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Series / Moonlighting

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We'll walk the night, we'll fly by day
Moonlighting strangers who just met on the way...

This 1985–89 series on ABC was arguably the coiner of the term Dramedy. It starred Cybill Shepherd as Maddie Hayes and a then-relatively unknown Bruce Willis as the wisecracking David Addison.

The premise was simple. Model Madelyn Hayes found out that her accountant had embezzled her fortune and run off with it. Her only remaining assets were a series of losing businesses maintained as tax write-offs. The worst of the lot was the City Of Angels Detective Agency. Maddie, with no prospects and not the first idea of how to run a detective agency, decided to close it down to pay off quickly rising debts. Visiting the agency to deliver the pink slips introduced her to the quirky Agnes DiPesto, who answers the phone in rhyme, and the zany, wisecracking David Addison, who wasn't ready to let the agency go without a fight, even renaming it the Blue Moon Detective Agency in order to link it with Hayes' most famous role: the "Blue Moon Shampoo Girl". Despite their oil-and-water chemistry, David was able to persuade Maddie to keep Blue Moon on life support, insisting that it could be profitable if it was permitted to be; however, Maddie insisted on managing the firm directly.

But what really made the show stand out was its penchant for Breaking the Fourth Wall, where on occasion the characters would talk to the audience or otherwise show knowledge that they were characters in a television show ("Don't go much lower. They'll take us off the air."). This progressed in later seasons to become a pure No Fourth Wall series.

It's perhaps best known for being the classic example of how a show can fall apart when Unresolved Sexual Tension is resolved (in fact, outside of this wiki, Shipping Bed Death will occasionally be known as the "Moonlighting Curse",) or how a hit show collapses due to a perfect storm of behind the scenes chaos. When the fifth season was shortened due to a TV strike, ABC put the show down. It was also finally released on streaming for the very first time via Hulu in the fall of 2023, gaining it new and nostalgic viewers alike.

(Not to be confused with Moonlight (2007), a Vampire Detective Series.)

"Moonlighting tropers who just met on the way":

  • The '80s: There are plenty of signs all over the place, but the easiest way to tell is Maddie's fashion. She has very teased up hair and wears nothing but pastels, which was a trend at the time, instead of solid, dark or primary colors.
  • The Alcoholic: David's basically a functional alcoholic. Almost every time in the series where he's down in the dumps, he goes out to a bar and gets blackout drunk and most of the time, Maddie finds him in his office with a hangover the next morning.
  • Alternate Reality Episode / Deliberately Monochrome / "Rashomon"-Style: "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice". Dave and Maddie hear of an old murder case (inspired by the notorious Ruth Snyder case) in which a wife and her lover kill the husband, and then blame each other after they're caught. The latter two-thirds of the episode, shot in black-and-white, consists of Dave and Maddie dreaming of the case from the perspective of (respectively) the man and woman involved. The episode featured a short introduction by Orson Welles, in his very last job, as he died of a heart attack only a couple of days later.
  • Amateur Sleuth: Maddie. Dave actually is a licensed private investigator.
  • Animated Actors: Whenever they break the fourth wall, David and Maddie always refer to themselves as "David" and "Maddie," never Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd. At the end of one episode, they walk off the set and into the studio parking lot, but are still in character, meaning that they are fictional characters playing themselves in a show called Moonlighting.
    • Early-Installment Weirdness: In the earliest example of the show doing this, the second season premiere "Brother, Can You Spare A Blonde", Shepherd and Willis introduce themselves as "Maddie Hayes and David Addison" - but the offscreen director refers to them as "Cybill" and "Bruce". Later episodes would go to great lengths to maintain the fiction that Hayes and Addison were somehow real people (playing themselves in a fictional series).
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Several instances between not only Dave and Maddie, but also Agnes and Herbert in later seasons.
  • Bait-and-Switch Time Skip: In one episode, David is arrested. He begins marking the days on his cell wall. After he's made enough marks to indicate that he's been there for several months, a cop arrives to let him out, and comments that he's only been there about 20 minutes.
