MR. MONK AND THE BIG GAME
by Jack Bernstein
"I have Andy Breckman calling."
Those five words set in motion a chain of events that culminated in the episode, "Mr. Monk and the Big Game." Actually, it might have been six words: "Jack, I have Andy Breckman calling." I'm sure it wasn't seven, though.
February 5, 2006. For most people, it was Superbowl Sunday. For me, it marked my return trip to Summit, New Jersey, and the writers' offices of Monk.
My second trip to Summit was so similar to my first trip that it reminded me of the movie, Groundhog Day, except there was no groundhog involved (at least, not professionally). While I could spend seconds describing the joys of Summit and the fact that they added Famous Amos cookies to the hotel vending machine, instead I'll tell you about the episode.
Just the idea of Monk coaching a high school girls basketball team made me laugh. The genesis of the story came from a newspaper article about the similarities between sibling's DNA. The bare bones of the story were in place before I arrived, which meant that I could sleep in an extra hour.
There were two new writers added to the staff since my last trip -- Jon Collier and Blair Singer. Jon is a fantastic writer and a great guy, but as a parent, well, he had a picture on his computer of his two adorable daughters wearing Red Sox shirts! I just hope social services doesn't find out. Jon was actually not in town when I was there so when I used his office, I photo-shopped his daughters' picture so that they were wearing Derek Jeter jerseys.
Blair fit into the staff like he had been there for years and really added a lot while we were breaking the story. In addition, he apparently is the only one who knows how to use the coffee maker, so whatever they're paying him is not enough (as an aside, I don't think I have a coffee "problem", although I was starting to grind the beans in my mouth.)
Of course I would be remiss if I did not mention the immense contributions of Andy, Tom Scharpling, Joe Toplyn, Dan Dratch and Hy Conrad. By the way, I'm not butt-kissing. I prefer to think of it as looking for polyps.
Breaking the story was, as always, a fantastic experience. I have been on nearly a dozen television staffs and I can tell you unequivocally that the writers room at Monk is not only the best I've ever been in but probably the best in the business. It is an ego-free room with one goal: to make the funniest and smartest script possible. And they succeed, week after week, even when they have to work with someone like me.
On my last script, I didn't get the opportunity to visit the set because I was too busy at my new job as a Ryan Seacrest impersonator. This time, however, I made it a point to visit to watch the filming of the actual big game.
I went over to Ted Levine (Capt. Stottlemeyer) to introduce myself and tell him what a great job I thought he did on Mr. Monk and the Captain's Wife, but before I could even say hello, he punched me in the face!
I was stunned. I went down quick -- I mean, I didn't set any records or anything, but I kissed the pavement in under two seconds. Then he just walked away without saying a word. Meanwhile, I'm lying on the ground and Jason Gray-Stanford (Lt. Disher) walks over and kicks me in the gut!
I subsequently found out that this is kind of the initiation for a writer's first visit to the set. That made it a little easier to swallow. Actually, I had difficulty swallowing for about a week.
When I met Traylor Howard (Natalie Teeger), I honestly felt like there was a spark between us, something special. I know her lips were saying no, but her eyes were saying, read my lips. Anyway, I think the restraining order is about to expire so I'm looking forward to seeing her again soon.
I've seen Tony Shalhoub in tons of movies playing vastly different characters, but when you see him in the Monk wardrobe, on the Monk set, with the Monk mannerisms, you can only think that you've seen him in tons of movies playing vastly different characters. Seriously, Tony was born to play this role. It is impossible to envision anyone else playing it. He is tremendously talented and tremendously gracious.
Three bits of trivia regarding the filming of the actual big game. On the big shot of the game (I don't want to say too much in case you haven't seen the episode yet), the girl made the basket on the first take. Pretty amazing. Second, most of the girls playing were actually on a high school team. And third, if you look real closely at Capt. Stottlemeyer's right hand, you'll notice some of my blood from when he punched me.