by Hy Conrad

For a few seasons now, the writers have been tossing around the idea of Monk and a vacuum cleaner bag. It seemed like a perfect piece of evidence for him to deal with, but the problem always was "how?" Should the vacuum bag contain something valuable? Should the killer be stalking Monk, trying to recover it? We even toyed with the idea of a killer hacking up his victim then placing the pieces, one by one, in a self-cleaning oven and turning them to ash in the oven's crematorium heat. He would then vacuum out the remains and have a vacuum cleaner bag filled with his victim. But this seemed a bit too gruesome for us.

We finally settled on a maid vacuuming up evidence of a heroin smuggling ring. This, of course, gave us another cleaning person as a victim. The writers have been kidded in the past about killing off too many maids in our stories. But this was one instance in which it really seemed necessary.

Of course, Monk doesn't have a cleaning person. She would never be good enough. So, in order to give the story some personal involvement, we made the victim work for Dr. Kroger. We had always wanted to give Stanley Kamel an episode and this was the perfect opportunity.

For the first day or so of "breaking the story", we had Dr. Kroger and Monk working together to solve the murder. This, it turned out, changed our beloved Monk-Kroger dynamic. If you solve a murder together with your shrink, can you ever go back to a kind of clinical detachment that makes the relationship work? We decided not to try.

We purposely kept Kroger out of most of the investigation beats. That's why Kroger and Monk never break into the killer's office to snoop around. That would have the natural way to retrieve the clues. But there was a buddy-conspiracy feeling to that scene that we really didn't want. So instead of breaking in, they simply peer through a sliding glass door in order to piece it together.

One big challenge for us was coming up with a new shrink for Monk to go to. We toyed with all the usual ideas -- a woman, someone too strict, someone too nice, someone driven crazy by Monk's behavior, even a bout of "scream therapy."

The right answer came from John Collier, who arrived to the writing team fresh from years at "The Simpsons" and "King of the Hill." His idea of a one-armed shrink made us all howl. But was it too much? We put in a call to Tony and he loved it. His only requirement was that the role be played by a real one-armed actor. Surprisingly, the Screen Actors Guild had a list of one-limbed actors just waiting to audition for us.

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