Great shows often rely on the crackle of a sharp, quasi-contentious, and borderline-romantic relationship, like the one shared for three seasons on Monk by Tony Shalhoub’s tic-burdened detective and his spunky nurse, Sharona (Bitty Schram). This season, Schram’s left the show, trailed by rumors of contract disputes and fan distress. As a replacement, the show has cast Traylor Howard as Monk’s new sparring partner: Natalie, a widowed bartender. Adam Sternbergh spoke to Howard about growing up Traylor and stepping into Schram’s shoes.
Are you worried that Sharona’s fans won’t accept you?
People are definitely attached to her, and I can see why. I loved their dynamic. But when I started, the show had been on hiatus for three months, so I didn’t really think about it. I felt like I was walking in on a new season. Then we were filming this one episode, and this young girl, this extra, was like, “Where’s Sharona?” And I said, “I’m sorry. She’s gone. I’m the new girl.”
It’s like being someone’s second wife, introducing yourself to the kids.
She was really cute, and she looked kind of sad. But I think it’s healthy.
Like Bitty Schram, you must have had a lot of nicknames growing up.
Yes. As a kid, I went by Tray. In college, they called me Hitch. And Trash. And Park. All the usuals.
Did you ever get Tractor Traylor?
Oh, yeah. And U-Haul.
Ever get mail addressed to “Howard Traylor”?
Yes. And I’ve been to auditions where they thought I was going to be a guy.
How’d you get into acting in the first place?
In college, I majored—I can’t believe there is such a thing—in advertising. And I worked in advertising and PR for a while, and I liked it. But I didn’t see myself taking it any further. So I thought, I’ll just go be an actress!
And you landed on Boston Common.
We did the pilot, and three weeks later, we were on the air after Friends. I was like, Wow, this is fun!
But all the shows you were on have died quickly, from Boston Common to Bram and Alice. It must be nice to step into a show that’s already successful.
Doing a show from scratch is so much harder. Bram and Alice is the best show I’ve done so far, and it only aired three times. When I came in here, I could just concentrate on myself and bounce off everyone else.
So you’re not worried that people will think of you as second-rate, like the replacement Darrin on Bewitched?
Everyone’s said, It’s so much pressure! And I’m like, Gosh, should I be more aware of that? Thank goodness my brain doesn’t go there. I wish I was that healthy in my personal life.