotional moment?'"
At the same time, executives at the network and the studio ask similar questions. "During Season One, there were many conversations about comedy," says NBC Universal's Paulo de Oliveira. "We talked a lot about the Fraidy Cop character in this episode. We said, 'Andy, this Fraidy Cop just seems as if it's not going to be funny, it's going to be dumb and kind of silly.' And he kept saying, 'No, trust me, it's really gonna be great.' It turned out Andy was right."
Ironically, while the rather dark crime itself had evolved from a comedy skit, the played-for-laughs Fraidy Cop idea did not come from one of the comedy writers, but from the show's official crime consultant, Hy Conrad. "Fraidy Cop is the one thing I contributed to that episode," Conrad says. "The problem was that the setup mugging was a conspiracy, and the killer and victim were the only ones in on it. We needed some way for Monk to prove his theory, so we had the victim enhance the mugging by hiring a phony cop. That phony cop could later serve as a witness for the real cops."
Attentive viewers will notice that the marquee on the movie theatre that Modine and his date are leaving reads: "Hitchcock Festival--Now Showing--Psycho and The Man Who Knew Too Much." And that the name of Teal's housekeeper is Mrs. Danvers, just like that of the sinister housekeeper in Daphne du Maurier's classic mystery Rebecca--also transformed into a film by Alfred Hitchcock. "That Hitchcock stuff hangs over the entire series," smiles Tom Scharpling. "Sherlock Holmes, Columbo, Seinfeld, and Hitchcock are the four lampposts shining down on us."
The sequence where Monk visits the "Street Sisters" may seem a bit disconnected from the rest of the story. That's because the scene actually had been shot for the pilot, "Mr. Monk Meets the Candidate," and later cut when the episode was shortened. The producers kept the footage and found a home for it here.
The Quotable Monk
"I think I just busted this case wide open."
The Weirdest Clue: The victim was inexplicably wearing kneepads and elbowpads.
Idiosyncrasy of the Week: Crooked things must be straightened. Monk pays a quarter just to straighten the display copy in a newspaper dispenser box.
The Clue that Breaks the Case: Sharona discovers that Teal and Modine were involved in a nearly identical mugging twenty years earlier.
"Mr. Monk and the Other Woman"
Written by David M. Stern
Directed by Adam Arkin
Original Airdate: August 23, 2002
As attorney Lou Pratt wraps up his day's work. a masked figure creeps into his office and murders him. The killer then breaks into the file room and burns the contents of a lone manila folder. By the time Monk arrives on the scene, the police have completed their initial investigation, and Stottlemeyer has a prime suspect: Lawrence Grayson, the man whose file was burned.
Monk thinks the evidence against Grayson is weak. Yes, Pratt represented the suspect in an unsuccessful lawsuit against Grayson's neighbor, Monica Waters. Yes, Grayson threatened the attorney after he lost the suit. But if burning his own file was an attempt by Grayson to keep the police from connecting him to the murder, it was a clumsy attempt and it makes no sense to Monk.
Monk is immediately smitten when he meets Monica Waters, a strong, pretty woman who reminds everyone of Monk's late wife Trudy. Although Monica has little connection to the case beyond Grayson's futile lawsuit over the construction of her garage, Monk invites her to dinner, ostensibly to question her. It soon becomes obvious that Monk's interest is personal, but Monica doesn't seem to mind--although she does change the subject when Monk brings up her ex-husband.
At Pratt's funeral, one of the lawyer's elderly clients sits behind Monk, coughing continually. Unnerved, the detective berates him, and the old man keels over, dead. After an ambulance takes the dead man away. Todd Katterskill, the old fellow's nephew, chastises the embarrassed Monk for his thoughtless behavior.
Not long after, Grayson meets an untimely end in Monica Waters's garage, and suddenly she becomes Stottlemeyer's main suspect in both murders. Not surprisingly, Monk feels Monica is innocent, even when Stottlemeyer postulates that she killed her ex-husband and buried him under her garage! Startled by the accusation, Monica explains that her ex isn't dead--he's in an asylum in Switzerland. Now Stottlemeyer is stumped; they're back at square one and have no idea who killed Pratt.
Monk and Sharona return to Pratt's file room, where Monk finally finds the clue that breaks the case. At the reading of Old Man Katterskill's will, Monk reveals his discovery. The murderer of both Pratt and Grayson is Todd Katterskill, who'd been cut out of the elderly man's will. Todd broke into the office of Pratt, his uncle's lawyer, to replace the will with a forgery that left everything to him. Because Pratt would have been able to identify the bogus will, Todd eliminated him, then burned a random file--Grayson's--to send the police in the wrong direction. He later murdered Grayson, thus insuring the police would continue to follow a false trail. Unfortunately, he didn't count on Monk's preternatural ability to spot out-of-place items, like the inappropriate tab on the bogus will's folder.
With the case solved, Monica tells a disappointed Monk that he's made her remember how wonderful her relationship was with her husband. She's going to Switzerland--and she's not coming back till he's better.
"Everyone knew that Monk was a very important series for USA, and the early scripts were often ripped apart and rebuilt," recalls Andy Breckman. "'The Other Woman' was really reworked. In fact, it was rewritten more than any other script we've done."
The troublesome story had a simple beginning. Tom Scharpling suggested a robbery where someone breaks into a house and doesn't take anything. Instead, something is left behind. That intriguing concept begat a marathon series of talks, ultimately leading to a fleshed-out idea about a revised will that's left in a lawyer's file, and a different file that's grabbed at random. "The grabbed file is a red herring that leads to an innocent woman," says Breckman. "That, I think, is a really great story. The core mystery is strong. But the execution of the episode was not my favorite."
