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"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 would often 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 different actors 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 onscreen.
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 walking bundle 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 Doctor 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, "she'd 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 Stottlemeyer (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' 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), 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
Dr. Kroger, Stanley Kamel
Benjy, Kane Ritchotte
Warren St. Claire, Michael Hogan
Gavin Lloyd, Ben Bass
Sheldon Burger, Rob LaBelle
Jesse Goodman, Vincent Gale
Trudy, Stellina Rusich
Miranda St. Claire, Gail O'Grady
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 actually 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 more bang 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 little puzzles, 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."
Copyright © 2006 by Terrence J. Erdman & Paula Block