Moonlighting, 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.
Produced 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.
The 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.
The 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
Maddie Hayes....................................... Cybill Shepherd
David Addison............................................ 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)......................... Jack Blessing
Glenn Gordon Caron, Jay Daniel
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 8:00-9:00
Joyrich, Lynne. "Tube Tied: Reproductive Politics and Moonlighting." In, Naremore, James, and Patrick Brantlinger, editors. Modernity and Mass Culture. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1991.
Oruch, Jack. "Shakespeare for the Millions: 'Kiss Me, Petruchio.'" Shakespeare on Film Newsletter (Burlington, Vermont), 1987.
Radner, Hilary. "Quality Television and Feminine Narcissism: The Shrew and the Covergirl." Genders (Boulder, Colorado), July 1990.
Williams, 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.