  • Beauty Is Bad: In "The Bride Of Tupperman," a man looking for a bride asks David and Maddie for help; they each pick one (David's is much hotter than Maddie's) and he winds up picking both... only for one to die in an accident. It's the hot one, and it turns out to be a BIG aversion, because the plain one is just as bad as... Tupperman himself.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Dave and Maddie took this up to eleven.note 
  • Beta Couple: Agnes and Herbert in the later seasons.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: David and Maddie kiss several times in either dreams or fantasy sequences, but the first canon kiss between them is a big damn kiss. What's great is it's so abrupt that one probably wouldn't expect it to come in the scene and it's handled exactly how you'd think: they both go into immediate denial that it happened so they don't have to face the consequences.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: David, especially towards Maddie.
  • Christmas Episode: "Twas the Episode Before Christmas"
  • Clip Show: "The Straight Poop", a No Fourth Wall episode (although David and Maddie never broke character) dealing with the production delays that were widely reported in the media at the time. In the end David and Maddie promised the viewers a new episode next week and bloopers kept interrupting the credits, implying that all available footage had been used for this episode.
  • Complexity Addiction: In the episode where David's first love returns, we find out she shot her husband in the park and left his body in the car, then called David to meet up with her and then pretends to go to send her husband away, telling David that her husband pulled a gun and she grabbed it and shot him by accident in the struggle. The problem is...if she had lured her husband to the park, but not already killed him, then confronted him with the gun and shot him with David too far away to see the details, then she actually would've gotten away with the scheme. The way she does it in the show results in David only hearing one shot, not two, and when she tries to gaslight him about it, he realizes she's playing him. It was an overly complicated way to do it, frankly, and it gets her caught in the end.
  • Convenient Miscarriage: The Dave-Maddie baby is lost through miscarriage.
  • Costumer: The Film Noir pastiche "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice"; the send-up of William Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew: "Atomic Shakespeare"
  • Day in the Limelight: Agnes DiPesto got a number of episodes concentrating on her (and Herbert when he was on) including "Here's Living with You, Kid", the only episode Maddie and David don't appear at all. (The lowest-rated episode on the original run.)
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: The series is one long one for Maddie with this trope. She is repressed, rigid, and a prude when the show starts, but as the zany shenanigans happen and she falls for David, she starts to loosen up and have fun and not be so mean.
  • Destructo-Nookie: The last five minutes of the episode in which Dave and Maddie finally resolve their sexual tension.
  • Dramedy: The show veers between black comedy, regular humor, and drama at any given time.
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: Now, granted, this wasn't unusual for the 1980s, especially for screwball comedies, but Maddie slaps David in the face a startling number of times in the series. He usually does something to earn it, but modern audiences might get uncomfortable when they notice just how many times Maddie slaps David in the face. And hard, no less. But the show treats it as if it's not anything unfair or abusive. Note that one of the only times it's not simply glossed over is during an episode where Maddie and David have been arguing about a case where the client did something in a fit of passion—namely, bashing his wife in the head and killing her—and David argues he lost control while Maddie insists that's not true and everyone can regulate their own emotions. At one point, their argument about something separate gets so heated that Maddie slaps David, and hard, enough to make him actually bleed, and she is instantly sorry and begs his forgiveness when she realizes that there is a such thing as losing your mind in the heat of the moment.
  • Dream Sequence: Maddie and David both dream about an unsolved case about a jazz singer and a trumpet player who have an illicit affair that ends with the husband dead, but yet both of them insist the other person killed him. David's dream has Maddie as the killer and Maddie's has it vice versa. It's also notable for being the first kiss between them of the series, but it's naturally a dream with no real life consequences for their relationship.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The first season has none of the fourth wall breaking that eventually became a trademark of the series.
  • End-of-Episode Silliness: The fourth season finale ends with a completely unrelated sequence of Herbert Viola singing "Woolly Bully" because the 1988 Writer's Strike meant the script was too short.
  • End-of-Series Awareness: The last episode is interrupted by news that the series has been cancelled. Suddenly the characters have to deal with their reality falling apart, as sets are being dismantled all around them.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: David's first love, played by Dana Delany, stumbles into his life again. She has been trying to leave her husband and comes across as a Damsel in Distress to David, who suspects her husband is stalking her with plans to kill her. Then we find out she was manipulating David the entire time; they meet at the park and she "sees" her husband's car across the clearing and goes over to send him away. She says he pulled a gun on her and she grabbed it and accidentally shot him, which David only sees at a distance. Then the police ask David about the fact that the corpse had two bullets in it, not one. David knows he only heard one (and so did the audience), but then she insists he misheard it. That triggers David into this trope and he finally realizes she just wanted a witness so she could kill her husband and get away with it.
