It's Over in Eight for 'Monk'

Today's cuppa: hotel coffee and lots of it

While I slog though the biannual Television Critics Association Press Tour in beautiful Pasadena, Calif., you can take a look at my syndicated feature story on the beginning of the end for USA Network's "Monk" on Friday, Aug. 7 -- tomorrow, we take a similar look at the season premiere for "Psych," which airs the same night.

'Monk,' phobias and all, prepares for the end


By Kate O'Hare



Monk_Tony_Shalhoub On Friday, Aug. 7, the USA Network comedy-mystery series "Monk" returns for its eighth season, which has been announced to be its last. For executive producer and frequent episode director Randy Zisk, it's a bittersweet moment.

"It's sweet and sad at the same point," he says. "I feel like we're going through what the show goes through, which is heart and humor, right now.

"We obviously want to tie up some loose ends, but we also wanted to continue with what's worked so well for us, which is having both heart and humor."

For the past seven seasons, Tony Shalhoub has played Adrian Monk, a former San Francisco Police Department homicide detective who lost his position due to his obsessive-compulsive disorder.

After the unsolved murder of his wife, Trudy, in a car bombing -- a crime possibly aimed at Monk -- he had a nervous breakdown, causing his disorder to worsen and turn him into a recluse.

First with the help of his nurse, Sharona (Bitty Schram) -- the character left during season three -- and now with his assistant, Natalie (Traylor Howard), Monk has been able to re-enter the world and help police Capt. Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) and Lt. Randy Disher (Jason Gray-Stanford) solve crimes as a private detective.

David Hoberman is the creator of "Monk," and he executive produces with Zisk and writers Andy Breckman and Tom Sharpling.

As to how neat a bow he and his fellow producers wanted to put on the end of Adrian Monk's story, Zisk says, "Not that neat. Andy Breckman created the character with David Hoberman and Tony Shalhoub, and the character has really grown in these eight years, so the one thing that's consistent is his struggles.

"We've got different struggles now, but we definitely want to see a character who still goes through what everybody else in the world goes through. The stories are written in New Jersey, and I don't know -- even Tony doesn't know -- exactly where they're headed."

While "Monk" is shot in Los Angeles (where it headed after a brief sojourn in Toronto), the writing staff is indeed a continent away.

"When I was first told this is how they want to set up the show, I said, 'It'll never work. I don't know how we can have you guys so far away from us.' But in reality, it's worked out because Andy Breckman gives us such room to do what we want on the production side.

"His scripts are always on time, and they're always really great. After directing so many other shows, I realize how lucky we are that the scripts are on time, and not only on time, but I don't know how they keep coming up with ideas."

The final season comprises 16 new episodes, and fans that have been missing Monk_Bitty_Schram Sharona will be happy to hear that she returns for an episode later in the season. Fans may recall that she left to remarry her ex-husband and return to New Jersey with their son.

"I'll be directing," Zisk says. "We're all excited about that. It's all being worked out now. I don't want to say too much, but what I know of it, it's going to be one of the most fun episodes we've ever done.

"We're really excited about it. It's been so great. It's going to be a blast to have her back."

But first, there's the season premiere. As for a hint, Zisk says, "Elizabeth Perkins plays a TV star who was a child star on a TV series that was Monk's favorite show, that he never missed. Now, 30 years later, whatever it is, he runs into her, and there's a crime that he's involved with, and he gets to meet his childhood star.

"It's called 'Mr. Monk's Favorite TV Show.' "

But will the show's most enduring mystery be solved?

"Obviously," Zisk says, "the one case he's never been able to solve is Trudy, his wife. So we'll see what happens with that, but I don't want to say too much.

"Everyone loves the story line with her, bringing her in for a little bit each season, and seeing Monk deal with that. People love to see how he still wears his wedding ring, and how he is still attached to her. There's something so endearing and so sweet about that."

The final episode shoots in October.

Says Zisk, "We've had a great run, and it's going to be very emotional."

The so-called "last" episode of "Scrubs," which didn't even turn out to be the last episode, featured Sprinkles cupcakes on set.

As to whether the real last episode of "Monk" will go in a similar culinary direction, Zisk says, "We'll make sure to have Sprinkles cupcakes. It's been a pretty great run."