That was due, in part, to the script's early slot in production. Although "Other Woman" was the seventh episode of Monk to be aired, it was actually the third episode to be filmed. That explains why Disher and Stottlemeyer are so antagonistic toward Monk--despite the fact that they'd already begun to mellow toward him in some of the preceding episodes (which were written after "Other Woman").
The situation may have been complicated by the creators' lack of proximity to the set. In the aired episode, there is a scene in which Stottlemeyer grabs Monk and pushes him into the hands of a waiting policeman. But that rather physical bit of action was not written into the script; it was one of numerous choices made on the set during filming. "Those of us at this end of the country," Scharpling notes, "didn't think that was in Stottlemeyer's character." But back then, he acknowledges, "no one understood what the boundaries were. Everybody was just feeling his way. Now, three seasons later, everybody agrees that he wouldn't do that to Monk."
Even the romantic aspects of the script seem a touch out of step. The audience barely knew who Trudy was at this point--or the depth of Monk's devotion to her--yet here the writers were, creating a character whom Monk falls for, hard. "It ended up feeling like our 'Lifetime Movie of the Week Monk Episode,'" Scharpling admits.
The episode did, however, allow for some particularly eccentric--and funny--behavior from Monk: his "Princess and the Pea" type sensitivity to a very, very tiny pebble in his shoe, his pathetic attempt to fake eating, and his extremely prolonged efforts to freshen up at Monica's. "He goes into the bathroom, and comes out two hours later, without being aware of how long he'd been in there," chuckles Breckman. "Having Monk black out like that issomething that we haven't done for a while and I miss it. I think it's really funny."
The episode is one of very few that lacks an epilogue. One was written--Sharona and Monk have one of their little walk-and-talks while Monk touches the poles they pass--but it was cut for time.
The Quotable Monk
"I don't mind change. I just don't like to be there when it happens."--Monk
The Weirdest Clue: Monk can tell that Monica's husband has been gone for two years by the amount of the pachysandra that's grown beneath the basketball net.
Idiosyncrasy of the Week: Monk doesn't want the different foods on his plate to touch--and believes other people don't either.
The Clue that Breaks the Case: The tab of the replaced folder is out of sequence with the other ones in the drawer.
"Mr. Monk and the Marathon Man"
Written by Mitch Markowitz
Directed by Adam Davidson
Original Airdate: September 13, 2002
Gwen Zaleski watches television coverage of the city's annual marathon race. She knows her lover is one of the runners, so she's surprised when she sees him in her apartment.
Moments later, Gwen's body hurtles twenty stories to the ground.
Not long after, Monk and Sharona spot Stottlemeyer in the center of a crime scene and stop to see what's going on. Stottlemeyer points out the body of Gwen Zaleski, noting that they haven't yet determined if the deceased jumped, slipped, or was pushed from her balcony. Monk feels she was murdered. Gwen has fresh nail polish on some--but not all--of her toenails. She was obviously interrupted by her killer.
In Gwen's apartment, Monk discerns the scent of chamomile and spots a blank space on her phone's speed dial directory. A tap of the corresponding button connects them to Trevor McDowell, Gwen's married lover. But the furniture magnate has an airtight alibi for the time of Gwen's death: he was participating in the marathon.
Monk believes McDowell is guilty. He and Sharona pay a visit to marathon headquarters, where the workers explain that every runner was tracked via a computer chip worn on the individual's shoe. McDowell's chip was scanned at every one of the marathon's twenty-six checkpoints.
Stottlemeyer theorizes McDowell removed his chip and gave it to another runner, someone who ran at McDowell's pace for the entire race. There was one runner who fits the bill: Tonday Mawwaka, a legendary marathonerwhom Monk has worshipped since high school. Thirty years ago, Tonday's performance inspired Monk to take up running, and Monk did surprisingly well--until his burgeoning anxiety disorder caused him to blow a major relay race. Disgraced and humiliated, he never ran again.
Monk and Sharona visit Tonday, but Monk doesn't feel he's involved. Videotapes of the marathon show that Tonday and McDowell kept pace for a while, then McDowell dropped off-camera until the end of the race.
Monk traces a path from a blind spot in the marathon course to Gwen's apartment. There's a clump of chamomile at a spot where McDowell could have stopped to change his clothes, which may explain why the apartment smelled of the weeds.
Monk asks McDowell why he never returned his chip at the end of the race. He must have lost it, says McDowell, shrugging off Monk's theory that he murdered Gwen after she threatened to reveal their affair. The marathon computer says otherwise. He couldn't have detoured to Gwen's apartment unless someone else carried the chip--but if Tonday didn't carry the chip, who did? Watching the marathon tapes again, Monk realizes that it's not a who that carried the chip--it's a what: the television camera bike providing video coverage of Tonday during the race. McDowell must have attached the chip to the bike by putting it in a magnetic hide-a-key box.
Monk and Sharona arrive at the television station's parking lot just as McDowell retrieves the box and hightails it for the bay. Monk falls back upon his old running skills and overtakes McDowell before he gets to the water. But he's so excited by his recovered prowess that he fails to stop McDowell from tossing the box into the bay. Fortunately, the box floats--and the proof to McDowell's guilt is retrieved.
