In early 1984, writer/producer Glenn Gordon Caron was offered a lucrative agreement with ABC most writer’s would’ve killed for, this agreement had Caron setting up his own company in order to create television show’s for the network. Caron and producer Jay Daniels already had two pilots ready to go, they both failed. The network came to Caron and Daniels with an idea of their own, a boy/girl detective show, they didn’t care what Caron did with it, just as long as they kept the format. Caron initially baulked at the idea, he’d already dipped his oar into those waters with Remington Steele and wasn’t pleased with the experience. The idea grew on him, or should I say, the idea he could do whatever he wanted with the format and started work on a pilot script, Moonlighting was born.
During the writing process, Caron formed an image of the character Maddie Hayes and kept going back to Cybill Sheperd, he sent a draft of the script to Cybill (who had only just recently returned from treading the boards in Memphis and New York) and she fell in love with it. Caron had found his Maddie Hayes. Maddie’s sparring partner, David Addison was a tougher find, the network wanted a handsome stud, until an unknown by the name of Bruce Willis auditioned and blitzed it, Caron immediately wanted a second audition with Sheperd to see how the chemistry was but she refused (her version may differ), it didn’t matter, Caron had found his David Addison.
Caron’s approach as showrunner was unorthodox to say the least as he began spending more than the allotted budget he was given, in Caron’s mind he was making a movie every week and he believed it should show on the screen. The pilot and first half of the season was rough going until something clicked and the show became a hit, once it did, it allowed Caron some breathing room at budget meetings but the network made their presence known. It wasn’t until the second season that Caron really decided to push the television format and showcase his love of classic movies at the same time, Caron flirted with Hitchcock homages during the first season with episodes such as ‘Murder’s in the Mail’ and ‘The Next Murder You Hear’ which contains a terrific opening sequence but he wouldn’t fully commit until ‘The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice’, a loving homage to film noir and filmed in black and white for authenticity, it was the game changer for the show. When Caron pitched the idea to the network, they wanted to film it in colour and drain it, Caron knew that wouldn’t work and convinced the network to let them film it with cameras and filmstock that would’ve been used if it had been made back in the forties, the process was costly but the results were spectacular.
Caron had a hit show on his hands, both with audiences and critics but the production schedule was proving to be a nightmare, for both cast & crew. The erratic production schedule meant that episodes would just barely make it to the air date or not at all, having to be delayed until the following week, it became a running joke, so Caron decided to do something truly innovative, he had Bruce & Cybill open the Season 2 premiere by having them address the audience directly as Maddie & David, they would discuss why the network thought the latest episode was too short, get into an argument then storm off, only to have them come back as Bruce & Cybill. This would be occur every few episodes as a way to stretch the show out to it’s allotted timeframe so some episodes would begin with title credits and others with David & Maddie reading fanmail, David talking about his funk video etc but Caron would get more daring as the second season went on, having Bruce & Cybill walk off the set at the end of ‘T’Was the night before Christmas’ into a room full of the writers and their families as they sang a Christmas Carol, having David & Maddie walk into the Blue Moon Detective agency at the end of the episode ‘Camille’ to find that the set is literally being dismantled as Bruce & Cybill try to explain to Whoopi Goldberg & Judd Nelson why this is happening as they all start calling for their agents and in ‘The Straight Poop’ Rhona Barrett took a camera crew into the Blue Moon offices to find out why David & Maddie weren’t talking to each other. The word Meta was invented for Moonlighting.
Outside of The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice, Moonlighting usually kept things fairly grounded but in the third season, Caron introduced another element into the Moonlighting universe, fantasy. Caron indulged himself by staging a musical dance sequence in the episode ‘Big Man on Mulberry Street’ which has Bruce dancing surprisingly well with Sandahl ‘Yes, I was in something other than Conan’ Bergman in a lengthy sequence about the whirlwind marriage of David Addison to a high school sweetheart and it’s ultimate demise, it’s a thoroughly well-done sequence as the episode serves to stoke the David/Maddie romance fires, like ‘The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice’ which included a musical number by Cybill Sheperd, the sequence is seen through Maddie’s viewpoint, she processes the idea of David being married and her slowly becoming more attracted to him through the same sequence, only with Maddie as the object of his affection. Caron would also give us a Moonlighting variation on ‘It’s a wonderful life’ which could be considered the darkest episode in the entire series as Maddie finds out what happens to her if she had folded the Blue Moon Detective agency she originally planned.
The battle of the sexes is the driving force of the screwball comedies of the thirties and forties and is largely what drives the engine of Moonlighting. David & Maddie’s back and forth is probably the show’s greatest strength but it also deconstructs certain stereotypes. Maddie is basically the straight woman of the show, designed to play off David Addison’s childish persona, it’s a running gag that she’s always so serious when all she wants is for David to act like a responsible business partner, but we discover over the course of the series that Maddie is a fundamentally lonely woman, she lives alone and she’s largely seen as a dragon by her employees because she wants to run a business, not a funhouse. This isn’t to say Maddie is completely humorless 24/7 but alot of it is reactions to David’s sexist remarks and behaviour, this was explored in the episode ‘Blonde on Blonde’ where Maddie revealed the constant arguing with David was getting tiresome to her, so she refuses to engage, as David tries to find the spark that will turn on the engine (because that’s what the viewers want) and get’s her to reveal why she’s unresponsive, when Maddie finally does open up and tells him about a sexual fantasy she’s been having, David reacts like he’s hearing it from his sister which leads David to do something he really had no business doing and probably the worst night of his life.
I won’t claim that Moonlighting was the first T.V. show to do this but that one moment was a shot fired for eighties feminism (I doubt Caron saw it that way) then there’s the romance between Bert & Agnes. Agnes DiPesto began as a kooky secretary on the show and nothing more but as the series progressed, it occasionally gave us detours through Agnes world beginning with ‘Next Stop Murder’ a homage to Murder on the Orient Express, ‘North by North DiPesto’ another Hitchcock tribute & ‘Poltergeist III Dipesto Nothing’ where Agnes attempts to solve a case by herself to prove that she’s more just a secretary, with a little help from Bert Viola. When Bert Viola was first introduced to the show, he was being sexually assaulted by Agnes, who for whatever reason just couldn’t keep her hands off him and chased him around the office in a sexual frenzy until Bert finally said, enough, and got nothing but scorn in return. It was all played for laughs with Agnes as the sexual aggressor (which is both positive and negative) and Bert as the unwilling focus of Agnes lust (if the roles were reversed, it would be sexual harassment).
After the third season, the show began it’s inevitable decline, some have blamed it on the David/Maddie/Sam romance and Maddie’s eventual marriage to a total stranger, others blamed it on various factors such as Bruce’s emerging superstardom in the wake of Moonlighting and his constant behind the scenes bickering with Cybill Sheperd but those first three seasons were some of the best television ever created, if the show stopped after the third season, it might’ve been a near flawless show. Moonlighting would remain Glenn Gordon Caron’s greatest achievement, he moved onto a film career which included the films Clean & Sober, Wilder Napalm (which was written by Vince Gilligan) Love Affair and Picture Perfect before going back to Television with shows such as Now & Again (another favorite of mine) and Medium. Glenn Gordon Caron brought screwball comedy into the modern age and we’re all the better for it.