  • Filler: In season four and five, with ABC demanding new episodes on schedule and Shepherd and Willis off-set due to pregnancy and injury/filming movies, the show's producers were forced to film filler episodes that focused solely on supporting cast members Allyce Beasley and Curtis Armstrong's characters Agnes and Herbert.
  • Framing Device / Separate Scene Storytelling: "Atomic Shakespeare", an Affectionate Parody of The Taming of the Shrew.
  • The Gadfly: Nothing makes David Addison happier than pestering everyone around him, but especially Maddie since she gives him grief constantly. He practically gets out of bed in the morning just to infuriate her as much as possible.
  • Gaslighting: In the episode mentioned above with David's former lover played by Dana Delany, after the cop tells David the body had two bullets in it but he only heard a single shot, she then gaslights him to try to get him to think he heard two shots. It doesn't work; the audience only hears a single shot as well, so David then realizes she set the whole thing up to get away with killing her husband.
  • Gaussian Girl:
    • When they showed Maddie in a solo close-up it was often very fuzzy in a 40's movie style. It can be very jarring when they switch between close-ups of Maddie (fuzzy) and close-ups of David (clear).
    • It should surprise no one to learn that the Director of Photography, Jerry Finnerman, also worked on Star Trek.
    • True to form, the show lampshades this in "The Straight Poop", when Maddie is ambushed in her office by an In-Universe camera crew - she vanishes momentarily only to return holding a sheet of gauze over her face.
  • Gratuitous Iambic Pentameter: Dave would randomly launch into a sort of Dave-only jivetalk, but in one episode, he had an entire conversation with a maître d'hôtel in rhyme invoking Dr. Seuss.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The full version of the hit theme song recorded by Al Jarreau: "Charming and bright, laughing and gay/I'm just a stranger/Love the blues and the grays."
  • Heroic BSoD: Poor David has a complete emotional breakdown when an elderly man approaches them and asks for an assisted suicide and he finds that he just can't go through with it, but when he goes to stop the old man, he's too late and thinks he's the one that killed the old man. He stumbles into Maddie's place a complete wreck and she comforts him just before he goes on the run, as one person at the hospital saw him and thinks he killed the old man. It's genuinely one of the saddest moments of the series.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Inverted by Dave and Maddie. Dave is deeply cynical with a pretty troubled past, but also a devout believer who prefers going to confession over psychotherapy. Maddie, who came from a more stable background and has a generally lighter outlook, is the one who's an atheist.
  • Hot And Cold: Subverted with Maddie, who's just hot without the cold.
  • I'm Dying, Please Take My MacGuffin: The plot of the pilot episode is kicked off when a thief is stabbed in an elevator while he's trying to escape a professional killer with a stolen watch. When the elevator door opens, he faces Maddie, spits the watch out in her hand, then drops dead.
  • It's a Wonderful Plot: "It's A Wonderful Job", the third season's Christmas Episode, in which Maddie wishes she'd never kept Blue Moon open and her guardian angel shows her exactly what would have happened if she hadn't. It's one of Cybill Shepherd's finest performances.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: David does actually have a heart, but it's just buried under a thousand layers of sarcasm and faux-misogyny. He basically wears a facade to protect himself from emotionally investing in anything since it could turn out poorly for him. It's the main reason Maddie refuses to accept the romance—he hates being vulnerable or nice around her. The best example that David is a good person, but just pretends to be a misogynistic lech, is when an old man comes to them asking for an assisted suicide and while David passionately defends the old man's reasoning to Maddie, he ultimately finds that he can't go through with killing the old man. After the old man ends up dead anyway, David goes to Maddie's place and has a tearful breakdown about it.
    • You can also argue this for Maddie. She is repressed and often very moody and rude to her coworkers and she strings David along for a while during the later parts of season two and three before they finally have sex. She also flies right into denial after they consummate their relationship and David gets incredibly frustrated that she is fine sleeping with him in secret, but still acting like they're not together everywhere else. However, it is very apparent she tries to do the right thing most of the time, but her hot temper with David usually gets in the way.