Of all the clues Monk has used to solve cases, Andy Breckman's second favorite is found in "Marathon Man." (For his first favorite clue, see "Mr. Monk and the Red-Headed Stranger.") "Monk knows the victim was interrupted while doing a manicure because several nails weren't finished," the writer says. "That's clever and it plays fair with the audience."
The idea for "Marathon Man" actually began with the killer's alibi. "I was working out with a trainer." Breckman recalls, "and he was telling me about a marathon that he'd run while wearing a computer chip that tracked him." It was, Breckman realized, a sensational alibi. But could a guy really commit a murder while running a marathon?
"Absolutely brilliant," concurs brother David Breckman. "How could the guy be in two places at once?"
"'Marathon Man' is a good stand-alone episode," Tom Scharpling observes. "It's an example of a script that's not character-driven, just a good mystery. Ninety percent of the episode is the puzzle. It's very clean."
Nevertheless, the episode does rely on some of Monk's very personal idiosyncrasies for its humor, like the painfully awkward scene when Monk, as usual, uses a wipe after shaking hands with Jenkins, the African American security guard in the marathon office. Andy Breckman giggles at the memory. "The politically correct like to tell you what's appropriate, and what's offensive, but Monk in all innocence sometimes says and does things that are completelyinappropriate," he says. "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes he's just wiping his hands because he's Monk."
Viewers also get their first look at a very young Monk, circa 1974, the high-school-aged geek who used to run in school marathons (more flashbacks to Monk's school days would show up in Season Four's "Mr. Monk and Little Monk"). It's interesting to learn that Monk took up running after he saw Tonday Mawwaka in 1973, but it's a little disconcerting to hear that Tonday is Monk's absolute idol. "The episode is about Monk's favorite athlete ... who we never heard of before ... or after," Hy Conrad laughs. "He's totally devoted to a guy that he never mentions again!"
The Quotable Monk
"I'm the askew police."--Monk
The Weirdest Clue: Lack of nail polish on several of the victim's toes.
Idiosyncrasy of the Week: Phobia of uneven things, like the laces in his high school track shoes.
The Clue that Breaks the Case: Monk figures out that the tracking chip was attached to the motorcycle camera that followed Tonday through the race.
"Mr. Monk Takes a Vacation"
Written by Hy Conrad
Directed by Kevin Inch
Original Airdate: September 20, 2002
Knowing that Monk can't handle being left alone, Sharona convinces the detective to accompany her and Benjy to the beach resort where she plans to take her first vacation in years. But they've barely settled in when Benjy, occupying himself with one of the resort's beachside telescopes, witnesses a murder in one of the hotel rooms.
Monk notifies the hotel and soon finds himself working with its chief of security, Rita Bronwyn. They investigate the room in question but find no trace of a crime. Indeed, the room is spotless. Its occupant, a wealthy businessman named Fenimore, claims he wasn't in the room when the alleged crime happened. Monk observes that Fenimore's wife, who's sharing the room, is conspicuously absent. Sharona suspects Benjy's imagination may have gotten the better of him, but Monk believes the boy, and continues nosing around with Bronwyn.
The theory that Fenimore killed his wife is quickly abandoned when Mrs. Fenimore shows up, unharmed. But there still may have been a crime. In the hotel's basement, Bronwyn finds evidence of blood, but she's attacked by an unseen assailant before she can investigate. By the time she gets back to the evidence, it's been cleaned up. In the hotel arcade, Benjy stumbles upon a dead body, stashed in back of an inactivate game. He races to find his mother andMonk, but by the time they return to the game room, the body is gone.
Nevertheless, Monk is more convinced than ever that murder is afoot. He's found a sample of quicklime, a substance that can be used for gardening ... or to kill smells. Later he discovers that someone has stolen three large bags of lime from the hotel gardener. Obviously the killer is using the lime to disguise the smell of the body, which means it's still in the hotel.
The extremely efficient clean-up of all those clues leads Monk to turn his attention to the hotel's cadre of four housekeepers. There used to be five, he learns. One quit a day ago--but, curiously, she left her street clothes behind. In the housekeepers' break room, Monk finds hidden digital cameras and, in those cameras, photos of confidential financial documents.
At last, Monk cracks the case. The housekeepers were stealing financial information from the resort's business guests and using the information to clean up in the stock market. But when one of the maids wanted out of the crime ring, the others killed her. That's the woman Benjy saw being murdered in Mr. Fenimore's room. Afterwards, the housekeepers cleaned up every trace of the crime. All Monk needs to prove his theory is the victim's body--but where have they hidden it?
A set of photos that Sharona took on the day they checked in provides the answer. In the hotel lobby, there's a display promoting a raffle for a cruise. Sharona's photo portrays the display with three big steamer trunks. But now ... there are four! Bronwyn opens the new trunk, and they find the body of the missing maid. The housekeepers are arrested, and Monk happily declares that he is looking forward to Sharona's next vacation.
"It's an honor just to be nominated" may be an old saw, but to those who never are nominated, it couldn't be truer. The Oscars, the Emmys, the Tonys, and the Grammys are among the entertainment industry's most prestigious awards. But among mystery writers, no award is more coveted that the Edgar, the award presented by The Mystery Writers of America, and named after that organization's patron saint, Edgar Allan Poe. Hy Conrad was working as a consultant on Monk when he received the assignment to write his very first television script. No one could have been more surprised when the result, "Mr. Monk Takes a Vacation," received an Edgar Award nomination. "I'd never even thought of writing for TV before," Conrad says.
