Moonlighting: An Unusual Romance

We are in the midst of our series about crime-solving duos. We looked at husband and wife teams on MacMillan and Wife and on Hart to Hart. Today we tackle the wise-cracking David Addison (Bruce Willis) and the sophisticated Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) on Moonlighting.

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Madelyn Hayes was a successful model who lost all her savings when her investment advisor left the country with her money. Her only assets are her house and a run-down detective agency she used for tax write-offs. Detective Addison convinces her to try something new and run the agency. Addison and Hayes agree on almost nothing except that they both think it’s important to find missing people, foil murder attempts, and spy on unfaithful spouses. Addison is a bit of a ladies’ man, carefree, and easy going; Maddie is not. David is a tap beer in a red cup and Maddie is an exotic champagne in a crystal goblet.

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Maddie renames the agency Blue Moon, which was the name of the shampoo she was best known for promoting.

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Rounding out the cast of characters are Agnes DiPesto (Allyce Beasley), the receptionist/secretary, and Herbert Viola (Curtis Armstrong), another gumshoe. These were both quirky characters but lovable in their own way. Agnes usually answered the phone in rhyme. Herb is well meaning but not the brightest light bulb. Later in the series, these two explore their own romance.

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The role of Maddie Hayes was written for Shepherd.

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Addison’s role was harder to fill. Robert Blake and Rick Dees were both considered for the role. Willis was one of the last people to audition for the spot; he was chosen from about 3000 actors.

Jazz great Al Jarreau cowrote and sang the theme song. The lyrics to the show are:

Some walk by night
Some fly by day
Nothing could change you
Set and sure of the way

There is the sun and moon
They sing their own sweet tune
Watch them when dawn is due
Sharing one space

We’ll walk by night
We’ll fly by day
Moonlighting strangers 
Who just met on the way

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Beginning in 1985 and running until 1989 on ABC in the Tuesday night time slot, the series resulted in only 66 episodes. The show was a new genre. It was a mystery and had drama and romance but was also intentionally funny. It can best be compared to some of the screwball comedies from the 1930s and ‘40s such as It Happened One Night, The Philadelphia Story, or His Girl Friday. The show was also recognized for creating some unusual plots and filming techniques. For example, in one episode, David and Maddie are told about a murder that occurred in a 1940s nightclub. Black and white dream sequences show us how each of them imagined the murder happening. The episode, “Atomic Shakespeare” is an adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, performed in iambic pentameter. The show begins with a young boy being reprimanded by his mother for watching Moonlighting instead of studying for his Shakespeare test.

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Filming the shows was always expensive due to the specialized lighting and cinematic effects. The estimated cost per episode was a whopping $1.6 million. A typical script for a one-hour length show is about 60 pages. Scripts for Moonlighting tended to be twice as long. An episode from Moonlighting took 14 days rather than the average seven to film. The attention to detail and quality took its toll. Production delays occurred often, and shows weren’t completed in time for airing, resulting in reruns when only 16 of the required 22 episodes were finished each year.

It didn’t help that Shepherd became pregnant during the run of the show, and Willis broke his clavicle skiing. Both of these situations added to the delays. It got so ridiculous that it became a running gag. ABC had an ad campaign showing network executives impatiently waiting for the most recent Moonlighting tape. Television Jeff Jarvis narrated an introduction to one show, telling viewers he wanted to summarize what had been happening on the show that year because it had been so long since a new show had aired.

Despite the problems with filming, both viewers and critics loved the show. Moonlighting received 41 Emmy nominations with 7 wins including one for Willis for Lead Actor in a Drama. In season three, ratings went from 20th place to 9th place.

During the fourth season, Maddie and David finally get together, ending the sexual tension and back-and-forth attraction between the two characters. The ratings then began to decline a bit, but the show still came in at 12th place.

The reason for the ratings drop in the final season, as well as the eventual cancellation of the show, was usually placed on the two stars and their relationship. It’s amazing how much chemistry the characters had because they did not get along well from the start, and it only got worse as the series continued. By the fourth season, they were rarely on the set at the same time. Willis was also developing into a movie star, and after Die Hard, he didn’t want to continue dealing with all the negative issues the show produced.

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The finale includes Agnes and Herb’s wedding and a weird plot where David and Maddie find the Blue Moon sets being dismantled and learn that the show has been cancelled. The two stars try to figure out what is happening, and the show ends with a message that Blue Moon ceased doing business in 1989.

The limited number of shows made it unpopular for syndication. The series was released on DVD, but they are hard to find and very expensive. On ebay.com, the complete series was going for $250. Amazon listed season three for $99 and season four for $149.

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The show was an interesting concept. With actors breaking the fourth wall to talk directly to the audience, the interesting plot themes, cinematic lighting and filming techniques, the quick and witty banter between David and Maddie, and the cultural and literature references, it’s not like any show that has aired before or since. It’s always hard when you have two characters attracted to each other when trying to decide if they get together or not. If they do, the audience is often disenchanted with the show; if they don’t, it can drag on too long, so it’s a hard timing to get right. It’s too bad the DVDs are so pricey, especially since syndication was not an option for the show. The characters hit it off perfectly even if the stars did not. There are a lot of factors that made this show special.

