Country of origin United States
First episode date 3 March 1985
Created by Glenn Gordon Caron
Original language(s) English
Theme song Moonlighting
|Starring Cybill ShepherdBruce WillisAllyce BeasleyCurtis Armstrong (1986–89)|
Theme music composer Lee HoldridgeAl Jarreau
Opening theme "Moonlighting"Performed by Al Jarreau
Awards Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Cast Bruce Willis, Cybill Shepherd, Allyce Beasley, Curtis Armstrong
Moonlighting 1985 1989 opening and closing theme
Moonlighting is an American comedy-drama mystery television series that aired on ABC from March 3, 1985, to May 14, 1989. The network aired a total of 66 episodes (67 in syndication as the pilot is split into two episodes). Starring Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis as private detectives, the show was a mixture of drama, comedy, and romance, and was considered to be one of the first successful and influential examples of comedy-drama, or "dramedy", emerging as a distinct television genre.
- Moonlighting 1985 1989 opening and closing theme
- Cast and characters
- Guest stars
- Format innovations
- Breaking the fourth wall
- Ratings and decline
- DVD releases
The show's theme song was performed by jazz singer Al Jarreau and became a hit. The show is also credited with making Willis a star, while re-launching the career of Shepherd after a string of lackluster projects. In 1997, the episode "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice" was ranked #34 on (the 1997) TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time. In 2007, the series was listed as one of Time magazine's "100 Best TV Shows of All-Time". The relationship between David and Maddie was included in TV Guide's list of the best TV couples of all time.
The series revolved around cases investigated by the Blue Moon Detective Agency and its two partners, Madelyn "Maddie" Hayes (Shepherd) and David Addison Jr. (Willis). The show, with a mix of mystery, sharp dialogue, and sexual tension between its two leads, introduced Bruce Willis to the world and brought Cybill Shepherd back into the spotlight after a nearly decade-long absence. The characters were introduced in a two-hour pilot episode that preceded the series proper.
The show's storyline begins with the reversal of fortune of Maddie Hayes, a former model who finds herself bankrupt after her accountant embezzles all of her liquid assets. She is left saddled with several failing businesses formerly maintained as tax write-offs, one of which is the City of Angels Detective Agency, helmed by the carefree David Addison. Between the pilot and the first one-hour episode, David persuades Maddie to keep the business and run it as a partnership. The agency is renamed Blue Moon Investigations because Maddie was most famous for being the spokesmodel for the (fictitious) Blue Moon Shampoo Company. In many episodes, she was recognized as "the Blue Moon shampoo girl," if not by name.
In his audio commentary for the Season 3 DVD, creator Glenn Gordon Caron says that the inspiration for the series was a production of The Taming of the Shrew he saw in Central Park starring Meryl Streep and Raúl Juliá. The show would parody this Shakespeare play in the Season 3 episode Atomic Shakespeare.
Cast and characters
In addition to the primary cast, several notable actors appeared either as guest stars or made cameos on the series.
The series was created by Glenn Gordon Caron, one of the producers of the similar Remington Steele, when he was approached by ABC executive Lewis H. Erlicht. Erlicht liked the work Caron had done on Taxi and Remington Steele and wanted a detective show featuring a major star in a leading role who would appeal to an upscale audience. Caron wanted to do a romance, to which Erlicht replied “I don’t care what it is, as long as it’s a detective show.”
The tone of the series was left up to the production staff, resulting in Moonlighting becoming one of the first successful TV "dramedies"— dramatic-comedy, a style of television and movies in which there is an equal or nearly equal balance of humor and serious content. The show made use of fast-paced, overlapping dialogue between the two leads, harkening back to classic screwball comedy films such as those of director Howard Hawks. These innovative qualities resulted in its being nominated, for the first time in the 50-year history of the Directors Guild of America, for both Best Drama and Best Comedy in the same year (both in 1985 and 1986).