The script assignment gave him the opportunity to inject an important aspect into the show. "'Takes a Vacation' marks the first time that Monk makes a deductive mistake," Conrad points out. "Early on he thinks that it was the husband who killed his wife in the hotel room. And then, of course, he barges into the surprise birthday party for the still-living wife. That's something I pushed for, that Monk is capable of making deductive errors. It makes him more human and gives us more plot possibilities."
The episode also was the first to incorporate Benjy Fleming into the mystery. "Andy doesn't like to put kids in peril," Conrad explains. "So this is about as close to that as we've gotten."
Benjy's mother, Sharona, was less involved in the crime but. then, she was supposed to be on vacation. Of course, that didn't work out very well for her and, as she had in both the pilot and "Billionaire Mugger," she threatens to quit. "That love/hate relationship between Monk andSharona has been part of the dynamic from the beginning," says Conrad, "just like it is in the Nero Wolfe mysteries, where Archie is always on the brink of quitting and Wolfe is always on the brink of firing him."
"Takes a Vacation" features a prominent guest appearance by Polly Draper (best known for her costarring role in TV's thirtysomething) as Rita Bronwyn, the tough but feminine hotel cop who assists Monk in his investigation. The presence of Rita gave the filmmakers a chance to have some fun with the classic Raymond Chandleresque gumshoe stereotype. Rita's offer of a mint-flavored individually wrapped toothpick to Monk, accompanied by some jazzy music on Jeff Beal's soundtrack, invokes memories of people like Bogart and Bacall vamping over cigarettes long ago.
Unfortunately, Rita's presence nearly pushed Sharona's character into the background. "We learned something about the balance of incorporating a guest star into a show from the episode," says Tom Scharpling. "Guest characters have to complement our people, not replace them, and Rita almost smothered Sharona on that one."
Nevertheless, the writers found additional ways to incorporate Sharona into the action. "We'd heard that Bitty Shram was a semipro-level tennis player," Conrad says. "That's why we put in all of those tennis beats."
The Quotable Monk
"I tried doing that once, making every minute count. Gave me a headache."--Monk
The Weirdest Clue: Rita's infrared "Spectra-Light" reveals a lack of incriminating evidence in the initial suspect's room--but finds remnants of a disgustingly large quantity of bodily fluids in Monk's room!
Idiosyncrasy of the Week: Arachnophobia (fear of spiders)! Not to mention their webs!
The Clue that Breaks the Case: Sharona's photos of the hotel lobby disclose the final resting place of the murdered maid's body.
"Mr. Monk And the Earthquake"
Written by Tom Scharpling & David Breckman
Directed by Adam Shankman
Original Airdate: October 4, 2002
A 6.0 magnitude earthquake represents a lucky break for Christine Rutherford, whod dearly love to inherit her millionaire husband Henry's wealth. Although Henry came through the quake just fine, Christine takes advantage of the circumstances by killing him and making it look like the temblor did the dirty work.
Sharona is stunned when she hears of Henry's death on the news. She's been working with the well-known philanthropist to raise money for a new church in the neighborhood.Deciding to pay a condolence call on the grieving widow, Sharona opts to bring along the quake-addled Monk, who is temporarily speaking gibberish. Monk recovers quickly when he realizes that Christine's tale about Henry's tragic death is false. The heavy display case that the quake ostensibly tipped onto Henry looks as if it had some human help. But Stottlemeyer, overwhelmed with 1,001 quake-related minor emergencies, doesn't pay much attention to Monk's suspicions.
When Sharona heads home, she learns that her street has been blocked off due to earthquake damage; a gas line is ruptured and phone service is out. She and Benjy will have to stay with Sharona's sister Gail for a few days--not a pleasant prospect. On the other hand, Darryl, the handsome Australian journalist she meets at the police barricade surrounding her block, is very pleasant. Alas, their meeting isn't an accident. Darryl is Christine's lover; he's been dispatched by the widow to retrieve an incriminating tape from Sharona's answering machine. Although the police barricade has temporarily delayed that mandate, Darryl figures that feigning romantic interest in Sharona will allow him to keep an eye on her while he awaits his opportunity.
Monk is suspicious of Darryl, whom he catches in several lies. But he doesn't realize Sharona is in danger until he learns that a gas company employee was killed outside Sharona's building--perhaps when he came across someone breaking into her apartment. When Monk adds that to the fact that Christine's phone records indicate that she--or more likely Henry--called Sharona during the earthquake, he cracks the case. Since Monk knows Sharona wasn't home at the time, a message must have been recorded on Sharona's machine. And the message, he deduces, reveals both the fact that Henry was murdered--and who did it. That's clearly why someone wanted to get into Sharona's apartment.
But before Monk can warn Sharona, Darryl reveals his true nature and forces her at knifepoint to pass the barricade and return to her apartment. When Christine arrives as well, the two lovers take Sharona's answering machine and prepare to kill her. Fortunately, Sharona is able to hold her own against them,just long enough for Monk, Stottlemeyer, and Disher to arrive. With the killers in jail, things go back to semi-normal, with Monk evading the subject of Sharona's tardy paycheck by feigning the return of his earthquake-induced gibberish.
Should a writer feel guilty about inspiration? Catastrophic events devastate people's lives, whether they're the product of nature, like Hurricane Katrina--or the product of man, like the terrorist attacks on 9/11. So it's no wonder that David Breckman has some very mixed feelings about the genesis for "Mr. Monk and the Earthquake."