  • Karma Houdini: Maddie's accountant Ron Sawyer kicked off the events of the series by embezzling money from his clients and fleeing to South America, becoming a rich casino owner. By the end of the episode "Money Talks... Maddie Walks" she has confronted him and found some closure but he is still a rich casino owner who got away with robbing his clients.
    • To be brutally honest, David and Maddie count as well. There are several cases where their involvement meant that they did something illegal like breaking and entering, but worse still are episodes where a client asked them to do something, they didn't do it or they didn't do it right, and the client ends up dead. And since this is a dramedy, the show never really goes out of its way to remind you they got someone killed since it would get too dark. But anyone who's seen up to season three knows there are several people who wouldn't be dead had David and Maddie not been involved in their case.
  • Leitmotif: The Main theme of the show popped up rearranged according to the mood of different scenes, a technique used in old-time Hollywood movies.
  • Locked in a Room: After Maddie's miscarriage she and Dave are extremely awkward and distant to each other until they get trapped in an elevator overnight. They spend the night consoling each other and by the morning walk out with their arms around each other singing Gospel songs. Once they're gone, the audience learn Agnes and MacGillicudy sabotaged the elevator to force the duo to talk to each other.
  • Love Hurts: Dave, who admitted his feelings and denied them in turns (usually more than Maddie did; she could distract herself with her numerous suitors).
  • Love Makes You Crazy: The entire Blue Moon crew at one point or another.
  • Love Triangle: Towards the end of the show's run, the writers decided to introduce a love triangle plotline to try and recapture the romantic tension between David and Maddie via having Maddie marry a stranger on a train.
    • To a lesser extent the rivalry between Herbert Viola and MacGillicudy for Agnes. In the end, Agnes marries Herbert and poor MacGillicudy got a bridge dropped on him because the series was ending.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: David and Maddie, for the 80's anyway. Played with, since they had very traditionally gendered attributes (David is more of a clown, Maddie is mature; he's strong and adventurous while she's delicate and down-to-earth), but also a basic personality more akin to the other gender, shown specially on the Season 3 finale: while after sleeping together Maddie wants to pretend nothing happened and starts evading David, he wants to shout to the wind they're in love. One would have expected the opposite situation, given Maddie is more of a traditionally feminine prude and he's more of The Casanova.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: "Somewhere Under the Rainbow" deals with a woman claiming to be a leprechaun. Though David digs up a rational explanation for the existence of her pot of gold, the two somehow end up with it by "capturing" her just after the bad guy seizes it, suggesting she may have had magical properties after all.
  • Mystery of the Week: Of course, being a Spiritual Successor to Remington Steele. Though the mystery got increasingly irrelevant once the romantic and personal plots of the characters started getting more convoluted (mostly during Season 3), and by then the show tended to change its format rather randomly.
  • No Fourth Wall: All the time, usually from Dave. As this article notes, Moonlighting laughed at the fourth wall.
    Guard: You can't burst in here like that!
    Dave: Yeah? Tell it to the writers.
  • Noir Episode: "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice". The episode was filmed in black and white to properly capture the feel of the genre.
  • No OSHA Compliance: In one episode Agnes ends up in an industrial laundry with large bags of laundry swinging around suspended from the ceiling. At some point she ends up inside on of the bags and is taken on a Conveyor Belt o' Doom ride where she gets lowered into first a tank of cold soapy water then almost lowered into a tank of boiling water when she is saved by her Temporary Love Interest who Cut the Juice after the villain throws the Big Red Button out of reach.
  • Noodle Incident / Running Gag: The mysterious Anselmo case, often mentioned (many times by David as an excuse for not being where he was supposed to be), but never explained. The final episode ended with the following message: "Blue Moon Investigations ceased operations on May 14, 1989. The Anselmo Case was never solved… and remains a mystery to this day."
  • Pie in the Face: The episode "The Murder's in the Mail" includes a pie fight in which both Maddie and Dave are creamed at the end. According to Cybill Shepherd's autobiography, the pieings were her own idea.
