The unbelievable drama on the set of Moonlighting
Delivering fiery romance and fast comedy, Glenn Gordon Caron’s creation of Moonlighting guaranteed its place in pop culture history. In Moonlighting: An Oral History, Scott Ryan investigates the behind-the-scenes drama of this show that pioneered network TV as we know it today. After approaching Caron and receiving his blessing, Ryan corralled the rest of the cast members, writers, producers, and anyone else he could find. Keeping a delicate balance between memory and fact, he seamlessly blends his ideas with the interviews to celebrate this magical moment in TV history.
This ABC-TV series was the first successful comedy-drama of its time, featuring Cybill Shepherd as Maddie and Bruce Willis as David. It follows Maddie, an ex-model recently bankrupt, who is persuaded by David to run Blue Moon Investigations as co-partners. Fueled by the natural chemistry of the leads, Caron nailed the perfect mix of flirtation and bickering which left the audience anxiously waiting for romance. When the episode finally came for them to consummate their relationship, audiences had already been waiting for two and a half years. Bringing the highest ratings yet, the shown then did a 180 and plummeted until its cancellation only two seasons later. Many fans and critics blame the moment when the two leads got together, but Ryan’s interviews suggest otherwise.
Much of the show’s success was nurtured by the innovation and brilliance of Caron. He had the revolutionary idea of creating a detective series where the detective cases would not be the only focus of attention. Instead, the plot ran on the comedy love story between Maddie and David. Ryan explains how writers knew that viewers were not necessarily invested in the seriousness of the detective business, rather they watched for the relationship between the two leads. After the particularly popular black-and-white episode aired, the pressure increased tenfold for writers to be even more creative. They had already introduced the breaking of the fourth wall, cold opens, and wild chase scenes. For example, they frequently broke down the fourth wall by allowing David to comment on that unimportance in the show’s dialogue or by filming the characters walking off the set amongst the crew.
Amidst all this innovative success, Caron admits how he constantly got in trouble for not having any content to shoot because he was dissatisfied with his writing. For many reasons, he abandoned his post in the fourth season as executive producer and head writer. Attempting to salvage what was left of a great show, the writers rekindled romantic sparks with Maddie and another character, to which Shepherd strongly voiced her objection. With Roger Director as the showrunner, his takeover was met with both appreciation and doubts. The interviewees noted that there was a lot more second-guessing and rewriting with Director than there was with Caron. Where Caron had had chaotic control over the show as it flourished, Director faced the challenge of saving a dying show.
Despite this chaos, perhaps the show would not have amounted to its greatness had Caron not strived for excellence with every late script written. With Ryan’s help, Moonlight: An Oral History will answer any questions you had about the ins and outs of Caron’s masterpiece.