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Tube Thursday: How the Mouse missed out on "Monk"

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Tube Thursday: How the Mouse missed out on "Monk"

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I wonder what ABC executives will be thinking this Sunday night. Particularly as the winner of the "Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series" award is announced on the 59th Primetime Emmys telecast.

Given that no male performers from any of ABC's sitcoms were nominated this year, I guess that the suits at the Alphabet Network can take some solace in Tony Shalhoub's Emmy nomination for "Monk." After all, this NBC Universal Television Group show is produced in association with Mandeville Films and ABC Studios. Which (in theory) should gives ABC execs some bragging rights when it comes to this USA Network smash's winning streak.

That said, I find it kind of hard to believe that senior officials at the American Broadcasting Company will actually be pulling for Shalhoub to win a fourth Emmy for his portrayal of the defective detective. The way I hear it, "Monk" 's success remains a somewhat touchy subject with ABC executives. Seeing as it was this Disney-owned network that originally developed the popular cable television series, only to then let this fan favorite slip right through its fingers.


 Copyright 2007 NBC Universal, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Of course, back when "Monk" was originally in development at Touchstone Television, this hour-long dramedy wasn't envisioned as a showcase for Mr. Shalhoub's talents. But -- rather -- as a starring vehicle for Michael Richards. You know? Of "Seinfeld" fame?

Strange but true, folks. As that super successful sitcom was winding down its 9-year-run on NBC in the spring of 1998, every studio in Hollywood was waiting in the wings. Eager to cut deals with Richards & the rest of the "Seinfeld" cast to appear in brand-new shows.

And Disney ... Given that Mickey already had a working relationship with Michael (Richards had recently made a cameo appearance in "Ellen's Energy Adventure" and was doing voice work for "Redux Riding Hood"), studio execs thought that this might give them an edge when it came to cutting a deal with Kramer. Which is why -- even before "Seinfeld" had officially wrapped production -- Mouse House officials were already developing concepts for shows that Richards could star in.


 Copyright 1998 Sony / Castle Rock Entertainment.
All Rights Reserved

And given Michael's gift for slapstick ... Well, one of the ideas was a TV series that would be built around this Inspector Clouseau-like character. You know, that inept French detective that Peter Sellers played so brilliantly in all those "Pink Panther" movies?

Anyway ... David Hoberman (Who was then head of the Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Group) heard that ABC execs were looking for Clouseau-like ideas for this Michael Richards project. So Hoberman took a meeting with several development officials over at the network and then pitched his own idea. Which was a television series built around a cop who had OCD.

Seeing plenty of comic potential in Michael Richards playing a character that had obsessive-compulsive disorder, ABC officials immediately bought David's pitch. So now it was up to this veteran producer to find a writer who could then flesh out his rather thin premise.


"Monk" Co-creator Andy Breckman.
Copyright 2004 NBC Universal, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

Luckily, Hoberman already had someone in mind for the job: Andy Breckman. Best known then for his sketch work on "Saturday Night Live" and "Late Night with David Letterman," Andy had (by the late 1990s) written several screenplays that had come across David's desk. And Hoberman had been impressed by Breckman's comic dialogue. Which is why he hoped that this late night TV vet would be the writer who could find humor in a brilliant detective who was wracked with anxieties and phobias.

Of course, what David didn't realize is that Andy was a life-long Sherlock Holmes fan. More to the point, that Breckman's favorite TV show when he was growing up was "Columbo." So to be handed a writing assignment that combined his two passions -- comedy & mystery -- was really a dream come true for Breckman.

By his very next meeting with David, Andy already had a name of the lead character (i.e. Adrian Monk) as well as the show's premise. Which admittedly borrowed quite heavily from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes" stories. Right down to giving Adrian a Dr. Watson-like character (nurse Sharona Fleming) to play off of as well an Inspector Lestrade stand-in (Captain Leland Stottlemeyer).


