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TV Preview:'Monk' returns for more disorder-ly police work

Friday, June 20, 2003

By Judith S. Gillies, The Washington Post

Wipe those germs off the TV screen. How about a cotton swab to clean around the buttons on the remote? Now you're ready to watch new episodes of "Monk."


WHEN: 10 tonight on USA Network.

STARRING: Tony Shalhoub and Bitty Schram.


The mystery-comedy-drama series centering around an unusual hero starts its second season at 10 tonight on cable's USA Network. The first of the 16 new episodes will be "Mr. Monk Goes Back to School."

The series will begin when there is less competition from other networks, offering viewers "something for the summer that is fresh and new," said David Hoberman, creator and executive producer of the series.

Also new and fresh will be the series' guest stars Betty Buckley and Glenne Headly, plus theme music from Randy Newman.

"Monk" began to take shape four or five years ago, Hoberman said, when he learned that an ABC executive was looking for an Inspector Clouseau-type show. Hoberman -- who has been president of the motion picture group of Walt Disney Studios, founded Mandeville Films and has been involved with making more than 100 movies -- came up with the idea of "a detective who was brilliant but with all of these personal problems" and is suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Hoberman had personal knowledge of the disorder, he said. Although he never was officially diagnosed, when he was 12 he developed some form of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

"Like Monk, I couldn't walk on cracks, had to touch poles. I have no idea why -- but if I didn't do these things, something terrible would happen. ... I also had to say prayers and had to add someone new each night."

Over a couple of years, the prayer list grew very long, he said, and eventually he realized he had to stop because it was taking hours each day. "So I just went cold turkey."

After more than two years of looking for just the right person to play the part of Adrian Monk, ABC passed on the idea, Hoberman said. Jackie Lyons, senior vice president of original series at USA Network, who had been at ABC, expressed interest in the pilot script, and the casting process began again.

Tony Shalhoub was cast as Monk, and filming began in the fall of 2001. The 13-episode series premiered on July 12 last year on USA and later also aired in reruns on ABC.

Initially, he was hesitant about taking the part, said Shalhoub, who has appeared in numerous movies and in television series such as "Wings" and "Stark Raving Mad."

"I wasn't really sure how to make it work," Shalhoub said. "In some ways, it was exactly what I was looking for because it allows me to do both comedy and drama -- but I was saying I'm not sure I relate to this character. My manager said you're probably more like him than you would admit."

Shalhoub, who won a Golden Globe for the role, said his own Monk-like behaviors often are related to avoidance.

"It's been my experience that if I have to do something I don't want to do, I can spend an hour and a half cleaning the kitchen faucet with a toothbrush. ... Someone can fixate on straightening a bookshelf for two hours because there's something they don't want to face.

"Part of the appeal of Monk is that so many people have these tendencies -- but they can skip over them, repress them or at least hide them from other people.

"But Monk doesn't have that filter, that cork that allows people to bottle up these tendencies.

"If I had to put a number on it -- and how Monk-like is that? -- I'd say I'm 35 to 39 percent like Monk."

But it is the detective's focus on "the little, little details" that helps him solve crimes, Shalhoub said. "The most important thing is his work, and that's related to solving cases and finding the truth. In some cosmic way, there is an order to things and order and truth go hand in hand. When he goes into a crime scene, he's always of the belief that there is something there that will reveal the truth. Something is not as it should be.

"We all see order and truth on different levels. Some see the obvious first layer. But Monk sees the 120th layer. And part of his obsessive-compulsiveness is finding that truth in the details."

Besides playing the main character, Shalhoub also is an executive producer, giving him a greater voice in such things as editing and casting and the shaping of the scripts, he said.

For the uninitiated: Adrian Monk was a rising star in the San Francisco police department and very much in love with his wife, Trudy. When Trudy was murdered, Monk developed abnormal fears of such things as germs, heights and crowds. His condition eventually cost him his job.

"In every show, whether we point to it or it's simply there, there are two things on his mind," Hoberman said. "Monk still can't get back on the police force and is unable to solve the murder of his wife."

Monk, as a private consultant, is called to help solve tough cases. He is assisted by his nurse, Sharona Fleming, played by Bitty Schram, who never seems to run out of the towelettes that Monk needs to fight germs and who also helps in solving crimes.

One of the things producer Hoberman likes most about "Monk" is that the series works around a notion that "everybody in the world has some major or minor thing they do that in some way stands in the way of their success. ... We have to overcome ourselves to achieve what we want in life -- and Monk has to overcome that each week."

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