"Forgive me for admitting this," Breckman says, "but it occurred to me that with so many of the people who died in those towers unaccounted for, somebody could have committed a murder on 9/12, dropped the body in the Hudson River, and told people, 'She was on her way to the Twin Towers yesterday, and I haven't seen her since.' And they could get away with it."
Transferring that idea to a San Francisco setting made a lot of sense, given that the city by the bay has its own history of disasters--in the form of earthquakes. There was one problem, though: earthquakes cannot be predicted, which would obviously impinge upon the strategy of someone planning a murder. "The initial idea--a woman just waiting for the next earthquake to happen so she could act--was very far-fetched," Hy Conrad points out. "So we made it a crime of opportunity. She had been thinking about murder, the earthquake happened and she took advantage of the moment. That's feasible."
"But that only gave us the teaser," notes David Breckman. "Then Andy found a way to make an episode out of it. What if, unbeknownst to the killer, the victim had been on the telephone after the earthquake and left a message on someone's voice mail. So now the killer has to retrieve that incriminating voice mail. It's brilliant."
Earthquakes aren't, by nature, particularly funny. But imagining how Monk would react to one is. Thus Monk's dissociative episode came into existence. With the occipital lobe of his left hemisphere shorted out, per Dr. Kroger, the defective detective began speaking gibberish. It was up to Tony Shalhoub to voice that gibberish, although the writers did make some helpful suggestions in the script, such as, "Brogga hoook-a jogga, grora-ga!"
Ultimately, though, Shalhoub took over. "I just wrote it," the actor says. "It's not the first time I've done that, actually. I'd played a cab driver in one of my first movies, a Bill Murray comedy called Quick Change. The cabbie was of indeterminate ethnic origin and the script said he shouldn't sound identifiable by any one foreign accent. It just said, 'And the cabbie speaks gibberish.' But you can't just go, 'dah de dah.' So for my audition I invented a language by writing down phonetic sounds for myself. It was a lot of fun because when the script said, 'The cabbie speaks,' they had to let me just keep talking. I could just string it out as long as I wanted and pad my part! And for 'Earthquake,'" Shalhoub laughs,"I did the same thing!"
Monk's impaired linguistics skills made for some very funny sequences in the episode, including a summation scene that no one but Monk could comprehend. "We'd briefly considered having Monk speak gibberish throughout the entire episode," Andy Breckman says, "but we compromised by having him go in and out of the psychotic break."
The Quotable Monk
"Every time I like somebody, you ruin it."--Sharona
The Weirdest Clue: A gas company employee is murdered near Sharona's place.
Idiosyncrasy of the Week: Fear of earthquakes, what else?
The Clue that Breaks the Case: The phone records for Henry Rutherford's line indicate that he had been leaving a message on Sharona's answering machine after the quake--and the murder was recorded.
"Mr. Monk and the Red-Headed Stranger"
Written by Andy Breckman & Tom Scharpling
Directed by Milan Cheylov
Original Airdate: October 11, 2002
An enthusiastic promoter informs living legend Willie Nelson that he's arranged for Willie to be interviewed on a San Francisco radio show. But Willie is distracted, and when road manager Sonny Cross approaches, everyone within earshot learns why. Willie icily accuses Cross of embezzlement and warns him that he expects the money to be accounted for immediately.
The next day, Cross arrives at the radio station and finds a note directing him to an entrance accessible through the alley. Then two shots ring out. A station engineer runs outside to find Willie hovering over Cross's dead body and a blind woman standing nearby, hollering for help.
The blind woman, Mrs. Mass, is the only "eyewitness" to the crime. Willie didn't see the shooting; he heard the shots from his car, and entered the alley to find Cross dead. Mrs. Mass says she was using the alley as a shortcut when she heard two men arguing, and then gunshots. Afterwards, one of the men threatened to kill her if she told anyone. She's certain that Willie's voice is the one she heard.
Mrs. Mass seems to be a credible witness. Stottlemeyer, his right arm in a sling following an accident, is reluctant to charge Nelson, but he may have no choice in light of the mounting evidence against him. But Monk, almost as big a fan of the singer as his wife Trudy had been, can't believe Nelson would commit murder. With Stottlemeyer occupied by the celebrity-obsessed press corps and an elusive streaker, Monk devotes himself to finding out the truth.
He begins by investigating Sonny Cross. A reckless womanizer and boozehound, Cross had briefly dropped out of the music industry while imprisoned on a vehicular manslaughter conviction. Monk also spends some time with Mrs. Mass, learning that she lost her vision at age sixteen in a car accident that also took her parents' lives. Although she still harbors someanger over the incident, she's not a bitter person. In fact, she received a concussion after falling in the local supermarket a year ago, but never thought of suing.
Upon parting, Mrs. Mass extends her hand to Monk, who suddenly recalls that when Mrs. Mass was introduced to Stottlemeyer, she extended her left hand for him to shake because of the Captain's incapacitated right arm. How could she know to do that if she couldn't see?
Monk sets a trap for her. The police have finally caught the evasive local streaker, so Monk bails the man out and hires him to run, au naturel of course, past Mrs. Mass as she sits in the park. Sure enough, Mrs. Mass turns her head to take in the unusual sight. Once in custody, she comes clean, admitting she regained her sight after the fall in the supermarket. She kept the miracle a secret so she'd be above suspicion when she took her revenge on Cross, the drunk driver who took away her family and her eyesight thirty-six years ago.