Breaking the fourth wall
Moonlighting frequently broke the fourth wall, with many episodes including dialogue that made direct references to the scriptwriters, the audience, the network, or the series itself. (For example, when a woman is trying to commit suicide by jumping into a bathtub with a television playing The Three Stooges, Addison says, "The Stooges? Are you nuts? The network'll never let you do that, lady!") Variations of this technique had been used previously in television programs such as The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (a sketch comedy series) and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (a sitcom which sometimes opened with the main character addressing an interior monologue to the audience).
Unlike these earlier shows, Moonlighting sometimes broke the fourth wall in much more involved and complex ways. Cold opens sometimes featured Shepherd and Willis (in character as Maddie Hayes and David Addison), other actors, viewers, or TV critics directly addressing the audience about the show's production itself. These cold opens were originally born out of desperation as a way to fill air time, since the dialogue on the show was spoken so quickly and the producers needed something to fill the entire hour. In some other episodes, the plot suddenly changed into extended sequences that involved crew dismantling or changing the sets, characters wandering off the set into other parts of the studio, production crew stepping into the scene as a deus ex machina (e.g. a propmaster suddenly walking into the scene and taking the villain's gun away), or guest actors dropping character and referring to each other by their real names. However, other than in stand-alone openings, the main actors never stepped out of character during the episodes.
The series also embraced fantasy; in season two, the show aired "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice," an episode that featured two lengthy and elaborately produced black-and-white dream sequences. The episode was about a murder that had occurred in the 1940s that David and Maddie are told about by the inheritor of the then-famous nightclub where the murder had taken place. Maddie and David feud over the details of the crime, which involve a man and woman who were executed for the death of the woman's husband, with both claiming the other was the real killer and had implicated the other out of spite. After a fourteen-minute set-up sequence, the show switched to two black-and-white dream sequences where the two dreamed their version of how the murder took place. The two sequences were filmed on different black-and-white film stock so that they would look like true period films. (On the commentary on the DVD, it is said that they used black-and-white film instead of color so that the network would not later use the color film.)
ABC was still displeased with the episode, however, and fearing fan reaction to a popular show being shown in black and white, demanded a disclaimer be made at the beginning of the episode to inform viewers of the "black-and-white" gimmick for the episode. The show's producers hired Orson Welles to deliver the introduction, which aired a few days after the actor's death.
Another famous fantasy episode was "Atomic Shakespeare," which featured the cast performing a variation of The Taming of the Shrew, with David in the role of Petruchio, Maddie as Katharina, Agnes as Bianca, and Herbert as Lucentio. The episode featured Shakespearean costumes and mixed the Shakespearean plot with humorous anachronisms and variations on Moonlighting's own running gags, including David riding in as Petruchio on a horse with BMW logos embroidered on its saddle blanket and repeatedly launching into the wrong Shakespearean soliloquy until the rest of the cast corrects him on which play he is in, and the Blue Moon office itself serving as Petruchio and Katharina's estate. The characters perform the Shakespearean dialogue in iambic pentameter, and the episode was wrapped by segments featuring a boy imagining the episode's proceedings because his mother forced him to do his Shakespeare homework instead of watching Moonlighting, which the mother described as "That show about two detectives? A man and a woman? And they argue all the time and all they really want to do is sleep together? Sounds like trash to me!"
In addition, the show mocked its connection to the popular Remington Steele series by having Pierce Brosnan hop networks and make a cameo appearance as Steele in one episode. The show also acknowledged Hart to Hart as an influence: in the episode "It's a Wonderful Job," based on the film It's a Wonderful Life, Maddie's guardian angel showed her an alternate reality in which Jonathan and Jennifer Hart from the earlier series had taken over Blue Moon's lease. Although Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers did not appear in the episode, Lionel Stander reprised his role as the Harts' assistant Max.
Both Shepherd and Willis sang musical numbers over the course of the show. In "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice," Shepherd performed both "Blue Moon" in Maddie's dream sequence and The Soft Winds' "I Told Ya I Love Ya, Now Get Out!" in David's, while in "Atomic Shakespeare," Willis sings The Young Rascals' "Good Lovin'". Willis also frequently broke into shorter snippets of Motown songs. "Good Lovin'," "Blue Moon", and "I Told Ya I Love Ya..." appeared on the Moonlighting Soundtrack.
