Writing the TV episode “Mr. Monk Can’t See a Thing”

LEE GOLDBERG is co-founder of the IAMTW (with MAX ALLAN COLLINS) and is the author of both the MONK and DIAGNOSIS MURDER series of original tie-in novels. He also writes episodes of the MONK TV series.

Writing the TV episode “Mr. Monk Can’t See a Thing”

Bill Rabkin and I have written a few episodes of Monk before and, to be honest, the show has spoiled us. They fly us out to Summit, New Jersey, for a week, all expenses paid (which is, by itself, a dream come true. Who wouldn’t want to spend a week in Summit?) to sit around laughing with the Monk writing staff. I’ve never had so much fun plotting and, best of all, it’s hundreds of miles from the nearest studio or network executive.

So when Andy Breckman asked me a year or so ago if I would like to write some original Monk novels, I jumped at the opportunity. Sadly, the deal didn’t include any free trips to Summit and I had only eight weeks to write the novel. But “Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse” ended up being a lot of fun to write and, much to my delight and relief, Andy really liked the book, too. He liked it so much, that he thought it would make a dandy episode of the show.

“It almost writes itself,” he said, mainly because it was, well, already written.

I immediately called Bill, my screenwriting partner, and told him the good news. He was thrilled. We both were. And why shouldn’t we be? We’d be getting another trip to Summit, we’d have another chance to hang out with the fiendishly clever Monk staff, and it would be the easiest script to write ever—mainly because it was, well, already written. This trip would almost be a paid vacation. In Summit! Does life get any better than that? I think not.

But there was an especially geeky reason for me to be thrilled. There have been plenty of novelizations of TV episodes, but as far as I know, there has never been a TV adaptation of a TV tie-in novel. “Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse” would make TV tie-in history (If there is such a thing as TV tie-in history. If there isn’t then there should be. Maybe even a TV tie-in museum. If it can’t be at the Smithsonian, I say let’s put it in Summit).

A week or so before the trip, Andy called up, very excited. He’d been noodling with some ideas for the “Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse” episode. He wanted to make one tiny change in the story.

“What if Monk is blind?” he said.

It was a very funny idea which, of course, meant throwing out just about everything in book. But I honestly didn’t mind and neither did Bill (even though it meant that writing the script would actually mean doing some work). Every time we write for Monk, our goal is to tell a great mystery that’s funny, touching, entertaining and uniquely, undeniably, unmistakably Monk. And this certainly would be.

So the first thing we did was set aside the sacred text and start from scratch. All we kept from the book were the basic bones of the mystery plot and a couple of clues. Everything else had to arise from the predicament of Monk being blind. We even changed the title to “Mr. Monk Can’t See a Thing” to reflect the new central conflict of the story.

As usual, we had way, way, too much fun plotting the story and were impressed, once again, by Andy’s unerring ability to find the emotional center at the heart of even the broadest comic moments.

When we turned in our script two weeks later, I couldn’t help thinking that it would have made a hell of a good book.

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