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Tony Shalhoub   ('Monk') Tony Shalhoub ('Monk')

'No More MONKeying Around!'

With USA Network announcing that this eighth season of 'Monk', debuting this month, would be the final one, it is now finally time to say goodbye to the OCDetective series - fronted by three-time Emmy winner Tony Shalhoub.

"We want to build to a spectacular conclusion for this wonderful show," USA Network's executive vice president of original programming, Jeff Wachtel, said in making the announcement. " By many measures, Monk is the most successful series in the history of basic cable. Our fans have been extremely dedicated, and Season 8 should prove to be a very satisfying reward."

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Tony Shalhoub ('Monk') about this final season, and first wondered what sort of legacy he thought the show left, and what did he think viewers took away from it through the years? [Shalhoub] "Well, I think one of the things that will be remembered about this show, I hope will be remembered, is that at a time when there was, in a lot of television, especially with the onslaught of cable and in a period where television is kind of redefining itself, that there were precious few shows on the air that were suitable for a wider audience, like a younger audience, you know, people in their 30ís and then people like elderly people in the 70ís and 80ís. That there was a show that all those different demographics could tune into and appreciate, and would appreciate on their own level."

"And I think there arenít a lot of shows like that. There havenít been a lot of shows like that in the last decade. And I hope that thatís something that people will focus on and remember for a long time, you know, that itís still possible to do interesting stories and good comedy without having it have to be all exclusively adult themed kinds of things or super violent or with language that some people might feel is inappropriate for younger audiences, and that this show was kind of able to stand out and do that."

So, how is the final season structured? "Excellent question. What the writers have in mind is to do, you know, as you said, our normal standalone episodes for the first, I would say, 11, because weíre doing 16, as usual. So the first 11, I would say, are going to be standalone, and then the last 5 is when weíll be kind of connected. Theyíll have a connected tissue, and weíll start to get into the wrap up, not just of Monk, but of some of the other characters as well."

"Then what they want to do is the final two episodes, number 15 and 16, itíll just be one story, a two-part, you know, aired in two segments. Just to follow Ė that episode, I mean that two-part will involve the wrap up of Trudyís murder, you know, the solving of Trudyís murder."

And what was the deciding factor to make this season the final season? "Well, I think there were a lot of things at play there. I mean, long conversations that I had with Andy Breckman, you know, one of the co-creators and the main writer. Weíve been talking all along about how many seasons to do, how many episodes that he had in him, you know, as the writer. He, at one point, said that he didnít think really he had more than six seasons, and then he kind of got a gigantic second wind, and we did the seventh, and we werenít sure when we were doing the seventh if the network was going to go with us on the eighth. But to make a long story short, we all kind of agreed that the eighth season would be it for all of us."

"I think it will have 124 episodes by the end of the eighth season, and I think weíre all ready to resolve the storyline and move on to other things. We certainly donít want to go too long and have the quality start to wane and just limp to the finish line. We want to go out while weíre still really, we feel really that weíre doing great work and delivering really strong episodes. We want to go out on a high."

But, just because USA and yourselves are bringing the series to an end now, it doesn't mean another network down the line couldnít pick it up. So, is this a choice that youíve thought about that maybe you would contemplate a return to the character down the line in a couple, three years perhaps? "You know, Iíve given that a lot of thought. I feel like Iím ready to put this character to rest, but by the same token, I never say never, and circumstances could change, and I could change my mind. Certainly Iíve been known to change my mind. I just think time will tell. I would never ever rule something like that out. I hope that answers your question."

Yes, thank you ... so, whatís the lasting impression you want viewers to take from watching your show and watching you? "Thatís a great question. I think, if I had to choose one thing, I would say that I would want people to take away this idea that sometimes peopleís problems or neuroses are really the things that are kind of a blessing in disguise, and even though thereís, you know, sometimes thereís pain associated with these things that sometimes in the face of adversity with obstacles to overcome, people can really kind of soar and find their higher selves and I think thatís what weíve tried to do on the show is weíve portrayed this character as someone who turns his liability, his liabilities into assets per his life."