Moonlighting was unusual at the time for being one of only three shows, due to FCC regulations, to be owned and produced in-house by a broadcast network (NBC’s Punky Brewster and CBS’s Twilight Zone revival being the others). This allowed the network greater flexibility in budgeting the show since the “back-end potential” for profits was so much greater with not having to pay a licensing fee to the film studio or independent production company. As a result, ABC gave Caron a lot of control over production. Caron, however, was a perfectionist and viewed Moonlighting as the filming of a one-hour movie every week, using techniques usually reserved for big budget films. To capture the cinematic feel of the films of the 1940s, for example, he would prohibit the use of a zoom lens, opting instead to use more time-consuming moving master cameras that move back and forth on a track and require constant resetting of the lights. Diffusion disks were used to soften Cybill Shepherd’s features, and a special lens needed to be employed so that in a two shot, Maddie would be diffused and David would not.
Much of the credit for this look and feel can be attributed to the hiring of Gerald Finnerman as the director of photography. Finnerman, a second-generation cinematographer, was brought up in the old school of cinematography by working with his father, Perry Finnerman, and later as a camera operator for Harry Stradling on such films as My Fair Lady and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Finnerman would then go on to be the director of photography for the TV series Star Trek and was responsible for creating much of the mood in that show by employing black-and-white lighting techniques for color film. This background meshed perfectly with what Caron was trying to portray in the series and earned him an Emmy nomination for the black-and-white episode “The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice”. Hired for the show after the pilot was shot, Finnerman would become involved in virtually every aspect of the show including the scripts, lighting, set design, and even directing some of the later episodes.
Typical scripts for an average one-hour television show run 60 pages, but those for Moonlighting were nearly twice as long due to the fast talking overlapping dialogue of the main characters. While the average television show would take seven days to shoot, Moonlighting would take from 12–14 days to complete with episodes and dialogue frequently being written by Caron the same day they were shot. This attention to detail contributed to Moonlighting as being one of the most expensive television shows being produced at the time. Where most episodes would cost around $900,000 to produce, Moonlighting was running nearly double that. The season 2 episode "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice" could have been filmed much more cheaply by being shot in color and then decolorized, but Caron insisted on the authentic look of black-and-white film which took 16 days to shoot, bringing the cost of the episode to the then-unheard-of sum of two million dollars. Caron often defended his filming practices in the name of giving the audience what they wanted and producing a quality product. He used the following analogy to illustrate the point, "The thinking in television which makes no damn sense to me, is that a half hour of television costs X, and an hour of television costs Y, no matter what that television is, it strikes me as an insane hypothesis. The parallel is, you're hungry, whether you go to McDonald's or whether you go to '21,' it should cost the same; they both fill your stomach. It's nonsense."
All of this attention to detail resulted in production delays and the show became notorious for airing reruns when new episodes had not been completed in time for broadcast. The first two seasons of Moonlighting focused almost entirely on the two main characters, having them appear in almost every scene. According to Cybill Shepherd, "I left home at 5 A.M. each day. Moonlighting scripts were close to a hundred pages, half again as long as the average one-hour television series. Almost from the moment the cameras started rolling we were behind schedule, sometimes completing as few as sixteen episodes per season, and never achieving the standard twenty-two."
Glenn Gordon Caron partly blamed Cybill Shepherd for production problems:
"I don't mean to paint her as the sole bearer of responsibility for the discord. But if I said to you, 'You're going to have a great new job – it's a life-defining job – but you're going to work 14–15 hours a day, and by the way, you'll never know what hours those are – sometimes you'll start at noon and work until 3 a.m., other times you won't know when or where it will be [until the last minute].' It can be very difficult, it requires an amazing amount of stamina. It's easier to do if you're still reaching for the stars, it's a lot tougher if you're already a star, if you've already reached the top of the mountain."