 (L to R) Lt. Randy Disher (Jason Gray-Stanford), Capt.
Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine), Adrian Monk (Tony
Shalhoub) and Sharona Fleming (Bitty Schram)
Copyright 2002 NBC Universal, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

Based on a 17-page outline of the show that this late night comedy vet delivered, Hoberman gave Breckman permission to begin working on a pilot script. And when Andy delivered "Mr. Monk Meets the Candidate" ... Well, first David went nuts. Then the ABC executives who next read Breckman's pilot went crazy as well. Everyone just loved the script and thought that "Monk" would quickly become a hit series for the Alphabet Network. Which -- at that time -- could really use a hit.

The only problem was Michael Richards didn't like the script. Oh, the sitcom vet liked the idea of playing a detective just fine. Which is why -- when Michael finally did settle on a premise for his "Seinfeld" follow-up, "The Michael Richards Show" -- he decided to play Vic Nardozza, a bumbling P.I.

But as for "Mr. Monk Meets the Candidate" ... Richards supposedly thought that the pilot didn't give him enough to work with. That the character that David & Andy had created didn't really offer Michael enough comic possiblities. Which is why this "Seinfeld" veteran passed on "Monk" and eventually opted to go with the show that Castle Rock Television had developed for him. Which wound up airing only eight times before NBC finally pulled the plug in December of 2000.


 (L to R) Tim Meadows, Amy Farrington, William
Devane, Michael Richards & Bill Cobbs.
Copyright NBC / Castle Rock Television
All Rights Reserved

With Richards gone ... Well, that meant that ABC had a starring vehicle with no star. More importantly, given that the Alphabet Network had a casting contingency on "Monk," this meant that ABC had complete control over who got cast in the show's title role ... Thus began two years of almost hellish auditioning. At first every physical comedian in Hollywood was invited to come audition for the role of Adrian Monk. And when none of these guys worked out, Disney then cast a wider net and brought in virtually every male actor in LA. Everyone from Judd Nelson to Danny Bonaduce. All with the hope that somewhere out there there was the perfect performer to play the defective detective.

But after two years of casting problems, the project lost momentum and most executives at ABC had lost hope. With the possible exception of Jackie Lyons, who was then vice president of drama at the Alphabet Network. Which is why -- when Ms. Lyons left Disney to become the new senior vice president in charge of original series over at USA Network -- she took a copy of the "Mr. Monk Meets the Candidate" pilot script with her. And Jackie began selling executives of that cable channel big-time on the idea of bringing "Monk" over the USA Network.

And -- after reading Breckman's teleplay -- these execs immediately saw what Ms. Lyons saw. A quirky new dramedy that would probably work better on cable than it ever would have on network television. So USA Network made an offer to Touchstone Television (i.e. The arm of the Walt Disney Company that originally developed "Monk." Now known as ABC Studios) and eventually acquired the rights to produce this show.


Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

But then Jackie found herself back at square one. Working with David & Andy, they struggled to find just the right actor to play Adrian Monk. After briefly considering sitcom vets like Henry Winkler & John Ritter for the part, Lyons, Hoberman & Breckman then decided to shoot for the stars. They set their sights on three of the top actors working today: Alfred Molina, Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci.

Unfortunately, none of these guys were available at that time. Molina & Tucci were out because they'd already signed to work on films, and Shalhoub was unavailable because he'd just committed to shooting a pilot for another network. But Tony so clearly got what "Monk" was about, the sadness & hurt that colors virtually every move that this inherently comic character makes, that the USA Network decided to take a chance. They actually asked Breckman to rewrite his "Mr. Monk Meets the Candidate" pilot script, expanding this teleplay so that it could then serve as the basis for an hour-and-40-minute-long "Monk" TV movie. With the hope that this TV movie might serve as the gateway to a "Monk" television series.

It was then -- after nearly 4 years of delay -- that Breckman, Hoberman & Lyons finally caught a break. For that other pilot that Shalhoub had shot for that other network did not get picked up. Which meant that Tony was free to devote all of his time, energy & talent to the "Monk" project. Which got shifted back from being a stand-alone TV movie to a full-fledged television series.


