Mr. Monk Can’t See a Thing

This coming Friday, July 28th, the USA Network is airing a very special episode of "Monk" entitled "Mr. Monk Can’t See a Thing," which was written by yours truly and Bill Rabkin.

Bill 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 NJ 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

So when "Monk" creator/showrunner 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 NJ 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, NJ, we’d have another chance to hang
out with the fiendishly clever "Monk" staff, and it would be the easist
script to write ever — mainly because it was, well, already written.
This trip would almost be a paid vacation. In Summit, NJ! 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, NJ).

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, unmistakeably 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.

17 thoughts on “Mr. Monk Can’t See a Thing”

  1. I’m really looking forward to this week’s episode. My wife and I are still coming down from that garbage strike episode a few weeks ago. The Alice Cooper bit was priceless!

  2. Isnt “the protagonist is temporarily blind” a really really trite TV series cliche? Are future episodes of Monk going to include him landing an airplane from instructions from the tower, and Monk trapped on an elevator with a woman who goes into labor?

  3. Ray,
    Yes, it is. As is amnesia (Which MONK did last season). Somehow, though, given Monk’s phobias and anxieties, these old TV cliches seem to work brilliantly on this show. And, as you will see Friday, we go against the typical blindness cliches in our depiction of Monk’s attitude towards his plight.

  4. Saw the episode. Okay, so I like some of it better than the book. But, I also really liked the dog murder mystery angle and the weirdness of the arson victim in the book. Congrats on your first tie in novel episode.

  5. I have been a fan of Monk since the series began. Mr Monk Can’t See was fantastic, with the ending (Monk looking at his wife’s picture) bringing me to tears! I applaud the writers and salute their creativity in combining humor and tenderness.
    The absolute BEST show on tv!

  6. Something cool: The Friday LA Times listed the episode as one of the TV “Highlights” for that day; and the TV Highlights section had a photo from the episode as the header. That should have been good for a few thousand more viewers in the LA area.

  7. I’m the Ray from the post above questioning the freshness of the “temporary blindness” story element. My wife and I both watched the episode, the first Monk for either of us. And we really did enjoy the episode. Monk’s reactions to his plight were interesting and insightful, the mystery was good (even if I did figure it out ahead of time), and we both thought the actress who played Natalie was a sweetheart! My wife said, “We should watch more of this show.” And I’m gonna look for DVD sets of earlier seasons.

  8. Not sure if this was intentional, but I liked seeing Monk get tangled up in the police tape, in much the same way that he does in the promotional photo.
    And the variation on the old walking the construction site girder was priceless. I think it really nailed Mr. Shalhoub’s comic talents.

  9. Hey, I’ve been to Summit, NJ. It may not be a tourist mecca like nearby NYC but the Grand Summit Hotel would be my first choice of accommodations. Also, the Hunt Club restaurant? If you live in Summit, you own something in NYC. There are also worse places in NJ to be writing a script, like E. Rutherford, NJ which sits on a cancer causing landfill!
    I saw the episode on Friday and it was great!

  10. Hey Lee; I saw yr ep of Monk. It was hilarious, great, wonderful, and nifty.
    The “Blindness” bit was fresh, and Randy’s bits…explaining he was opening his notebook and other nonsense was perfect.
    Keep it flying.
    Robert Ward

  11. I also loved the episode, congratulations. Lots of favourite moments but the reversal where Monk decided he preferred being blind was genius because as well as surprising us it was also so true to his character. That’s something I’m going to add to my toolbox.

  12. While I enjoyed the episode, I really wish writers would consult informed sources when then do medical stuff. Speaking from a optical background, while it is possible to temporarily blind someone with a solvent, it would have nothing to do with the retina’s. The solvent would have had to burn entirely through the eye (thus making it impossible to heal) to effect the retinas. On the other hand a solvent that temporarily burned the Cornea’s, that could have healed, would only blind the victim such that they would be so light sensitive and in pain that they couldn’t actually open their eyes. Yes I realize that is technical, but it ruined it for me when the ‘Doctor’ said ‘Your retina’s are healing’… Sorry just had to point it out. They keep replaying the episode and otherwise the writers and actors do such a good job.

  13. I know I’m stepping out on a limb here, especially as “here” is home to one of the writers, but I’m just not as thrilled with the 5th season as I was with previous seasons.
    I don’t know what happened, but it seems the pace has slowed down? Or is it the timing?
    Is Tony losing interest? The writing is still there; all the elements are in place, same great references and fun asides….but….it doesn’t bring me to tears anymore 🙁


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