The charges against Nelson are dropped, and the grateful musician joins Monk for a very private performance--Willie on guitar, Monk on clarinet--at Trudy's gravesite.
"Red-Headed Stranger" is one of the three "trial balloon" scripts written immediately after the pilot to Monk aired, and it became one of the most popular episodes with cast and crew. "A lot of people talk about it," notes Tom Scharpling, who cowrote the episode with Andy Breckman. "It's a fun episode, one of the highwater marks of the series."
Although the script had been written early, it wasn't shot till late in the season. And in the time that transpired, it had gone through many changes. "Originally, the story was going to involve Ringo Starr being accused of murder, with Monk saying things like,"I don't think a beetle would kill anybody,"Andy Breckman recalls with a chuckle."But as we began to plot it out, we realized that having someone shot in an alley would remind too many people of John Lennon's death, and we felt we couldn't do it with Ringo."
"So I wrote a draft for Brian Wilson," says Scharpling. "Then I rewrote it for James Taylor, who actually showed an interest in doing it."
Scheduling problems soon took the very busy Taylor out of the running, and it seemed that the script had hit an impasse. "We knew that the more famous the character playing himself was, the more fun it would be," says Hy Conrad.
And that's when Andy Breckman suggested Willie Nelson.
"Andy wanted him," says David Hoberman. "So I just went after him."
This time, everything worked out. Nelson wanted to do it, he was available when they needed him, and he had quite a bit of acting experience, including roles in The Electric Horseman, Barbarosa, and Wag the Dog.
"Willie Nelson was a home run," Scharpling enthuses. "He just nailed the role. With all those twists and turns, we ended up where we should have been. Obviously, it was meant to be Willie Nelson."
"Just being around Willie and his band was one of the best experiences I've ever had," reminisces Tony Shalhoub. "In between setups they were just jamming. And Willie's such a gracious, warm human being. Even without saying anything, he's a spiritual guy. His whole essence is kind of inspired."
"That episode was a real shot in the arm from a production standpoint," Scharpling adds. "Everyone was tired at the end of the year, and Willie Nelson was such a nice guy that he just brought everybody up."
Meet the Writers
"I think we're unique in that no one on our writing staff, including myself, had ever worked on a one-hour episodic series before Monk," Andy Breckman comments. "None of us had any experience. We didn't even know what an act break was. And the series is better for it." Not surprisingly, one of Breckman's favorite TV shows is Seinfeld-another show, he says,"where you could tell that the writers were doing it for the first time. In the early Seinfelds, it's wonderfully obvious that (writer/creator) Larry David had not spent a decade working on writing assignments. He just had this vision with Jerry Seinfeld, and he had the will to insist that it reach the screen intact."
The first writer Breckman hired to work with him on Monk was his friend Tom Scharpling, whom he knew from WFMU, a New Jersey radio station where both men host weekly talk shows. "At the time," Scharpling says, "I had written for The Onion and MTV, and I'd done some basketball writing. If somebody asked me to write something I'd say yes and then ask them what they wanted me to write."
The second person Breckman called was his younger brother, David. Like Andy, David had been a staff writer on Saturday Night Live. He also shared the Breckman delight in a good mystery. Bringing David on staff was akin to adding a second mystery/comedy database, making him a valuable resource. "I asked him if he wanted to be on staff in his first job in series TV, and he said, okay," the senior Breckman relates.
And so, with that inauspicious start, the Monk writers' headquarters opened. But it was a far step from the image most people have of a glitzy Hollywood enclave. "We were working out of an eight-by-eight 'rent-an-office' in New Jersey," Tom Scharpling relates. "We had a rented desk and a rented garbage can-and a receptionist answering about thirty different companies' names. It was like something out of The Spanish Prisoner. We didn't know what kind of fraudulent businesses were next door."
That office wasn't entirely staffed with novices, however. Understandably, USA Network executives believed that the inexperienced group would benefit by working with "veterans who had done it before," Andy Breckman notes. Among those who joined the group at the network's behest were John Romano, a writer/producer who had worked on dozens of shows, from Knott's Landing to American Dreams, and David Stern, former story editor of The Wonder Years, and writer of numerous episodes of The Simpsons. The veterans contributed fully to the show, but by the middle of Season Two it was clear that Breckman's vision was paying off, and the network stepped back, allowing him to fill out the staff with series-writing virgins.
The pen is mightier than the sword. --Baron Lytton, Richelieu
The only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this notion rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn't require any.
--Pulitzer Prize winner Russell Baker, Growing Up
From the beginning, Monk had benefited from contributions by then Florida resident Hy Conrad-even before Conrad himself knew about it. "One day I got a call from a guy named Andy Breckman" Conrad says, "and he said, 'I'm stealing your plots so I guess I should hire you.'" Conrad had written eight books of "solve-it-yourself" mysteries that Breckman had found in a bookstore. "He'd been looking for plots and clues to pilfer," Conrad laughs. In addition to the books, Conrad had developed numerous games, mystery and otherwise, for Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley, and also some mystery-based interactive fare. He had not, however, written a script for television or film--making him a natural for Breckman's team. "I came on board at during the series's first season as a consultant" says the mystery writer. The following season he became a full-fledged member of the writing staff, commuting from his home, now Atlanta, a thousand miles to the south.
