''Monk'''s star talks about the surprise hit series. Tony Shalhoub explains what it's like being a germaphobe detective and why 13 episodes is enough for now

By Liane Bonin
Updated October 08, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT
Tony Shalhoub: Jen Lowery/London Features

Talk about being punished for your success: ”Monk,” the new series about a detective with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), was doing so well on the USA network that ABC picked it up to run against the competition’s hottest shows — NBC’s ”Friends” and CBS’ ”Survivor: Thailand” — in the ultra-competitive Thurs. 8 p.m. slot. (”Monk” also runs in its original Friday 10 p.m. slot on USA).

But not to fear. So far, ”Monk” is holding its own — not an outright hit, but a cult and critical favorite. EW.com caught up with ”Monk” star Tony Shalhoub (”Men in Black 2”) to find out about the show’s unusually short season, his character’s OCD quirks, and why Monk doesn’t like to wear a tie.

You’ve filmed a 13 episode season for USA, but networks usually require close to 26 episodes per series. Would you be willing to commit to a longer season for ABC?
I think I would prefer to keep it at 13. That’s one of the reasons this job appealed to me in the first place, because I like to think I have a film career that’s alive. Doing 24 or 26 episodes of an hour long series chews up a lot of time, maybe 10 and a half months a year, which leaves a very narrow window of time to do movies. And by doing fewer episodes, I think you can do a better job. It’s something we’ve already found to be true with ”Six Feet Under” and ”The Sopranos.”

Have any fans with OCD wanted to shake your hand? Or offer you antibacterial wipes?
After so many months of doing this role I’m wanting less and less to shake peoples’ hands. In spite of myself I’ve found myself thinking, “I don’t know where they’ve been and what they were doing last.” You just don’t even want to go there.

So why doesn’t Monk ever wear a tie?
When we first started creating the look for this guy, we wanted to keep everything tight fitting. The shirts were a half size too small, and the jackets were structured and tight around the middle. Then the question of the tie came up. I thought it would be impossible for a man like that to stop fidgeting with it. The knot is either crooked or the rest of the tie is hanging down askew, and it would be tiresome to watch somebody constantly fidgeting with that. I also liked that look of being buttoned up and closed in. It’s almost kind of retro not wearing a tie, but not in a nerdy way.

How much more are we going to see of Monk’s disorder?
He’s not just a germaphobe. He has a checking disorder, which means he’s constantly checking light switches and knobs on the stove. And right now a counting disorder is developing. We’re kind of looking under that rock right now. I think it’s endless all the things we can find. We also know Monk has a fixation with lamps, especially gooseneck lamps. They’re very hard for him to resist.

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