"And that thereís Ė and I hope that when we get to the end Ė I donít know this for sure, but I hope when we get to the end of season eight that weíll have seen some real healing from Monk, and I believe in that. I believe that there is healing and that there is change, and that all of those things are Ė they are just really, really key to all of our lives."

So, have you found that the longer you play Monk, that the differences between you, Tony, and the character have eroded? Which is to say, have you become more like him, and he more like you, over the years? "I would say yes, absolutely. I mean, I resisted it for a long time. I wrestled with it. I fought with it. I was in denial about it and all of that. But inevitably, you know, there have been some Ė you know, as I said, in interviews too."

"I feel like Iíve been infected in some way by this character. Tendencies, you know, minor tendencies that Iíve had in my life prior to Monk have just kind of ballooned and expanded and itís inevitably. I mean, I just, thereís no point in trying to Ė Iíve given up trying to resist it. Iíve had to just surrender to it. I mean, Iím hoping that when Monk is over that Iíll have some period of recovery, but Iím not holding my breath."

How many of the old faces from past episodes are we going to see as a way of saying good-bye in this final season? "Well, weíll certainly, Iím sure youíve probably read because thereís been a lot of publicity about Sharona coming back. Bitty Schram is going to come back for episode Ė I believe itís episode number 12, which will start shooting in September. And they want to bring that character back and kind of wrap it up and kind of give that a good send off. A lot of people really missed that character and the dynamic between Monk and Sharona. And so weíre all looking forward to that."

"Of course, weíll see Harold Krenshaw comes back, one of my favorites. Heís the other OCD patient who is always kind of in competition with Monk, played so brilliantly by Tim Bagley. Heís going to return for at least a couple of episodes."

"And well, thatís it. I mean, of course, Dr. Bell, the psychiatrist will be in a number of episodes. I donít think Ė people have asked if weíre going to see Ambrose. I donít really think that's in the cards simply because thatís Ö John is so busy. Itís difficult to schedule him in. I mean, if I had my way, weíd do kind of what Seinfeld did and bring back almost every guest star there ever was on the show, but ours is going to go in a different direction."

I was wondering if you had a favorite guest star that you'd worked with over the past few years on 'Monk'? "Itís so hard for me to pick a favorite because there have been so many great ones, and Iíve had the chance to bring friends of mine on the show, I mean, people that Iíve worked with in the past like Stanley Tucci and John Turturro and people that Iíve always wanted to work with like Laurie Metcalf. But I have to say, of all of the seasons, and of all of the guest stars, the most thrilling for me was last season working with Gena Rowlands on Mr. Monk and the Lady Next Door. She was such a tremendous influence on me when I was a student and studying acting. I was a devotee of John Cassavetes movies and the movies she did even separate from him."

"I was the one who actually when we were casting that particular episode, The Lady Next Door, there were a number of names on the list, and I pitched her name. And I was stunned and thrilled to find out that she wanted to do it. And then working those eight days with her was just, you know, I felt really, when we finished that episode, I felt like I could retire, that I had done everything I needed to do now. She was so gracious and so good, and of course sheís been nominated for an Emmy for that episode too, so I will hopefully see her at the Emmys in September."

Finally, is there also a particular favorite episode of 'Monk' for you, perhaps? "Man. This is so difficult because I have so many that are just so near and dear to me. I kind of will reframe the question in the answer, I think. The ones that Ė I will say the ones where I think we did, where weíve done the best, in other words, those episodes where we did 100% of what we set out to do or 100% of how we imagined the show should be in a perfect world when weíre doing our job Ė just the best. Those episodes would be, I would say, the first John Turturro episode where we meet the character of Ambrose. That was called Mr. Monk and the Three Pies."

"Another favorite of mine was Mr. Monk Takes His Medicine because it was a chance for me to do this character almost as a different character Ė see a different part of him emerge. We did an episode that we just shot in the first part of season eight, which will be airing in about a month. Itís called Mr. Monk is Someone Else, and itís an episode where itís basically Ö assume this character of a man who looks just like him, but the character happens to be a professional hit man for the mafia, and this character dies, and Monk is asked to take on, you know, to take this guy on and become him. And so those opportunities to kind of transform within the character are really, really challenging and satisfying."

Interviewed by: Russell A. Trunk

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