  • Plot Hole: The pilot has one. The plot is centered around a watch that reveals the wheareabouts of some stolen Nazi diamonds, so there are two creepy Mooks after it. Maddie accidentally acquires the watch when another party who wanted it is running from one of the Mooks, but gets stabbed and shoves it onto her wrist before he drops dead. The Mooks track Maddie and David back to her place and tie them up, demanding the watch. Maddie says she gave it to the police, but it turns out David switched the watch out with his own so he could find out why it was being looked for. The plothole is that after the Mooks do all their scary threatening, they say they will leave and find out if the cops do indeed have the watch. After they're gone, David reveals he's been wearing it the entire time. The plot hole? The Mooks tied them up. That means they would've seen the watch on David's wrist! They seem to already know what it looks like, so it's a Failed a Spot Check of titanic proportions. What's also confusing is the Mooks are a single episode only adversary and don't come back after they confront the police about the watch, so it's kind of two plotholes in one.
  • Pretty in Mink: Maddie, being a former model, a handful of fur coats in her wardrobe, like a lynx coat, a crystal fox coat, and a white fox coat.
  • Previously on…: Spoofed in season three, when (due to production delays) the third season suffered major gaps between new episodes, resulting in the show having to run a disclaimer at the start of one episode to remind viewers of what happened in previous episodes.
  • Promoted to Opening Credits: Curtis Armstrong was added to the opening credits in season 4 after recurring in the previous season.
  • Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: The show pioneered the use of overlapping dialogue, specifically when David and Maddie argue at each other without stopping to listen to the other one, or take a breath.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Agnes, if her answering machine messages are any implication. Dave has proven he can do this as well. When Maddie asked how he's able to do so, he replied, "Gotta read a lot of Dr. Seuss".
  • Riddle for the Ages: What actually was the Anselmo case, anyway?
  • School Play: "Atomic Shakespeare"
  • Self-Deprecation: One opening scene took a jab at Bruce Willis's ill-fated singing career when Dave attempts to sing the show's theme song. Maddie stops him abruptly claiming that every dog in America was now howling.
    • The show took frequent jabs at itself for the lengthy delays between episodes. The Previously on… segments often mentioned how long it had been since viewers last saw a new episode.
    • The Framing Device for "Atomic Shakespeare" also took a massive swing at the show's own premise.
      Son: It's Moonlighting! You know, the show about the two detectives: a man and a woman.
      Mother: And they argue a lot and all they really wanna do is sleep together?
      Son: Yeah!
      Mother: Sounds like trash to me.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: It immediately follows the most intense of the Dave-Maddy snarkfest and precedes definitively answering yes to Will They or Won't They?.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: An episode focused on an unborn child being prepared for birth by his guardian angel. When asked why he should ever leave the womb for the big scary outside, the angel shows him a completely straight "Wonderful World" montage of all the good things to expect in life.
  • Speak in Unison: A David/Maddie classic, and excellent demonstration of how similar they are under the surface. In one notable exchange:
    Agnes: Ms. Hayes? Mr. Addison? There's a man here to see you.
    Dave and Maddie: Not now, we're fighting!!
  • Stock Clock Hand Hang: The pilot episode has Maddie sliding off the clock hand and accidentally kicking the panel around 9 o'clock (containing some stolen diamonds) with her high heel.
  • Theme Tune: "Moonlighting" by Al Jarreau which was nominated for both Emmy and Grammy awards.
    Some walk by night
    Some fly by day
    Nothing can change them
    Set and sure of the way...
  • Thriller on the Express: In "Next Stop Murder", Agnes wins a place on a train journey hosted by a famous murder mystery writer. David and Maddie (who got struck on board while dropping Agnes off) get roped in to investigate when the writer is found dead.
  • Unkempt Beauty: Drop her in a pool, cover her with dirt, or have her cry herself to sleep — none of it will stop Maddie Hayes from being the most gorgeous human being in any given room.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Dave and Maddie for the first three seasons until a round of Destructo-Nookie resolved the situation (at least temporarily).
  • Will They or Won't They?: Dave and Maddie are possibly the Trope Codifier. Despite not waiting as many seasons as other couples that fall into this trope, they did this in droves, to the point where Willis and Shepherd appeared on the cover of the February 1987 issue of US Magazine, with the headline reading, "DO IT ALREADY!".
  • Wunza Plot: She's a model! He's a smart aleck! They fight crime!note 
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: Played for Laughs in "Atomic Shakespeare"