Generally remembered today as the show that made a star out of Bruce Willis, the weekly, hour-long Moonlighting was in its time regarded as the hippest, most innovative series on television, one which for an all-too-brief period completely redefined that entire "mystery and detection" genre. Debuting with a two-hour TV movie pilot on March 3, 1985, the series starred Cybill Shepherd as Maddie Hayes, formerly a top fashion model and latterly fallen upon hard times. Upon learning that during her moneyed days she had acquired the Blue Moon Detective Agency, Maddie decided to sell the two-bit operation for a quick financial turnover. Instead, she ended up running the agency and reluctantly becoming a detective herself, with the dubious "aide" of Blue Moon's ace gumshoe, cocky and chauvinistic David Addison (Bruce Willis). Although Maddie and David quarrelled constantly -- even while on the job, and often while in the clutches of the villains (a time when cooperation would seem to be not only essential but crucial) -- it was clear that the two were very attracted to one another. After two seasons of verbal sparring and furtive smooching, David and Maddie consummated their relationship at the end of season three. Thereafter, although they continued operating the agency, the couple's romance slowly disintegrated; in fact, upon finding that she was pregnant with David's child, Maddie chose not to wed her erstwhile lover but instead to become the wife of a near-total stranger, Walter Bishop (Dennis Dugan). After the pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, things were never the same between David and Maddie, and ultimately they went their separate ways.
The trials and tribulations of the two stars were counterpointed by the eccentricities of the other two full-time Blue Moon employees: ditsy receptionist Agnes DiPesto (Allyce Beasley), who spoke in rhymes and yearned for life in the fast lane, and junior detective-file clerk Herbert Viola (Curtis Armstrong), a recurring character until achieving regular status in season four, for whom Agnes carried a torch. Several other characters made sporadic appearances, among them Maddie's aristocratic parents, Herbert and Virginia (Robert Webber, Eva Marie Saint); David's estranged ne'er-do-well dad, David Sr. (Paul Sorvino), and his reprobate older brother, Richard (Charles Rocket); Maddie's yuppie suitor Sam Crawford (Mark Harmon) and her cousin Annie (Virginia Madsen), who briefly captured David's heart in season five; and a "utility" character named MacGillicudy (Jack Blessing).
What set Moonlighting apart from all other private-eye shows was its insouciant, "it's only a TV show" attitude. Almost from the outset, Maddie and David occasionally interrupted the action by pausing to wink, nod knowingly, or even converse with the audience. The series also indulged in episode-length spoofs of other pop-culture properties, including It's a Wonderful Life, Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, and even a black-and-white satire of film noir, narrated by Orson Welles in his last voice-over assignment before his death. Also, the characters would from time to time stop whatever they were doing to launch an out-of-character comedy skit; one episode continually switched back and forth between the main plot and an extended spoof of The Honeymooners. In addition, the characters of Maddie and David would make frequent, pointed references to the actual lives and careers of Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis, with emphasis on the two actors' well-publicized offscreen arguments. This Pirandellian mindset resulted in some very bizarre moments, such as the episode wherein David and Maddie were given advice on their fragile relationship by Dr. Joyce Brothers and Ray Charles!
The friction between the series' leads may have been fascinating to the casual viewer, but it tended to slow down production of the series, as did ongoing script problems and bitter disagreements between the stars and the production staff (during the final season, executive producer Glenn Gordon Caron, who'd created Moonlighting in the first place, was forced off the show, allegedly at the insistence of Cybill Shepherd). As a result, Moonlighting never offered any more than 18 episodes per season, and sometimes as few as 12. Even these travails were fodder for the scriptwriters: beginning in season three, each episode started with a lengthy and frequently very funny mea culpa explanation as to why the series produced so few new episodes; and at the start of season five, virtually the entire cast and crew showed up on-camera to apologize for past production delays, and to promise not to disappoint the fans in the future. Though it eventually collapsed under the weight of its many backstage woes, Moonlighting was well worth having while it lasted. The series remained on ABC's prime-time schedule until May 14, 1989.