Producer Jay Daniel talked about the difficulties between the costars in the later seasons:
"Well, I was the guy that more often than not would be the one that would go into the lions den when they were having disagreements. I'd sort of be the referee, try to resolve it so that we could get back to work. So there was that side of it. Everybody knows there was friction between the two of them on the stage. In the beginning, Bruce was just a guy’s guy. Let's just say he evolved. Over the years, he went from being the crew's best friend and just being grateful for the work and all of that to realizing that he was going to be a movie star and wanting to move on. Part of that was because of his strained relationship with Cybill. That sometimes made the set a very unpleasant place to be. Cybill – I got along with her very well at times, other times I’d have to be the one who said you have to come out of the trailer and go to work. In fairness to her, she was in the makeup chair at six thirty in the morning with pages of dialogue she hadn’t seen before, she'd work very long hours, and then be back in the makeup chair at six thirty the next morning."
The delays became so great that even ABC mocked the lateness with an ad campaign showing network executives waiting impatiently for the arrival of new episodes at ABC's corporate headquarters. One episode featured television critic Jeff Jarvis in an introduction, sarcastically reminding viewers what was going on with the show's plot since it had been so long since the last new episode.
The season three clipshow episode "The Straight Poop" also made fun of the episode delays by having Hollywood columnist Rona Barrett drop by the Blue Moon Detective Agency to figure out why David and Maddie couldn't get along, as the premise to set up the clips from earlier episodes. In the end, Rona convinced them to apologize to one another, and promised the viewers that there would be an all-new episode the following week.
Shepherd's real-life pregnancy and a skiing accident in which Willis broke his clavicle further contributed to production delays. To counter these problems, with the fourth season, the writers began to focus more of the show's attention on supporting cast members Agnes and Herbert, writing several episodes focusing on the two so that the show would be able to have episodes ready for airing.
Ratings and decline
Moonlighting was a hit with TV audiences as well as with critics and industry insiders, garnering 16 Emmy nominations in just its second season. That season saw Moonlighting tie for 20th place in the Nielsen ratings. In season three the show peaked in 9th place, then dropped off slightly in a tie for 12th in its 4th season.
The show's ratings decline is popularly attributed to Episode #14 of Season 3, "I Am Curious… Maddie", which infamously had Maddie and David consummate their relationship after two and a half years of romantic tension. In commentaries on the third season DVD set, however, Caron stated that he did not feel the event led to the show's decline, but that a number of other factors led to the series' decline and eventual cancellation.
Much of that was attributed to the fact that in the fourth season Willis and Shepherd had little screen time together. Jay Daniel explained that, "we had to do episodes where there was no Cybill. She was off having twins. Her scenes were shot early, early on and then you had to integrate them with scenes shot weeks later. You were locked into what those scenes were because of what had already been shot with Cybill." Bruce Willis was also making Die Hard during this period. When that movie became a box office success, a movie career beckoned and his desire to continue in a weekly series waned. In a series that depended on the chemistry between the two main stars, not having them together for the bulk of the fourth season hurt the ratings.
The series lost Glenn Gordon Caron as executive producer and head writer when he left the show over difficulties with the production: "I don't think Cybill understood how hard the workload was going to be. A situation arose with her, and at a certain point it became clear that… umm… suffice it to say I wasn't there for the last year and a half." Shepherd recalled Caron left the show stating that it was either him or her, and he didn't think the network would choose him.
When Maddie returned to Los Angeles near the end of the fourth season, the writers tried to recreate the tension between Maddie and David by having Maddie spontaneously marry a man named Walter Bishop (Dennis Dugan) within a few hours of meeting him on the train back to LA. When Shepherd read the script she strongly voiced her objection that her character would not do such a thing, but was overruled. The move failed to rekindle the sparks between the main characters or capture the interest of the audience, which led to an even further ratings decline.
Neither of the principal stars was vested in the final season of the show. Bruce Willis, fresh from his Die Hard success, wanted to make more movies. Cybill Shepherd, having just given birth to twins, had grown tired of the long, grueling production days and was ready for the series to end.
