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    "Monk" Boots Bitty

    Monk has excommunicated Sharona Fleming

    Bitty Schram, who plays Adrian Monk's care-giving sidekick, won't be helping the detective handle his obsessive-compulsive behavior any more.

    Executives for USA Network confirmed the surprise departure of Schram, who had earned a Best Actress Golden Globe nomination for her role opposite Emmy and Globe winner Tony Shalhoub, from the show, which is the top-rated drama on cable.

    The net blamed the usual creative differences for the split. "Monk has decided to go in a different creative direction with some of its characters," the network said in a terse statement. "Bitty will not continue with the cast and we thank her for her notable contributions and wish her the very best."

    Schram's management, Untitled Entertainment, released a statement of its own: "Bitty Schram and USA Network have amicably decided to go their own separate ways...She wishes everyone connected with the show continued success and looks forward to pursing the various opportunities before her."

    The announcements did little to stop the Hollywood trades from trying to figure out the real reason behind Schram's departure. Industry scuttlebutt suggests that Schram may have lost out in a bid for a higher salary. There have also been rumors that the personality of the character and/or actress had worn thin.

    Episodes for the second half of season three, set to air in January, will begin shooting next month. Executive producer David Hoberman told Variety that show creator Andy Breckman "decided to go in a different direction in terms of the character." Hoberman wasn't clear on exactly what that direction is, or how Fleming's departure will be explained, but said a replacement character will "serve a similar role" as girl Friday to the neurotic Monk.

    The Hollywood Reporter, meanwhile, says casting agents have been asked to find an actress who can play a world-weary but attractive thirtysomething widow, who works as a bartender.

    Whoever is chosen will join a supporting cast that still includes Ted Levine and Jason Gray-Stanford, who play Captain Leland Stottlemeyer and Lieutenant Randall Disher, respectively, the San Francisco cops who have to cope with Monk's dysfunctionaly behavior and unusual crime-solving techniques. According to the trades, Levine and Gray-Stanford also tried to negotiate for more money, something hard to do in an increasingly tightwad business. The producers responded by filming an episode without them or Schram. But now they're back and she's not.

    Prior to playing Monk's devoted nurse and assistant, the New York born Schram, 38--whose full name is Elizabeth--had worked extensively on Broadway. She was best known, however, for playing the weepy right fielder Evelyn Gardner in A League of Their Own who is famously told by manager Tom Hanks that there's "no crying in baseball."

    Or, for that matter, in topsy-turvy world of TV.

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