Also joining the staff for the second season was Daniel Dratch, whose previous writing credits included The Man Show on Comedy Central and The Chris Rock Show on HBO. "Andy wanted another comedy guy," Dratch reports. "I'd never done mysteries before, but I had written a spec script for 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' and I submitted that through my manager. That got me an interview with Andy. It must have gone well, because he called me ... a year later!"
The Writers Guild of America requires that all registered shows offer work to a minimum number of freelancers, which accounts for the additional writers credited throughout the seasons. During Season Two, the work of one of those freelancers, Joe Toplyn, impressed the rest of the staff. Like Andy Breckman, Toplyn had been a staff writer for Late Night with David Letterman, although they'd met only in passing a decade earlier. Toplyn since had written for In Living Color and several sitcoms, including Doctor, Doctor and Hangin'with Mr. Cooper. He also teaches writing classes at The People's Improv Theatre in Manhattan. Heeding his own advice ("I tell my students, 'Write a spec script for a show that you watch because then you don't have to do any research'"), Toplyn pitched a Monk story to Breckman. The idea didn't fly, but Breckman liked it enough to assign him the script of "Missing Granny." "And then I came on board at the beginning of Season Three," Toplyn says.
"And that," laughs Andy Breckman, "is how we ended up with five guys who have never written for one-hour episodic television before."
By that time, of course, they'd moved into a larger office space.
Per the script, Captain Stottlemeyer's right arm was in a cast due to a fall from a ladder. Because that seemed an odd tack for the writers, some fans speculated that perhaps Ted Levine had injured himself while away from the set. But only the character was injured.
"That was for the mystery," says Scharpling. "We had to facilitate the 'smoking gun' clue--the one that leads us to the killer. We pounded our heads against the wall trying to come up with it. It took a long time."
And then they had it--a blind woman reaching out to shake the left hand of a man whose right arm is injured. "That's my very favorite clue from the first four seasons!" beams Andy Breckman. "The blind woman shaking hands. I wish they all could be like that."
The Quotable Monk
"Oh, yeah, the Ramones. Yeah, they were great. I love that song they do about loving that woman all night long."--Monk
The Weirdest Clue: Monk knows that Stottlemeyer couldn't have injured himself on the dirt trails north of Highway 18 because they'd been closed for two weeks.
Idiosyncrasy of the Week: Monk can't play his clarinet because the mouthpiece has been in someone else's mouth.
The Clue that Breaks the Case: The blind woman knew that Stottlemeyer's right hand was in a cast.
"Mr. Monk and the Airplane"
Written by David M. Stern
Directed by Rob Thompson
Original Airdate: October 18, 2002
Sharona blindsides Monk by announcing that she's about to fly to New Jersey to visit her Aunt Minn. Monk has five minutes to make one of two choices. He can spend a week without her in San Francisco, or he can accompany her to New Jersey--she already has a bag packed for him. He's afraid to stay alone and equally afraid to fly. Obviously, he'll regret either choice, so Monk opts to go with her, and the nightmare of Monk's first trip on an airplane begins.
Unable to ignore the minutia around him even in his state of near panic, Monk observes an attractive married couple--the Chabrols--waiting to board the plane. They kiss, the woman standing on tiptoes to reach her husband's lips. Monk doesn't see what transpires when Mrs. Chabrol steps into the ladies' room, where she encounters a woman who could almost be her twin. But Mrs. Chabrol has no time to react; her doppelganger kills her and takes her place on the flight.
In the meantime, Monk boards the plane, in the process annoying every crewmember and passenger he encounters. As Sharona fawns over the TV celebrity in first class, Monk nervously studies the Chabrols. Mr. Chabrol boards late,explaining that he went to the wrong gate--although Monk saw him getting a shoeshine outside the correct gate moments earlier. And Mrs. Chabrol no longer has to stand on her tiptoes to kiss her husband; apparently, she's grown two inches since Monk first saw her. She's also forgotten that she's a frequent flyer and a vegetarian. Before long, Monk is convinced that the real Mrs. Chabrol has been killed and replaced with a look-alike.
Monk uses the in-plane phone to contact Randy Disher and convey his suspicions. Knowing Monk's hunches are nearly always correct, Disher begins checking facts for him. Mrs. Chabrol is an heiress, he relates. That presents a motive for the charade that's being conducted. Chabrol wants to be with another woman and continue to receive the yearly stipend from his wife's trust fund. So he has to pretend Mrs. Chabrol is still alive. Learning that Chabrol is a pilot--meaning he has free access to any area of any airport--Disher heads for the San Francisco airport to look for a body.
On the plane, "Mrs. Chabrol" fails to recognize an old family friend ... who later dies an untimely death. Monk suspects this is another murder, but can't prove it. If Disher doesn't find the real Mrs. Chabrol's body soon, Chabrol and his mistress will make their connection to France, and it could take years to extradite them. After getting a close look at Mr. Chabrol's newly polished shoe--which has traces of cement on the sole--Monk advises Disher to look for a construction site at the airport. Disher discovers a likely site with freshly dried cement, but it will take an hour and a half to dig up. Monk makes a phone call to the airport manager and implies that the pilot of the Paris-bound flight is inebriated. The flight is delayed, the body recovered, and Chabrol and his mistress arrested.
Depending on your point of view, placing an entire episode on one small set has its good and bad points. On the positive side, it's economical--no set changes between takes means a quicker shooting schedule. On the negative side, after a commercial break or two, your viewers may begin to feel a little claustrophobic--the way they would during, say, a transcontinental flight. Which, coincidentally, was the proposed setting for "Mr. Monk and the Airplane."
