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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.

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


"Moonlighting tropers who just met on the way":

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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"
  • Destructo-Nookie: The last five minutes of the episode in which Dave and Maddie finally resolve their sexual tension.
  • 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.
  • Fashion Model: Maddie Hayes is a former model. It doesn't have much plot relevance other than her owning the detective agency as a tax write-off but now using it seriously after her accountant embezzled her savings. Though for aesthetics it gave the costumers reason to have her wear many fancy dresses and furs.
  • Filler: In season four and five, with ABC demanding new episodes on schedule and Sheppard 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.
  • 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."
  • Hot And Cold: Subverted with Maddie, who's just hot without the cold.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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"
  • 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...
  • They Fight Crime!: She's a model! He's a smart aleck! They fight crime!note 
  • 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!".
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: Played for Laughs in "Atomic Shakespeare"