Most stars of long-running series go screaming out the door when their show wraps. No more contract, no more money, no more need to talk to pesky reporters.

"I'm off the clock, so it does feel a little funny," said Tony Shalhoub on the phone Tuesday, "but we're proud of the finale, so we want people to tune in."

Adrian Monk, the character Shalhoub plays on the USA Network series Monk, sails off into the sunset tomorrow at 9 p.m., having helped turn USA, and cable TV in general, around.

Shalhoub, about as relaxed as Mr. Monk is obsessed and prickly, doesn't take a lot of credit. "Cable was in the process of changing, and more and more people were drawn to cable - writers, producers, actors, directors. In eight years, that entire landscape has sort of done a 180."

Monk premiered on USA on July 12, 2002, four months after The Shield showed up on FX. The two proved not only that there was a place for quality scripted fare on basic cable, but that basic cable, with its shorter seasons and greater freedom than the traditional networks, might actually be the place for quality scripted fare.

"The networks really have their work cut out for them," Shalhoub said. "Cable always was regarded as sort of a bastard child or something, and when nobody was looking, it just exploded."

Monk was lighter than most of the cable hours that followed, but it set the stage for Kyra Sedgwick's The Closer on TNT, which led on that network to a genre of tough female cops. On its home network USA, the characters were quirkier: Burn Notice features a fired spy who won't take no for an answer. Psych has a fake psychic.

And it helped revive the off-beat detective character that was once a TV staple, from James Rockford to Thomas Magnum to Rick and A.J. Simon. The Mentalist is one of CBS's biggest new hits. Tim Roth's Dr. Cal Lightman sees through criminal fog on Fox's Lie to Me. Geekball mathematicians work cases on CBS's Numb3rs.

In the winter of 2003, after the show's first season, Shalhoub won the Golden Globe for best comedy performance by an actor. "That happened before I realized we were really on anyone's radar," he said. "That first year, a lot of people were scratching their heads."

He won the Emmy for the category later in the year, and went on to be nominated like clockwork at the Emmys as best comic actor throughout the life of the show, winning again in 2005 and 2006.

Tomorrow night, we'll discover who murdered Mr. Monk's beloved wife, Trudy, sending him so deep into obsessive-compulsive disorder that he needed to hire a companion to help him get through the dust of life that most of us find so easy to ignore.

When Traylor Howard replaced Bitty Schram in the position in 2004 (because of "a new creative direction" or supporting-actor greediness, we may never know), the fans went nuts, but Howard proved to be a reasonable change.

"The people who were drawn to the show became like Monk a little," Shalhoub said, "and fixated on it."

Shalhoub is leaving with a smile.

"Creatively, it was the right time. You just don't want to get to a place of complacency. It's the actor's dilemma. You want some kind of stability and security, but not too much."

Next up - "not 100 percent signed and sealed" - is the Broadway revival this winter of the farce Lend Me a Tenor, directed by his old friend Stanley Tucci, who won a 2007 guest acting Emmy on Monk.

And for exasperating fussbudget Mr. Monk himself?

"I'm a believer that there's change, that there's feeling," Shalhoub said. "I would say there is some hope."

Jonathan Storm:

Television

Monk

Series concludes at 9 p.m. tomorrow on USA Network.

Contact television critic Jonathan Storm at 215-854-5618 or jstorm@phillynews.com. Read his recent blog at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/storm.