'Monk’ Back on Case for USA

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Pasadena, Calif.— Like a lot of viewers, USA Network is obsessed with Monk.

The network of characters has renewed the dramedy series for a fifth and sixth season, with a 16-episode order for each campaign. During 2005, new episodes of Monk averaged 5.1 million viewers, trailing only TNT’s The Closer among original series.

Moreover, USA has secured back-end strip rights to the series, which is produced by sister company NBC Universal Television Studio in association with Mandeville Films and Touchstone Television, beginning in 2008, when it will be able to show all 93 installments. Deal terms were not disclosed.

USA and Sci Fi Channel president Bonnie Hammer, speaking at the Television Critics Association press tour last Thursday, said the quirky series, starring Tony Shalhoub, who has won Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild best actor awards for his portrayal of the title character, has become a successful multi-platform franchise, ranking as one of the top shows downloaded from the Apple iTunes Store.

“We’ve also created two mini-episodes exclusively for the USA Web site, and Adrian Monk is a hero in the first of a series of mystery novels,” Hammer said. “Monk has been a full-fledged enterprise, growing beyond television into multimedia platforms.”

Hoping to capitalize on Monk’s momentum, USA also announced during its TCA session that it has commissioned back-door pilots for two dramedy series set to air later this year. The first is Underfunded, starring Mather Zickel (Reno 911!) as a Canadian secret service man who always seems short on cash. Also on tap is Psych, about a guy who skirts the law by pretending he’s a psychic detective, Hammer said.

The network also announced The Starter Wife, a limited series about the life of a Hollywood wife who’s been dumped for a younger woman.

On the flip side, Hammer told Multichannel News that USA has officially cancelled the Ving Rhames-led remake of Kojak, after one season.

For its part, Sci Fi will launch several new reality series, including a nationwide search for a true-life hero (Who Wants to Be a Supehero?) and the most talented, homegrown psychic (The Gift). Another psychic-based series, Medium At Large, will follow the life of celebrity psychic Char Margolis.

Steven Spielberg will once again work with Sci Fi on a new miniseries dubbed Nine Lives, which will examine life after death. He last worked with Sci Fi in 2002 on the 10-installment alien-abduction project Steven Spielberg Presents Taken, which produced the highest ratings in the network’s history.

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