"There was a lot of discussion about how much we would set on the plane," notes Hy Conrad. "The network wanted us to put less than half of the scenes on the plane and then have the characters get off the plane to do other things. But Andy Breckman and Tom Scharpling wanted it all on the plane."
Not that the writing staff couldn't see the other side's point. "There are only so many moves you can make on a plane," says Tom Scharpling. "Somebody getting up to go to the bathroom is considered an action scene."
And beyond the discussion about the set, there was that joke ...
"That scene with the obnoxious little girl leaning over Monk's seat," recalls Jackie de Crinis, senior vice president of original programming. "Pete and Repeat were in a boat ..."
"It went on for two pages of the script!" explains Jeff Wachtel, executive vice president of original programming. "They did the lines about nine times. We told Andy, 'It's funny the first two times, but at that point, someone should say, 'That was fun, but go talk to your mommy'"
Ah, but that would be something a normal person would do in the real world. And Monk definitely doesn't reside in that world.
Andy Breckman has a mantra that he repeatswhenever someone brings up a point like this. "He says, 'Please don't stop the fun train for plot,'" de Crinis chuckles. "We argued, 'But it doesn't even have a punchline.' And Andy answered, 'It'll be hilarious, trust me.'"
Out of the Closet: Monk's Wardrobe
Costume Designer Ileane Meltzer, whose credits include Tuskegee Airmen and Tortilla Soup, started working with Monk on the pilot, developing the characters' wardrobes, including the all important attire of Monk himself. "We felt that because of the character he is, Monk would be very restricted in his choice of clothing," Meltzer says. "So from the beginning we started with jackets that don't fit Tony properly, that are a little too tight for him. Then Tony and I came up with the idea of having his shirt buttoned to the top, but with no tie.
"We didn't want to do Inspector Clouseau, and we didn't want to do Columbo," Meltzer comments, "although we knew Monk was kind of like each of them. We had to create a look that would be all his own. That's when I came up with tweed, and pattern on pattern on pattern. Although it's very hard to see on television, all of his shirts have a checkered pattern, all of his jackets have a textured pattern, and all of his pants are textured.
"Brown was a good color for Monk because nobody else on television was using it at the time." the designer points out. "I haven't deviated at all from the color or the texture, and Tony doesn't want to deviate. He likes it this way. It's very Monk.
"Originally, Monk was only going to have about four outfits. His closet would be full, but there would be four of the same jacket, and four of the same shirt," Meltzer explains. "I've expanded that a little as we've gone into the later seasons, but basically everything still looks alike," she says.
"A lot of people think he's always wearing the same thing, but he's not," Meltzer chuckles. "When we started, we were buying cheap clothing for Monk, and then we graduated from that. Everything still depends on whether the clothing has the pattern we're looking for, but we've actually gone from shopping at JC Penney and Sears, to the shop where I recently bought him an Armani jacket. We used it for the first time in 'Mr. Monk Goes to the Dentist.' It doesn't matter who made it, because it's the look that we want and the texture we want And anyway," Meltzer concludes with a smile, "nobody can tell the difference on the screen."
For the apparel oft proclaims the man.
--Shakespeare, Hamlet, act 1. scene iii, line 65
In the end, everyone realized that Breckman was right. "Monk couldn't not answer her," admits Wachtel. "It's in his core." And Tony Shalhoub's performance sold the joke 100 percent. "Each time the kid asked the question,Monk went through a whole new set of tortures," he observes.
"When we finally saw the footage, we were crying from laughing so hard," de Crinis admits. "That was one of the last notes we ever gave on a joke, because Andy knows that the only one qualified to say 'I can't make this work' is Tony."
"Airplane," the final episode of Monk's first season, has three notable guest actors in prominent roles. Brooke Adams, the real life spouse of Shalhoub, plays Leigh, the flight attendant who's wound just a little too tight. "We just love working together," comments Shalhoub with a big grin. "We met, actually, doing The Heidi Chronicles on Broadway together." Adams would return to Monk, albeit in a different role, during Season Three.
Actor Tim Daly, who starred in the television show Wings with Shalhoub, portrays--surprise--actor Tim Daly. The in-joke nature of his casting is enhanced by Monk's comment to Sharona about Wings: "Never saw it. Was it good?"
The third guest, Garry Marshall, perhaps better known as the director of such films as The Princess Diaries and Pretty Woman and creator of the television shows Laverne and Shirley and Happy Days, appeared as extension cord salesman Warren Beach.
Because of Marshall's extensive comic experience, the Monk staff let him improvise more than normally is allowed. "He was improvising all the way," admits Andy Breckman.
Beach's trademark line--"If it doesn't reach, call Warren Beach"--was one of his improvisations. "Garry came up with it," Scharpling laughs. "And we were ecstatic that we got credit for it."
The Quotable Monk:
"He always thinks people are killing each other."
"And I'll tell you why. Because they are."--Monk
The Weirdest Clue: Mrs. Chabrol seems to have lost several inches of height since Monk first saw her at the airport.
Idiosyncrasy of the Week: Kind of obvious, isn't it? Aviatophobia, a.k.a. fear of flying.
The Clue that Breaks the Case: The cement on the soles of Mr. Chabrol's shoes hints that he dumped his dead wife at a construction site.
MONK: THE OFFICIAL EPISODE GUIDE. Copyright © 2006 by Universal Studios Licensing LLLP. Monk © USA Cable Entertainment LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical particles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press. 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y 10010.