Cybill Shepherd turns 70 today. That, of course got me thinking about the television series Moonlighting. It was a very entertaining show at first, which ran off the rails for various reasons.
It occurred to me that if such a show were made now, not dependant upon a 22-show season, it might have worked better.
The Moonlighting set was, by all accounts, a miserable place. And it started so well. “After reading the script, [Cybill] immediately realized this was a part she wanted to do…
“During her first meeting with [Glenn Gordon] Caron and producer Jay Daniel, [she] remarked that it was reminiscent of a ‘Hawksian’ comedy. The two had no idea what she was talking about, so she suggested they screen Twentieth Century, Bringing Up Baby, and His Girl Friday, three of her favorites, to see how the overlapping dialogue was handled.”
The premise: “Top model Maddie Hayes [Cybill Shepherd] was betrayed by her investment adviser… All the unfaithful manager has left Maddie is her house, her unbelievable beauty and intelligence and the run-down detective-agency… renamed by Maddie into ‘Blue Moon’.
“Because of her lack of money, she wants to sell the agency, but the houses only detective David Addison [Bruce Willis] tries to convince her to join the agency as the new boss. So Maddie Hayes becomes involved in the work of a real private detective… While doing this Maddie and David… recognize their complete difference in life-style, humour, amusement and of course in the way how to run a detective agency.”
Too many words, too little time
Moonlighting was a hit with TV audiences and critics. But it became increasingly difficult to keep on schedule. “Typical scripts for an average one-hour television show run 60 pages, but those for Moonlighting were nearly twice as long due to the fast talking overlapping dialogue of the main characters.
“While the average television show would take seven days to shoot, Moonlighting would take from 12–14 days to complete with episodes and dialogue frequently being written by Caron the same day they were shot.”
The days were too exhausting for Cybill Shepherd from the beginning. Her real-life pregnancy a couple seasons in added to the stress. She was considered “difficult,” a reputation that dogged her in future projects.
Bruce Willis broke his clavicle during a skiing accident. Then when he had a hit movie, Die Hard, his patience with Moonlighting production delays grew thin. “‘Willis… suddenly cared a lot ‘about not working, about getting out of work, leaving work early,’ a source told People at the time.”
What if the show actually had a bigger budget, and more time to finish each episode? Would it have survived? No way to know. But the quality would not have plummeted, with the storyline shifting to secondary characters. Those early shows were lots of fun, at least at the time.