MacMillan and Wife: The Show That Bridged the Generation Gap

Before launching into this week’s topic, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who has been following and reading my blog. This week begins my fourth year writing this blog. I was worried I would find enough topics to fill the first year but next year is already outlined, so another year of classic television is on the way. It has been a lot of fun, and I’ve learned a lot.

This month we are looking at crime-solving duos.  We start our series learning a bit more about McMillan and Wife. McMillan and Wife began as part of The Sunday NBC Mystery Movie which included Columbo and McCloud. The shows rotated each week, so fewer episodes were produced of each than a typical weekly show.

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McMillan and Wife debuted in 1971 and was on the air until 1977, yet only forty episodes were produced. Leonard Stern was the creator, writer, and executive producer of the show; he previously produced Get Smart.

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Stewart “Mac” McMillan (Rock Hudson) was an attorney and US Navy veteran who apparently had been involved in some CIA activities. He is now Commissioner of Police in San Francisco. He gets involved in high-profile cases. His wife is Sally (Susan St. James), and her father was a detective for the San Francisco Police Department; she learned a lot from him and helps her husband solve crimes. Sargent Charlie Enright (John Schuck) helps Mac with his cases. Sally and Mac have no children (it’s confusing because Sally was pregnant twice on the show, but the children are never mentioned in the show later). Their housekeeper Mildred (Nancy Walker) also lives with the couple. Mildred’s character resembles the role Thelma Ritter played in Pillow Talk, where Hudson starred with Doris Day. She is a sarcastic, hard-drinking woman and is always ready to offer her opinion, but she is devoted to Mac and Sally.

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Once Hudson was cast as Mac, the show got priority in development. Several actresses were considered for the role of Sally, including Diane Keaton and Jill Clayburgh, but Hudson was most comfortable with St. James.

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Hudson was 21 years older than St. James, but their relationship worked. Mac is supposed to be in his 40s and Sally in her 20s (he was 46 at the time and she was 25). Sally is self-confident and is not afraid to speak her mind. However, she is also a wife who loves her husband, and one of the running gags on the show is that Mac had dated a lot of women in his past, and when Mac and Sally are out and about, they typically run into some gorgeous woman who says, “Hi Mac.” Sally usually responds with a jealous comment or a withering look. The difference in their ages actually worked well for demographics. Hudson appealed to older viewers while St. James attracted younger viewers.

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Often the cases Mac solves happen during events the couple attends. One episode featured a burglary at a charity event they were attending; once they found a skeleton in their house after an earthquake. Another show had Mac abducted by mobsters and replaced with a surgically-made twin replacing him.

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An interesting fact is that the interior of their house in the pilot episode was in fact Hudson’s home. In the first regular episode, the MacMillans bought a new house. In the final season, the setting changed to an apartment.

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Sally and Mac led a glamorous life. The scripts were well written, and the dialogue was witty and clever. The couple was often compared to Nick and Nora Charles in the Thin Man movies. Mac and Sally have a lot of their best conversations after they go to bed at night.

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Sally was known for wearing a football jersey for her nightgown. The jersey was an authentic 49ers Jersey, number 18, George Washington, a wide receiver. Washington was a four-time Pro Bowler. He made a guest appearance on the show in season four, “Guilt by Association.”

Considering that there were only forty episodes produced, this show had an incredible number of guest stars. I apologize for the long list, but it’s the only way to capture how impressive it is. The stars included sport celebrities Dick Butkus, Rosie Grier, Alex Karras, and Bobbie Riggs.

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It also featured a Who’s Who of television sitcom royalty: John Astin, Meredith Baxter, Tom Bosley, Michael Constantine, Bert Convy, Wally Cox, Richard Deacon, William Demarest, Donna Douglas, Barbara Feldon, Norman Fell, Buddy Hackett, Larry Hagman, Alan Hale, Shirley Jones, Stacy Keach, Bernie Kopell, Julie Newmar, Charlotte Rae, Charles Nelson Reilly, Dick Sargent, Natalie Schafer, Susan Sullivan, Karen Valentine, and Dick Van Patten.

The show, like McCloud and Columbo, was quite popular with viewers. The ratings were impressive until the sixth season.

Unfortunately, the last season had too many changes to overcome. St. James decided to leave to concentrate on her movie career. Schuck left to star in the sitcom, Holmes and Yo-Yo, and Walker left for her own sitcom, The Nancy Walker Show. Sadly, Walker and Schuck would have been better off staying because both their shows lasted only 13 episodes. St. James starred in a couple of movies, but they weren’t anything memorable. She would go on to star in Kate and Allie in 1984.

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On the show, Sally was killed in an airplane crash. Mildred was said to leave to open a diner, so her sister Agatha (Martha Raye) took over her job. Schuck made a few appearances but was said to have been given a promotion to lieutenant which kept him too busy to assist Mac much. The show may have been able to overcome one of these changes but not all of them. Much of the strength of the show was the relationship between Mac and Sally. Walker’s funny bantering and actions provided a comedic relief for the show. When Raye took over, she was just scatterbrained and loud; the appeal of Walker was not part of her character.

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It’s wonderful the show lasted five good seasons, but it might have lasted many more if the original cast had been retained. At the other end of the spectrum, Columbo aired off and on until 2003 and is remembered by more viewers.

DVDs were released for all six seasons between 2005 and 2014. With only forty shows in the series, this would be a fun binge-watching week-end show to tackle.