Monk proved Tony Shalhoub was definitely leading man material

By: H&I Staff     Posted: July 22, 2021, 1:35PM

When Tony Shalhoub started shooting Monk, it was like stars finally aligned, placing him on a small studio lot where he knew some of the biggest TV stars had found their fame.

"Doing an hour show is really hard work," Shalhoub told TheDayton Daily News in 2003. "Long hours – [it’s] like making a small movie every week. We shoot on a wonderfully small lot in the heart of old Hollywood, where Desi and Lucy used to do their show and where they did The Dick Van Dyke Show and I Spy."

For Shalhoub, Monk came after an earlier, first series that he starred in, but was abruptly cancelled despite winning over both critics and audiences.

Stark Raving Mad was created by Steven Levitan, who created hit comedy shows like Just Shoot Me! and Modern Family. It cast Shalhoub as an offbeat writer across from Neil Patrick Harris as a neurotic book editor. 

Airing from 1999 to 2000, Stark Raving Mad got a lot of positive buzz in its first season, winning a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Television New Comedy Series, as well as prestigious industry awards for writing and casting.

So how come the show got axed? Levitan told the TelevisionAcademy.com, Stark Raving Mad ended because one person who had a big say in the show somehow simply didn’t believe in Shalhoub. The whole interview, Levitan can barely restrain his incredulity at this bigwig’s bad read.

"We got picked up by one regime," Levitan said. "Another regime came in. Right before we were going to shoot the pilot, a person from the new regime said 'Listen, I know you’re about to shoot this pilot, but I’d like you to re-cast Tony Shalhoub.' And I’m like, 'Why?' Because I don’t think he’s the lead of a show."

Levitan strongly disagreed.

He said that on top of considering the future Monk star as a friend, he’d committed to Shalhoub at a time when Shalhoub had many competing offers, due to his popular character on Wings.

"I’m sticking with him," Levitan told the naysayer. "That’s it. He’s my choice."

Fifteen million people tuned in to laugh at Shalhoub’s antics on Stark Raving Mad, with the new sitcom ranking 19th in the country its first year on the power of Shalhoub’s performance as its title character.

Levitan hoped the popularity of the show would prove he’d chosen wisely, but he said for this particular bigwig, renewing the show wasn’t about ratings anymore. It became personal. He felt defied when the show wasn’t recast.

"I think that person just never got onboard," Levitan said.  "And subsequently cancelled that show at the end of that season. If someone were to go back and look at the numbers, they would be quite amazed that that show got cancelled."

Shalhoub bounced back quickly, featuring in films throughout 2001, until Monk came along, and if he hadn’t proved it with Stark Raving Mad, that’s when he secured his legacy as one of TV’s funniest character generators and ultimately all-time favorite leading men.

After his first year, he took home the Emmy for Monk, the mark of a major TV star making his entrance. Before the series ended, he’d add a couple more Emmys to his mantel.

In an interview with Parade.com, Shalhoub described his character Monk as someone who "sort of looked at the world through a negative lens."

You might say the person responsible for canceling Stark Raving Mad had the same problem, but we can’t complain because it gave us a quirky new kind of detective show and hours of incredible performances from the undeniably brilliant leading man Tony Shalhoub.

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