Maddie Hayes was a successful fashion model back in the day (as was her portrayer, Cybill Shepherd). But when her crooked business manager embezzled her wealth and skipped town, that fickle wheel of fame and fortune dumped her right on her rear. Upon discovering that she owned a two-bit private detective agency, she flew to L.A. to inspect the property so that she could sell it for some much-needed cash. But silver-tongued resident P.I. David Addison (played by silver-tongued Bruce Willis) managed to talk her out of selling the business and into trying out investigation work herself…and thus, a famous bickering partnership was made. Moonlighting was inspired by the 1940 film His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, and certainly reminiscent of Tracy and Hepburn, and of course good old Lucy and Desi.
Maddie was prim, proper, and organized; David liked a good time in every sense of that phrase—he liked to party, he liked to banter, he liked to flirt. While these two engaged in a variety of verbal frolic (puns, rhymes, innuendo) and beautifully sustained the notorious sexual tension that floated all around them, they were also known to solve a few crimes. Solve them in their typically bumbling way, of course—sometimes the bumbling was employed to confuse or relax the players in their investigations, and sometimes it was just a result of their mutual goofiness.
Maddie and Dave weren’t the only goofy part of the show—there were also plenty of television conventions that the writers and producers goofily subverted. The characters frequently talked to the camera, for one thing, and they also poked at the traditional suspension of disbelief that’s observed in dramatic television—they would refer to the shows’ writers or the state of the show’s Emmy dry spell, for example, right in the middle of their scenes.
In addition to Dave and Maddie’s antics, there was Ms. Agnes DiPesto, the rhyming receptionist, and in the last three years of the show, Herbert Viola, the agency’s detective apprentice—and these two provided a charming romance subplot.
Unfortunately, Moonlighting was plagued by in-fighting and production mayhem, especially in its later years, and often missed deadlines for episode completion. Repeats were thrown on the air whenever the work wasn’t done in time, and brand new shows seemed few and far between. But when a new show finally did go up, it was frequently great. There was the black and white episode in 1985, which found Dave and Maddie imagining themselves transported to a film noir-ish crime of decades past, and there was also the famous take-off on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew the following year. Mr. and Ms. Sexual Tension finally did kiss at the end of the 1985-86, and then rounded home base together at the close of the following season.
Some say that the culmination of all that checked passion took something away from the show, but by that time, there was already plenty of internal tumult to damper things…it just depends on who, or what, you feel like blaming. But for a firecracker show like this, a show so irreverent and unpredictable and loose, maybe a little melodrama off camera is necessary—maybe we shouldn’t blame a thing and just be grateful for the ride.
USA / ABC – Picturemaker / 1×100 minute episode 66×50 minute episodes / 3 March 1985 – 14 May 1989
Creator/Executive Producer: Glenn Gordon Caron / Music: Lee Holdridge, Al Jarreau / Theme sung by Al Jarreau / Producer: Jay Daniel
Cybill Shepherd as Maddie Hayes
Bruce Willis as David Addison
Allyce Beasley as Agnes DiPesto
Curtis Armstrong as Herbert Viola (1986-89)
Eva Marie Saint as Virginia Hayes (1987-88)
Robert Webber as Alex Hayes (1987-88)
Jack Blessing as MacGilicuddy (1988-89)