Kramer almost played Monk — and Monk almost played Kramer!
Tony Shalhoub and Michael Richards nearly swapped their iconic TV roles.
Television history would have looked mighty different had casting gone a different way. By strange coincidence, both Seinfeld and Monk considered the same two actors for iconic roles. Let's start with the sitcom.
Seinfeld auditioned several fascinating alternates for Jerry's friends. Danny DeVito and Steve Buscemi were reportedly floated for the role of George Costanza. While it is difficult to imagine anyone else as Kramer, a different quirky actor was up for the job. (Seinfeld co-creator eventually settled on his old pal Michael Richards, as the two had worked together as cast members on the late-night sketch comedy series Fridays.)
"Tony Shalhoub was initially considered for the part," the Sacramento Bee wrote in 2004. At the time, at the close of the Eighties, Shalhoub had just a few stereotypical roles to his credit — a terrorist on The Equalizer, a doctor on Spencer: For Hire. No project had adequately tapped into his comedic potential. Playing wacky, stumbling, bumbling neighbor Cosmo Kramer certainly would have set his career off on a different track. But, really, despite losing the role, he ended up in a rather similar place. Shortly thereafter, he won a key recurring spot on Wings, playing the Italian taxi driver Antonio Scarpacci. While not as full-on slapstick as Kramer, this character at least showcased Shalhoub's comedic chops.
While Wings was a breakthrough role for Shalhoub, it wasn't quite a lead role. The spotlight would not fully shine on Shalhoub alone until he took the title role of Monk in 2002.
But here's where it gets interesting — Kramer, a.k.a. Michael Richards, was the original choice to play Monk!
Monk went through a lengthy and belabored genesis. The detective series was original conceived at ABC, years before it ended up on cable and the USA Network. The network targeted Richards to play a more bumbling detective, along the lines of Inspector Clouseau. It was reported that Richards "turned down the role."
What's weird about all this is Richard did essentially play this role — on his own forgotten series, The Michael Richard Show.
The Michael Richard Show ran for two months on NBC in the fall of 2000. The mystery-sitcom centered around Vic Nardozza, a quirky private eye in Los Angeles. It has since been dubbed the first example of the dreaded "Seinfeld curse" — one of many flops from the cast, as they struggled to break free of their pigeonholes. Richard and the other creators (largely Seinfeld writing alums) envisioned Nardozza as a "Columbo type" — an eerily similar description of Monk's origins.
That makes it a little hard to believe that Richards would turn down Monk, considering he crafted a similar role for himself that same year.
David Hoberman, co-creator and executive producer or Monk, said in the book Monk: The Official Episode Guide, "I can't express how depressing those [early Monk] casting sessions were. We had people coming in doing tics and Tourette's syndrome, and you name it. Everybody felt that they needed to embody an extreme physicality for Monk. But that would have gotten old and annoying very quick."