Copyright 2005 NBC Universal, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

"Monk" debuted on the USA Network in July of 2002 and almost immediately became a hit. So much so that Disney actually took advantage of language that had been buried down deep in the USA Networks' acquisition deal with Touchstone Television. That language allowed the Mouse to begin airing reruns of "Monk" on the Alphabet Network four days after these episodes had originally run on USA.

Mind you, ABC stopped airing episodes of "Monk" as soon as it realized that these reruns were exposing this already popular program to a much larger audience. Which meant that Mickey was actually aiding a rival by promoting their programming. And since the Alphabet Network was still struggling to hang onto what little audience it had ... Well, ABC execs didn't like the idea of making their viewers aware of another viewing alternative. Which is why they quickly dropped the "Monk" reruns, making this show an USA Network exclusive.

And over the past five years, USA Network has really built on the success of "Monk." Which has helped turned this NBC Universal owned-operation into one of the most watched cable channels.


 Copyright 2007 NBC Universal, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Which brings us back to where today's story started out. With ABC execs really unsure about how they feel about "Monk." With some folks feeling proud that they actually had a hand in the development of this extremely popular program. While still others continue to grouse because their network spent so much money on the development of this show, only to then let "Monk" slip away from ABC and  find a home at the USA Network.

So what do you folks think? Was it a mistake for Mickey to let "Monk" get away? Or would this quirky dramedy ever really had a chance to thrive and/or survive on the Alphabet Network?

Your thoughts?

FYI: If you have yet to catch an episode of this Emmy Award-winning series ... Well, the season finale of "Monk" airs on the USA Network tomorrow night at 9 p.m. Consult your local listings for additional information.

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  • If the worst thing to happen at ABC is that they late a lame show like Monk get away, then I'm not concerned.

    Especially since they have quite a few hit shows of their own at this point.

  • I love "Monk" and am very happy that Richards turned it down. I am a fan of his Kramer character, but I think he was definitely a wrong fit for Adrian Monk. Shaloub brings an empathy to the role that I don't think Richards could.

  • While I wish that Monk was on ABC rather than USA because it is a good show and isn't on cable due to sex or violence like some other shows (aka HBO), I can't believe Disney/ABC missed out not only on the chance to air and co-produce CSI, but the chance to co-produce CSI after CBS picked it up.

  • "Last I heard, the audiences for Monk have been dropping ever since it peaked in its second season (I'm not positive though, does anybody happen to have a chart detailing the loss of audience per season?)."

    Nope.  That's not even close, actually.  Admittedly, this is from the fourth season, but I haven't heard about a significant ratings dropoff since.  Anyway, read on...

    http://tv.zap2it.com/tveditorial/tve_main/1,1002,271%7C96335%7C1%7C,00.html

    "Nearly 6.4 million viewers tuned into the show's fourth-season premiere on Friday (July 8), making it the most-watched cable program of the week by a wide margin. It's also the biggest audience ever for the show -- something few series, cable or broadcast, accomplish in their fourth years."

  • Monk is the best show on TV right now, IMO. With the possible exception of the late John Ritter, I can't see anyone else doing the part justice compared with Tony Shaloub.  He deserves the emmy again!!

  • Yes, as far as I know the above info about Monk's ratings is correct...what you're probably thinking of, LiverGap, is the negative fan reaction to Bitty Schram (Sharona) leaving the show after season two.  There was many an "I'll never watch Monk again" thrown around...definitely gave the illusion that a huge number of viewers just lost interest.  I admit that I, too, believe the show has suffered without Schram, but it doesn't stop me from watching when I'm able to and clearly it hasn't stopped other viewers, either.

  • ABC has done similar things before.  This article made me think of Scrubs, created by touchstone but airing on NBC.  Not a particularly high rated show, but still an odd situation.

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