Moonlighting's creator/executive producer Glenn Gordon Caron once described the program as "the show that knows it's on television." The 1985-1989 ABC hit was stylish, sophisticated, and clearly aimed at pop culturally-hip grownups. It was also plagued with tension, both on and off the set.
Ex-model Maddie Hayes (played by ex-model Cybill Shepherd) learns that her accountant has embezzled from her, and surveying what's left, finds she owns the unsuccessful Blue Moon detective agency in Los Angeles. She's about to dump it when the guy who's been running it, David Addison (a then-unknown Bruce Willis) cons her into holding onto it to save his job, and proceeds to get her involved in the cases as they get involved with each other. Flighty and sincere Agnes Dipesto (Allyce Beasley) and nerdy Herbert Viola (Curtis Armstrong) work at the agency too, and often act as counterpoints for Hayes and Addison. Maddie, the ice princess, and David, the king of the smirking smart-asses, forge a partnership that is really just a platform for their burgeoning sexual chemistry. Sure, they solve mysteries, but will they hit the sheets this week?
At the end of the 1985-86 season, David and Maddie kissed in the parking garage, but it wasn't till the end of the next season that they had sex. That episode, called "The Big Bang," drew an estimated 60 million viewers, beating that week's Academy Awards broadcast. Because Shepherd was pregnant at the time, the love scenes had to be filmed standing up with the bed propped against a wall and the camera turned sideways.
People who believe that the best part of a relationship is the part before the relationship actually starts had their point proven with Moonlighting, partly because the storyline was mishandled. Besides consummating her relationship with David, a suddenly promiscuous Maddie had sex with Sam Crawford (Mark Harmon) and married a nerdy guy named Walter (Dennis Dugan) whom she met on a train; the marriage was soon annulled. She was also pregnant with David's baby, which she then miscarried. Fans were not pleased with any of this.
Then there was the widely publicized behind-the-scenes tension. In 1987, Shepherd announced that she was pregnant with twins. This created problems with the show's shooting schedule—when she was available for filming, Willis was off making movies; when he returned, she was gone for medical reasons. Willis, who set the tone for the show, was annoyed that, during Shepherd's pregnancy, he was working a lot more than she was. Furthermore, after making 1988's successful Die Hard, he wanted to make more films. For her part, Shepherd was dissatisfied with the formulaic bitchiness of her character (though she didn't seem to mind being filmed through gauze). Only 14 episodes were made that season (only 20 episodes were made in 1985-86; the normal number is 22), few of which had she and Willis together; one episode focused entirely on Agnes and Herbert's romance.
Then there were the cost overruns and delays. Some shows couldn't be promoted because they were delivered a day or two before air time, or reruns were substituted at the last minute. This caused Moonlighting to lose about 20 percent of its audience, though its ratings were still holding. One reason for the delays was the length of the scripts. The writing was so filled with retorts, references, puns, and rhymes that the scripts were 50 percent longer than those of other hour-long series. With all of this tension, soon there was a running three-way battle between Willis, Shepherd, and Caron, who was forced off the show in the final season in 1989, taking three writers with him. By the time Moonlighting was over, the ratings had sunk very low. "Can you really blame the audience?" David and Maddie were asked by a silhouetted producer in the true-to-form final episode. "A case of poison ivy is more fun than watching you two lately."
The problems were sometimes used to their advantage, and the Moonlighting team produced some inventive, if gimmicky shows. One episode ran short, so the stars "broke the fourth wall" and talked to the camera to fill in the gap. They sometimes made in-jokes about the episode to each other; they once referenced winning one out of the 16 Emmys for which they were nominated for one year. One episode was a re-enactment of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew with David as Petruchio and Maddie as Kate. Another episode was shot entirely in black-and-white. In fact, Moonlighting owed its existence to classic black-and-white films such as the 1940 film His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, with their fast-talking banter, as well as Hitchcock's guy-woos-icy-blond-with-mystery-as-backdrop genre. As such, Moonlighting broke new ground in American television, firmly establishing its place in TV and pop culture history.
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