moonlighting david and maddie

Most of you know that Bruce Willis is a big movie star…but the breakout role that put him on a rocket to stardom was playing a jaunty private eye in the 1980s TV show Moonlighting. However, the bigger star when the show first aired was Cybill Shepherd, cast as the female private eye in this series.

Moonlighting featured Cybill Shepherd as Madeline “Maddie” Hayes and Bruce Willis as David Addison Jr. The two of them were a man-and-woman private eye team reminiscent of Nick and Nora with their chemistry and clever repartee, minus the legal ties of matrimony. Or for that matter, the ties of an established romantic relationship…just the titillating, teasing hints of steamy potential for 38 episodes… after that, the show didn’t do so well, but more about that later. The series aired from March 3, 1985 through March 14, 1989.

Maddie Hayes and David Addison Jr. were the classic opposites-that-are-attracted-to-each-other in Moonlighting, a conflict played up in other private eye pairings from Nick & Nora to Laura Holt and Remington Steele in the TV series Remington Steele. A set-up that often occurs in female private eye stories is that the woman never intended to be a PI, but she falls into being one after inheriting the agency from her father, uncle, whomever. In a twist on this trope, Maddie is stuck with her tax write-off, a run-down detective agency, which she wants to unload.

Cybill as Villainess

Maddie was a fashion model whose business manager bilked her out of her life savings.  She was left with the Blue Moon Detective Agency, which she’d previously purchased as a tax run-off.  The creator of the show, Glenn Gordon Caron, first saw Cybill’s role as a villainess: “I had to have somebody the public was fundamentally rooting against because the show was about the thawing out of this beautiful ice queen,” Caron said, “And I knew the public saw Cybill as spoiled and bratty.”

Cybill offered another perspective on the premise of the show.  “It started out with the premise of a jerk that was very attractive, and then my character, Maddie Hayes, was sympathetic. But then as Bruce (who played the tougher, street-wise real private eye) got more popular, he didn’t want to play the jerk anymore. And then the producers decided to take my character and make me do stupid things like marry a wimpy guy I met on a train.”

Ouch. Can I add another perspective?  It takes a woman with guts, tenacity and sometimes cold-blooded let’s-get-the-job-done to be a private investigator.  Maybe Maddie, more than any other TV female private eye, had those qualities.

Anyway, in response to the producer’s comment, Cybill said, “Caron has now said that that was the worst decision he ever made. This was before email, and they had so many sacks of mail, like thousands and thousands and thousands, with people asking ‘Why would you do this?'”

Eventually, the kinks got ironed out and Cybill gained critical recognition for her razor-edged, funny delivery as a reluctant, drop-dead gorgeous private eye.

The Beginning of Dramedy

The genre dramedy, a mix of drama and comedy, was first attributed to Moonlighting, whose viewing audience’s expectation for comedy was disrupted to include elements of a completely different genre, drama. This new hybrid genre first occured in 1986 when Moonlighting was nominated, for the first time in the 50-year history of the Directors Guild of America, for Best Drama and Best Comedy. Some claim the importance of this series has less to do with its convoluted plots and cast friction than its fusion of two previously distinct genres.

Breaking the Fourth Wall

Critics also loved how the main characters, David Addison and Maddie Hayes, would break the “fourth wall” (that invisible wall between the actors and the audience) with self-musings about their acting in a TV series or the commercialism of television. Some of you may recall that George Burns was breaking the fourth wall all the time in his 1950s TV show George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, which aired 30 years before Moonlighting, but nevertheless critics loved this technique anew in Moonlighting.

The Moonlighting Curse

Remember that reference I made earlier to the show not doing so well after the steamy 38-episode build up? You see, after #38, Maddie and David consummated their relationship…and ratings went down. Eventually way, way down and the show was cancelled.

Scott Ryan, a TV critic, says “At least once a year I read a blurb in Entertainment Weekly that quotes some producer saying he doesn’t want to get his ‘Booth’ and ‘Bones’ together because he doesn’t want a Moonlighting.” Meaning, viewers lose interest when the will-they-won’t-they question ends.

On the other hand, Nick and Nora were married from the get-go, and audiences loved their married status. Maybe the “Moonlighting Curse” has more to do with the writing than the consummation?

Maddie’s Last Words to David

Maddie’s final words to David: “You know David, after all these years, all we’ve been through together — the ups, the downs, the ins, the outs — I just want you to know: I can’t imagine not seeing you tomorrow.”

They also left a case unsolved.

More About Cybill Shepherd

Named after her grandfather, Cy, and her father, Bill, Cybill Shepherd was born February 18, 1950 in Memphis, TN. She was crowned Miss Teenage Memphis in 1966 and graduated Memphis East High School in 1968. She went on to become a model, and later, when director Peter Bogdanovich saw her face on the cover of Glamour magazine, he cast her in the film The Last Picture Show (1971).

Cybill’s TV credits included The Yellow Rose, 1983-84; Cybill, 1995-98, and the host of talk show Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, 2000-2001.

Related Links

Does the Moonlighting Curse Exist: Getting Couples Together on TV (a site dedicated to the show Moonlighting)