an hour-long episodic series which aired on ABC from 1985 to 1989,
signaled the emergence of dramedy as a television genre. Although
the series finished its first season in a ratings tie for 20th place,
it rose to 9th place in 1986-87 and tied for 12th place the following
season, (in which only 14 new episodes were made). The innovative
qualities of the program, however, were marked by its nomination,
for the first time in the 50-year history of the Directors Guild
of America, for both Best Drama and Best Comedy.
by Glen Gordon Caron, Moonlighting featured high-fashion
model, Maddie Hayes (played by real-life former high-fashion model
Cybill Shepard), and fast-talking private eye David Addison (played
by then-unknown Bruce Willis). The series' story began after Maddie's
business manager embezzled most of her fortune, leaving her with
her house and the Blue Moon Detective Agency, designed by the wily
accountant as nothing more than a tax write-off and consisting of
detective David Addison and secretary Agnes Dipesto (played by Allyce
Beasley). The romantic tension between David--the smart, slovenly,
party-animal and womanizer, and Maddie--the beautiful, haute couture-attired,
snobbish Maddie lasted for two seasons. After this point complications
on and off the set led to a plot line in which Maddie juggled relationships
with David and another suitor, briefly married a third man, had
the marriage annulled, and suffered a miscarriage.
series' importance, however, lies not so much in its convoluted
plots as in its unique and sustained fusion of elements characteristically
associated with two distinct genres into the emergent genre, dramedy.
Moonlighting clearly exhibits the semantic features of television
drama: serious subject matter dealing with incidents of sufficient
magnitude that it arouses pity and fear; rounded, complex central
characters who are neither thoroughly admirable nor despicable;
textured lighting--both the hard telenoir and the diffused lighting
accompanied by soft camera focus; multiple exterior and interior
settings, single camera shooting on film. But the series combines
the "serious" elements with the syntactic features of television
comedy. These comedic features include a four-part narrative structure
(consisting of the situation, complication, confusion, and resolution),
the metatextual practices of verbal self-reflexivity, musical self-reflexivity,
and intertextuality, repetition (i.e., the doubling, tripling, and
compounding of the same action or incident until the repetition
itself becomes humorous), witty repartee, hyperbolic coincidence,
and a governing benevolent moral principle within which the violent,
confused, often ironic dramas of good and evil, seriousness and
silliness were played out.
A full appreciation of the sophistication of Moonlighting required
a level of cultural literacy (both popular and classic) rarely required
by prime time television series, which was one reason the series
drew accolades from critics early on. Titles of its episodes intertextually
referenced the narrative premises as well as titles, authors, and
even visual techniques of films, novels, dramas, poems, and plays
from the 16th century through the present (e. g., "It's a Wonderful
Job," "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice," "Atlas Belched,"
"Brother, Can You Spare a Blonde," "Twas the Episode Before Christmas,"
and "The Lady in the Iron Mask"). Another episode titled "Atomic
Shakespeare" provided a feminist version of "The Taming of the Shrew"
performed, except for the bookend scenes, entirely in iambic pentameter.
Additionally, in many episodes, protagonists Maddie and David break
the theatrical "fourth wall" convention with self-reflexive references
to themselves as actors in a television program or to the commercial
nature of the television medium. Such metatextual practices are
techniques of defamiliarization which, according to certain formalist
critical theories, epitomize the experience and purpose of art;
they jar viewers out of the complacent, narcotizing pleasure of
familiar forms and invite them to question and appreciate the artistic
possibilities and limitations of generic forms. Moonlighting's
use of these metatextual practices signifies its recognition of
the traditions that have shaped it and its self-conscious comments
on its departure from those traditions--characteristics typically
attributed to works regarded as highly artistic.
series' artistry in fusing the genre features of drama and comedy
in such a way that it was both popular and critically acclaimed
paved the way for such other innovative dramedic ventures as Frank's
Place, Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, and Northern Exposure.
Moonlighting also led a number of critics to declare that with
Moonlighting American television had finally come of age
as an art form.
-Leah R. Vande Berg
Hayes....................................... Cybill Shepherd
Bruce Willis Agnes Dipesto.........................................
Alice Beasley Herbert Viola (1986-1989).....................
Curtis Armstrong Virginia Hayes (1987-1988).....................
Eva Marie Saint Alex Hayes (1987-1988)..........................
Robert Webber MacGilicuddy (1988-1989).........................
Glenn Gordon Caron, Jay Daniel
HISTORY 65 Episodes
March 1985 Sunday
9:00-11:00 March 1985-April 1985 Tuesday
10:00-11:00 April 1985-September 1988
Tuesday 9:00-10:00 December 1988-February 1989 Tuesday
9:00-10:00 April 1989-May 1989 Sunday
Lynne. "Tube Tied: Reproductive Politics and Moonlighting." In,
Naremore, James, and Patrick Brantlinger, editors. Modernity
and Mass Culture. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press,
Jack. "Shakespeare for the Millions: 'Kiss Me, Petruchio.'" Shakespeare
on Film Newsletter (Burlington, Vermont), 1987.
Hilary. "Quality Television and Feminine Narcissism: The Shrew and
the Covergirl." Genders (Boulder, Colorado), July 1990.
J. P. "The Mystique of Moonlighting: 'When You Care Enough
to Watch the Very Best.'" Journal of Popular Film and Television
(Bowling Green, Ohio), Fall 1988.
See also Detective