Monkey Shines (TV show)

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This page is about the untimelily-canceled 1985 TV show. For its theme song, see Monkey Shines.

Monkey Shines is an American TV series that aired for one day in 1985 on ABC. It premiered as a 46-minute pilot at 8 A.M. and was cancelled during the first commercial break. The show starred Jonathan Coulton, who also wrote and directed the pilot episode. Since its cancellation in the first 30-minutes, the show has achieved cult status, best-known for the fact that no one knows anything about it. Numerous myths about the show circulate the web, although few have ever been substantiated.


The series features Coulton as a middle-aged bachelor named Jonathan Crouton with an enormous inheritance. The monkey is a charming but unpredictable rake, who is also a master thief. In the pilot episode he is arrested while trying to steal Crouton's collection of jewels. He charms the judge, who, much to Crouton's dismay, orders that as a condition of his probation, the monkey must become his butler. They try to live together, each of them coming to learn and appreciate the other's perspective on life.


Although the show ultimately failed, the four cast members featured in the pilot have gone on to greater success elsewhere. They were:

The most notable of these is, of course, Gaiman, who was little-known at the time and struggling to make money. He was initially hired as a cost-saving measure, as it was determined that hiring an actor would be more expensive than hiring a starving artist. However, he went on to achieve worldwide acclaim for his comics, novels, and films.

Theme Song[edit]

The show's theme song, called "Monkey Shines (Wherever You Go)", was also written by Coulton and was a short-lived hit the year the show was cancelled. There were plans to release a full album of monkey-themed songs, but these plans were abandoned after the show failed.


In early 2008, in a sub-basement of the Yale University anthropological studies department, researchers unearthed a Betacam master video recording of the pilot episode opening credits. (Unfortunately, the remainder of the episode was apparently recorded over with footage of the Yale Whiffenpoofs "1991 Holiday Jamboree Singabration") To date, this remains the only authenticated footage from "Monkey Shines". (Reclusive star Coulton has not returned repeated requests for comment.) The studio has so far made no effort to have the intro taken down from YouTube; for the time being, it can be seen here.

Episode List[edit]

It has recently become known that the show, although cancelled, actually shot and edited 12 episodes. Only the titles of the episodes have survived.

  • EPISODE #001: Hiding The Bacon
  • EPISODE #002: Gimme Some Oven
  • EPISODE #003: A Threesome, A Monkey And A Whole Lot of Ripple
  • EPISODE #004: What's That Baby Using?
  • EPISODE #005: A Very Special Monkey Shines
  • EPISODE #006: Christmas With A Simian
  • EPISODE #007: The Monkey's Pride Parade
  • EPISODE #008: Take Your Stinkin' Paws Off Me!
  • EPISODE #009: A Visit To The Old Country
  • EPISODE #010: The Very Best of Monkey Shines (Clip Show)
  • EPISODE #011: It's A Jungle In Here!!
  • EPISODE #012: There's a Holocaust in my Undies

Cult Rumours[edit]

In the late 1990's, with the emergence of the Internet, rumours of Monkey Shines began to circulate, as well as speculation as to why the show was cancelled and why its existence is consistantly denied. It has been purged to the point that the then-CEO of ABC Grant Tinker had the show's IMDB entry deleted; it was shortly after this show that he left ABC to work entirely with NBC, where he'd been working in some capacity since 1981. Upon leaving he cited creative differences, saying that he'd had another vision for the show and that it wasn't up to his quality. "First be best, then be first," [1] he famously said, a quote which was later inscribed onto a bronze cup that he kept on his desk. The only information the IMDB page contained was the title, release date, and list of four cast members. However, speculation abounds, with many of the rumours gaining the status of 'fact' until being supplanted by others a few months later.

Animal Cruelty[edit]

One assertion that was believed for a time was that the ASPCA was launching an investigation into the production of Monkey Shines and filed a complaint that was processed as the show was airing. Although the alleged report has never turned up (the main reason why this story is considered spurious), it was said to contain details on cruel housing conditions for the monkey as well as describing how the monkey was used gratuitously, being made to perform in shots when the stuffed monkey double would have sufficed.

Neil's Hand[edit]

Another longstanding theory held that while Grant Tinker was responsible for cancelling the show, it was not Tinker but Neil Gaiman who, after his rise to fame, had the show purged from the Internet and had all copies destroyed. This rumour was eventually dispelled when Gaiman himself referred to the vanished show as a "Great loss to the world of entertainment." [2]

The Curse of Bongo[edit]

Though reasons for the show's short run abound, the most sinister one concerns the casting of Coulton's monkey companion. Bongo, the chimp who enjoyed a two year run as Commander Darwin on the ABC series Lancelot Link, campaigned aggressively to get the prize simian role on Monkey Shines. Informed that he was too old for the part, Bongo strode to the soundstage and spat these now infamous words:

Wracked with wrath, I unreel this rhyme:
Cursed shall be Coulton, canceled his creation,
His pantomime punished, plucked ere its prime
The sun shall not shine on its syndication.

The Legacy of "Monkey Shines"[edit]

Yet another explanation for the quick cancellation of Monkey Shines was Grant Tinker's dislike for the direction producer George A. Romero was taking the situation comedy. There was talk of making Jonathan Coulton's character quadriplegic in the second episode. Tinker didn't think that plot twist was very funny, while Romero insisted that it made the whole "monkey butler" premise believable and poignant.

Coulton claims that it was Romero who, in a fit of anger, destroyed all the existing copies of the TV show. Romero later retooled and recast the entire show as a horror movie, "Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear."

The only cast member retained in the movie was John Pankow (who would later play Paul Reiser's cousin Ira on the sitcom "Mad About You"), who reprised his guest role from the TV series as the wacky scientist Geoffrey Fisher. Writer/director/star Coulton remained close to Romero, eventually writing and recording a tribute song, Re: Your Brains.

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