Stream On: ‘Moonlighting’ pioneered a genre

By on December 7, 2023

When Bruce Willis retired from acting last year, I wanted to take a look at his first role, but Moonlighting wasn’t streaming at the time. Last weekend a friend told me he had been watching it; I looked it up, and sure enough, it’s currently available on Hulu! That’s a good thing—it’s considered to be one of the first successful and influential examples of comedy drama, or “dramedy,” emerging as a distinct television genre.


/Amazon /Streaming /🍅89%🍿99% /Trailer /1985 /rat

After being cleaned out by her no-good manager, model Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) is about to sell one of her few remaining assets, the Blue Moon Detective Agency—until snarky employee David Addison (ex-PI and bartender Bruce Willis) talks her out of it, saving his job and launching a new career for her.

Before Moonlighting finally fell victim to Die Hard (its success drew new star Bruce Willis away to the big screen) and problems with Shepherd (a model herself, who did yeoman work on a difficult series with scripts typically twice as long as usual for an hour show), it was 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). In 1986 Moonlighting received 16 Emmy Award nominations.

Miss Teenage Memphis, model Cybill Shepherd enjoyed her first acting success at age twenty-one in The Last Picture Show with Jeff Bridges (The Old Man), but subsequently had a lackluster, hit-and-miss career to the point where people were wondering whatever became of her. As it did with Maddie Hayes, Moonlighting’s success gave Shepherd a new career, including two Golden Globe awards.

Moonlighting’s pilot, originally presented on The ABC Sunday Night Movie, was two hours long, split into two episodes for reruns. After Maddie re-establishes the Blue Moon Detective Agency she accidentally comes into possession of a wristwatch that holds the clue to the location of smuggled Nazi diamonds.

The pilot begins with the attempted murder of a jogger by a very ‘eighties-looking dude in a blonde mohawk and tinted diving goggles. When the dude’s prey runs into traffic and is hit by a car, he slips the mark’s watch off his wrist as the cops arrive, and disappears. The opening credits pan across a spread of fashion photos featuring Maddie Hayes over saxophone music before settling on Ms. Hayes herself, being awakened in bed by a commotion in her mansion presided over by her cook: his paycheck, and that of Maddie’s whole staff, has bounced again, she’s informed by Selma, her chief of staff (Liz Sheridan, Seinfeld).

It’s cute: her chef is rampaging through the house, throwing crystal vases and bowls to the floor, yelling, “Bouncy? No!” then holding up his paycheck. “Bouncy? Yes!”

Maddie’s manager has skipped town with her money. As she visits one of her remaining assets, a detective agency, maintained as a write-off, receptionist Agnes DiPesto (Allyce Beasley) is answering the phone, in verse, as she is wont to do: “City of Angels Investigations. Lost or stolen property our specialty. You dropped it, we’ll spot it. He cheats, we’ll peek. Little one gone, we’ll find him before dawn. No job is too big, no job is too small. We’re here to please one and all. We’re licensed by the state of California and happily accept all major credit cards. How can I help you?” She listens, then says, dejectedly, into the phone: “Sorry; we already subscribe.”

In his office, David Addison is shooting hoops into a wastebasket suspended over the door when Agnes comes in with Maddie. The wastebasket lands on Agnes’ head and Maddie and David meet cute. When David realizes who Maddie is, 1. The owner of his agency and 2. The well-known model, the “Blue Moon shampoo girl,” he says, “I love you! I’ve always loved you! Nothing personal.”

Their chemistry is very good; the dialogue is smart, and the show seems fresh, even today. Audiences in 1985 responded well.

After five seasons, 16 Emmy nominations, and innovations such as breaking the fourth wall, when characters address the camera, and meta-scenes, like when a woman is trying to commit suicide by jumping into a bathtub with a television playing The Three Stooges, and Addison says, “The Stooges? Are you nuts? The network’ll never let you do that, lady!”

As Moonlighting hadn’t produced enough episodes to gain a syndication contract, following its original run it wasn’t widely seen until its DVD release, although it occasionally appeared on cable channels like Lifetime and Bravo in the 1990s and 2000s. Well, it’s back now, streaming!

(Pete Hummers is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to earn fees by linking Amazon.com and affiliate sites. This adds nothing to Amazon’s prices.)

Click here for more Stream On: What to watch on TV columns by Pete Hummers. Columns are archived and updated when necessary on Substack.


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