Adrian Monk was an exceptional police detective who worked for the San Francisco Police Department until his wife, Trudy, was murdered by a car bomb, which Monk believes was intended for him (Monk eventually learns that this wasn't the case). Trudy's death led Monk to suffer a nervous breakdown. He was discharged from the force and became a recluse, refusing to leave his apartment for over three years. With the help of Registered Nurse Sharona Fleming (Bitty Schram), he was finally able to leave the apartment. Captain Leland Stottlemeyer of the SFPD hired Monk as a private consultant, to keep him occupied and to prevent his thoughts from lingering on the death of his wife.
Monk's compulsive habits are numerous, and a number of phobias (312, later, 311) compound his situation. The OCD and a plethora of phobias inevitably lead to very awkward situations and cause problems for Monk, and anyone around him, as he goes about investigating the cases. However, these same personal struggles, particularly the OCD, are what aid him in solving cases, resulting in his catchphrase, “It’s a gift...and a curse.”
Captain Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) and Lieutenant Randall "Randy" Disher (Jason Gray-Stanford) call on Monk when they have trouble with an investigation. Stottlemeyer is often irritated by Monk's disorder, but respects his friend and former colleague's amazing observational abilities, as does Disher. Ever since childhood, Monk's obsessive attention to detail allowed him to spot tiny discrepancies, find patterns, and make connections that others often fail to make. Monk continues to search for information about his wife's death, the one case he has been unable to solve.
When Sharona decides to re-marry her ex-husband and move back to New Jersey, Natalie Teeger (Traylor Howard), a widow and mother of an eleven-year-old daughter, is hired as Monk's new assistant. Monk has a brother, Ambrose, and a half-brother (on his father's side), Jack, Jr.
According to an interview with executive producer David Hoberman, ABC first conceived the series as a police show with an Inspector Clouseau-like character suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Hoberman said ABC wanted Michael Richards for the show, but Richards turned it down. Hoberman brought in Andy Breckman as creator, and Breckman, inspired by Sherlock Holmes, introduced a Doctor Watson-like character as Monk's nurse and an Inspector Lestrade-like character which eventually became Captain Stottlemeyer.
Although ABC originated the show, the network handed it off to the USA Network. USA is now owned by NBC (NBC Universal). Monk was the first ABC Studios-produced show (formerly Touchstone Television) aired on USA Network instead of ABC. On January 12, 2006, USA Network announced that Monk had been picked up through at least season six as one of the "highest-rated series in cable history." Season 5 premiered Friday, July 7, 2006, at 9 p.m. Eastern time. This marked the first-time change for the program, which aired at 10 p.m. during its first four seasons. The change allowed the show to work as a lead-in to a new USA Network series, Psych, another offbeat detective program. Monk has followed a consistent format of airing half of its 16 episodes in the summer and the second half in the winter.
Previously aired episodes of Monk began airing on NBC Universal sibling network NBC April 6, 2008. NBC eyed the show because its block with Psych could be plugged into NBC's schedule intact. The shows are being used to increase the amount of scripted programming on the network as production of its own scripted programming ramp back up following the writers' strike. Ratings for the broadcast debut were well below NBC averages for the time period. The show came in third behind Big Brother 9 on CBS and Oprah's Big Give on ABC.
Although set in San Francisco and its area, Monk is for the most part shot elsewhere except for occasional exteriors featuring city landmarks. The pilot episode was shot in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the subsequent Season 1 episodes were shot in the Toronto, Ontario, area. Most of the episodes in Seasons 2-6 were filmed in the Los Angeles, California, area, including on-stage at Ren-Mar Studios for seasons 2-5 and at Paramount Studios for season 6 (these include Adrian’s apartment, Stottlemeyer's precinct house, Dr. Kroger’s office and Natalie’s house). Some outdoor scenes are filmed on the Universal Studios Backlot in Hollywood, CA.
During the first season of Monk, the series used a jazzy instrumental intro to the show by songwriter Jeff Beal, performed by guitarist Grant Geissman. The theme won the 2003 Emmy Award for Best Main Title Music. When the second season began, the series had new theme music, a song entitled "It's a Jungle out There", by Randy Newman. Reaction to the new theme was mixed. A review of the second season of Monk in the New York Daily News included a wish that producers would revert to the original theme. Shalhoub expressed his support for the new theme in USA Today, saying its "dark and mournful sound,...[its] tongue-in-cheek, darkly humorous side.... completely fits the tone of the show." Newman was awarded the 2004 Emmy Award for Best Main Title Music for "It's a Jungle out There." This debate was referenced in the episode "Mr. Monk and the TV Star," which features an actor who plays a detective in a TV show, and several characters mention an in-story controversy over the change of that show's theme music, including obsessed fan Marci Maven, played by Sarah Silverman. In the epilogue of the story, she implores Monk to promise her that he will never change the theme music if he ever gets his own show. When Monk agrees to the promise (only so he can go back to bed), the original music is heard as the scene fades to credits.
The original theme is also heard in episode 8 of season 3 as Monk drives to Los Angeles with his neighbor and father-in-law. It is also heard in several other episodes as the show enters the credits and then kicks into the new theme's instrumental.
For the season 6 episode, "Mr. Monk and the Rapper," guest star Snoop Dogg performed a hip-hop version of "It's a Jungle out There," and he accompanied Monk with "Here's What Happened" in rap form.
The June 16, 2008 re-airing of the first episode featured a new credit sequence with the Newman theme.