By Lee Alan Hill
Special to TelevisionWeek
While it was not the network’s first original series, nor its highest-rated, “Monk” is the show that has accorded USA the most respect, by earning critical acclaim and awards.
The series, which premiered in 2002, has earned star Tony Shalhoub an Emmy, a Golden Globe and two SAG Awards for his comic portrayal of a former police homicide detective who continues to solve every murder case in his path despite being plagued with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The show’s executive producer David Hoberman said “Monk” clicked with audiences for several reasons, not least of which is its inspirational value. “We live in a time of great neurosis and anxiety. I think people can sit there and watch this character with OCD and say, ‘My God, that guy is a mess. But if that guy can catch the bad guy each week with all his problems, then I can face what I have to and win,'” he said.
“Monk” was actually developed for a broadcast network-ABC-in the late 1990s. Jackie DeCrinis, an ABC executive at the time, was a fan of the concept, Mr. Hoberman said. When she moved to USA, where she now serves as senior VP of original programming, “Monk” got another chance.
The show’s star said when he signed on some colleagues questioned his interest in doing a basic cable network series, since few cable series were then considered to be high-quality or prestigious. “It was about the timing,” said Mr. Shalhoub, who is also an executive producer of the series. “HBO and Showtime had broken through with really good series, though that’s pay television, not basic cable. Still, I liked the material, and I believed that it wouldn’t matter where it was on the dial. If we did it justice, people would be attracted to it.”
The first season was filmed in Toronto, but production moved to Los Angeles in 2003, where 16 new episodes are shot each season.
As with any series, there have been changes, most notably the departure of Bitty Schram before the current season. Ms. Schram earned a Golden Globe nomination as Monk’s omnipresent nurse, Sharona.
Ms. Schram’s departure was the only public bump in what Mr. Hoberman has called “a fairy tale experience.” Of her exit, he said, “It just wasn’t working for her. She wanted to move on. We were fine with that.”
Actress Traylor Howard now appears on the series as Monk’s assistant, Natalie.
The first two seasons of “Monk” are available on DVD. Mr. Hoberman said an off-network syndication deal is expected and “has probably been delayed because of the takeover by NBC. With the dust settled on that, it will move ahead.”
Unless ratings crash, “Monk” should be on USA’s schedule for several more years at least. Mr. Shalhoub has 2%BD; more years on his contract and said he could see himself doing the character that long or longer. USA is planning for the show’s future and is seeking a companion show for the series, with a project developed by Mr. Hoberman’s Mandeville Films a leading candidate.
“I see Monk as a character like Columbo, in that I think you’re going to see Monk around for a long time, both in originals and in rebroadcasts,” Mr. Shalhoub said.