Tube Talk: USA’s Monk no more

November 25, 2009

By Paula Hendrickson

Contributing Writer

It’s almost hard to remember USA Network prior to the 2002 debut of Monk. The series single-handedly defined USA as the home of character-based television series, something that was in short supply on broadcast networks then (and somewhat still) dominated by procedural series.

Today, it’s almost as difficult to think of USA without Monk, which ends its run in a two-part finale beginning Nov. 27 and concluding Dec. 4.

USA learned a lot from the instant success of Monk. They learned there is an audience for well-executed light drama and hour-long comedies. They also learned how crucial interesting characters are to the success of a series. They also threw out a welcome mat for producers and performers: Characters Welcome.

Without Monk, there would likely be no Psych, no Burn Notice, no In Plain Sight, no Royal Pains and no White Collar, USA’s newest original series. You could argue that without Monk, there would be no USA. At least not as we know it today.

Millions of viewers have watched Emmy-winner Tony Shalhoub bring the “defective detective” Adrian Monk to life, warts and all. Monk’s obsessive-compulsive disorder—inspired by series co-creator David Hoberman’s real-life struggle with OCD—made him a great detective. The character called it “a blessing and a curse.” While most of Monk’s many phobias have been played for laughs, it’s his grief over the murder of his wife, Trudy, that added much-needed gravitas to keep the character from becoming too cartoonish.

About a year ago, I spoke with some of Monk’s executive producers, and Randy Zisk said it took most of the first season to find the right tone. At a certain point they realized going for a laugh in the middle of a very tense or dramatic scene worked. “I think that’s something that’s kind of unique to the show,” Zisk said. “And that’s really about [co-creator] Andy’s [Breckman’s] writing—he takes you down to the depths and then there’s a little tweak of a picture or mirror that brings you back to who Monk is.”

Breckman said that despite the laughs, Monk is a show about loss. Monk lost his wife, his job, his sanity. Even his assistant Natalie (Traylor Howard) suffered the loss of her husband. In many ways, she’s the anti-Monk.

“Natalie is a success story,” Breckman said. “She’s dealing with it. She’s obviously a high-functioning, well-adjusted woman who’s dealing with the loss of her spouse as I think most people would. It is an interesting contrast to Monk.”

So, the question many viewers have of the series finale: Will we leave Monk as he is, struggling with every little detail, or will he figure out who killed Trudy and gain some much-needed closure? Or will something entirely unexpected happen to our favorite defective detective?

We’ll know all too soon.

Meantime, check out the show’s interactive Web site at http://www.usanetwork.com/series/monk/index.html, or relive some favorite Monk moments in USA’s viewers’ choice marathon Sunday, Nov. 29, starting at 8 a.m.

Programming notes

υ “Mr. Monk and the End, Part 1,” airs Friday, Nov. 27, at 8 p.m. and again at 11 p.m. on USA.

υ “Mr. Monk and the End, Part 2,” airs Friday, Dec. 4, at 8 p.m., and again at 11 p.m. on USA.

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Send in your suggestions to tubetalking-paula@yahoo.com.

From the November 25-December 1, 2009 issue

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