In the 1988–89 TV season, the show's ratings declined precipitously. The March to August 1988 Writers Guild of America strike cancelled plans for the 1987–88 Moonlighting season finale to be filmed and aired on TV in 3-D in a deal with Coca-Cola, and delayed the broadcast of the first new episode until December 6, 1988. The series went on hiatus during the February sweeps, and returned on Sunday evenings in the spring of 1989. Six more episodes aired before the series was cancelled in May of that year.
In keeping with the show's tradition of "breaking the fourth wall", the last episode (fittingly titled "Lunar Eclipse") featured Maddie and David returning from Agnes and Herbert's wedding to find the Blue Moon sets being taken away, and an ABC network executive waiting to tell them that the show has been cancelled. The characters then race through the studio lot in search of a television producer named Cy, as the world of Moonlighting is slowly dismantled.
When they find Cy, he is screening a print of "In 'n Outlaws", the episode of Moonlighting that had aired two weeks earlier. Once informed of the problem, Cy lectures David and Maddie on the perils of losing their audience and the fragility of romance. Cy was played by Dennis Dugan, the same actor who had played Walter Bishop in Maddie's marriage storyline — however, Dugan was also the director of the episode, so his acting credit was listed as "Walter Bishop". David and Maddie then admit defeat that the show is ending but not before Maddie tells David 'I can't imagine not seeing you again tomorrow' and then we are treated to a clip montage of previous moonlighting episodes and then it ends with a message stating that "Blue Moon Investigations ceased operations on May 14, 1989. The Anselmo Case was never solved… and remains a mystery to this day."
As the show had not produced enough episodes to gain a syndication contract, following its original run it was not widely seen until its DVD release, although it occasionally appeared on cable channels (including Lifetime and Bravo in the US, and W in Canada) in the 1990s and 2000s. Bravo airings often featured new claymation promos with Maddie and David using original audio clips from the series. The "Atomic Shakespeare" episode aired on Nick at Nite in 2005 as part of the network's 20th anniversary celebration. The 1985 ABC Tuesday night line-up was honored with reruns of Who's the Boss?, Growing Pains and Moonlighting, although "Atomic Shakespeare" was from the '86-'87 season. BBC Two initially carried the show in the UK from 1986 to 1989, and it ran on Sky 1 circa 1991. It has been shown on CBS Drama since November 2009. Between 2005 and 2008 the show was frequently shown on the now defunct channel ABC1.
In Asia, Moonlighting began airing season 1 and 2 on Rewind Network's HITS channel starting on December 2013.
Anchor Bay Entertainment released the original pilot episode on DVD in region 1. Lions Gate Entertainment later released the entire series of Moonlighting, including the pilot episode, on DVD in Region 1. Each release contains bonus features including commentaries and featurettes. As of 2013, these releases have been discontinued and are out of print.
In Regions 2 & 4, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has released all 5 seasons on DVD, although the Region 4 sets are now out of print. A complete series box set was also released in Region 2 on September 14, 2009.
Riptide, a once-popular detective series whose ratings had declined to the point of cancellation after airing against Moonlighting in the 1985–86 television season, aired an episode (the show's second-last) in 1986, in which that show's detectives acted as mentors to "Rosalind Grant" (Annette McCarthy) and "Cary Russell" (Richard Greene), the bickering stars of a television detective show pilot. Although their names were an allusion to Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, the characters were written as parodies of Shepherd and Willis, even adopting some of their real mannerisms and clothing styles, and their dialogue contained many nods, both obvious and subtle, to Moonlighting's writing style.
The episode was explicitly promoted by NBC (Riptide's network) as a Moonlighting parody, and was publicized as such widely enough that Riptide's producers felt obliged to clarify that they liked Moonlighting and intended the episode as a homage.
The sixth-season premiere of Alvin and the Chipmunks was an entire spoof of Moonlighting entitled "Dreamlighting". In this episode, Alvin and Brittany parodied the main characters as "David Alvinson" and "Bratty Hayes".