It’s All About The Chemistry: A Closer Look At The Actors From “Moonlighting”

Moonlighting was a surprise hit for ABC. The TV series had the odds against it with a cast headed by Cybill Shepherd, who had a couple movies to her credit but no TV experience, and Bruce Willis, a virtually unknown actor at the time.

The Chemistry Made The Show

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The premise of the show, bringing a run-down detective agency back to life, was thin, and the dialogue was heavy with sarcasm and innuendo. But somehow, even with that setup, Moonlighting was wildly successful, with much of the credit given to the chemistry between Shepherd and Willis, along with cutting-edge writing and a quirky, appealing supporting cast.

Maddie Hayes

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In Moonlighting, Cybil Sheperd plays the character of Maddie Hayes, a clever girl, and a former high-fashion model. After some financial struggles, she is forced to make a living by running the detective agency she once owned simply for tax purposes. 50 pages into writing the pilot, the producer Glenn Caron realized he was writing the part specifically for Cybil Sheperd. When Shepard read the script, she knew it was the part for her, and the rest is history. Her performance as Maddie Hayes is described as being the role that defined her career.

Cybill Sightings

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Shepherd’s first big movie break was in The Last Picture Show in 1971. She was also acclaimed for her 1975 performance in the renowned Martin Scorcese film, Taxi Driver. After the TV show Moonlighting, she appeared in a slew of TV shows and had her own sitcom called Cybill for three years. Since Moonlighting ended, she’s appeared in many popular TV series including Psych, The L Word, and The Client List. Throughout her career, she has been nominated for four Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress and has won three Golden Globes for Best Actress in a TV Series.

Miss DiPesto

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In the show Moonlighting, actress Allyce Beasley played the character of Agnes DiPesto, the friendly, love-struck, and energetic receptionist for the Blue Moon Detective Agency. One of her trademark actions would be to always answer the phone using some form of rhyme. Although it might not have appeared so, Beasley recalls filming Moonlighting to be rather stressful, especially working alongside Cybil and Bruce who were already on track to a successful acting career. Yet, Moonlight also greatly helped to jump-start Beasley’s career as well by putting her on the map.

Busy Beasley

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Although Allyce Beasley will probably be best known for her role as Miss DiPesto on Moonlighting, Beasley has over 60 other acting credits before and after her stint at the detective agency. From 200 to 2007, Beasley was the announcer on Playhouse Disney on the Disney Channel. She also appeared in the comedy film Legally Blonde, and even on the TV show Cheers. She also was a notable voice actress most known for her work in the animated series Recess as Miss Alordayne Grotke. She went on to guest star in many other animated and voice-over films. Since then she has been playing guest stars in various TV shows.

Save the Best for Last

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Bruce Willis’ character David Addison is a strutting detective that runs the City of Angels Detective Agency. After testing 2,000 actors, the producers knew that Willis was the right guy for the part. However, casting the male lead to play against Shepherd’s character, Maddie Hayes, was more difficult than usual since the premise was not a formulaic sitcom plot. There were also issues with ABC who believed that nobody could ever believe that there was sexual tension between Shepard and Willis, however, everything worked out after some serious convincing.

Willis Today

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It’s commonly known, that Bruce Willis had developed into one of the most well-known and regarded actors of our time. Moonlight was one of his first tastes of acting and catapulted him into the industry. Since then he has been in over 60 different films usually with star roles such as The Die Hard franchise, Death Become’s Her, Pulp Fiction, 12 Monkeys, The Sixth Sense, and countless more. in 2010, he was named the eighth-highest grossing actor in a leading role, and the 12th-highest including supporting roles. He continues to act in films today, with his next upcoming film Glass is in pre-production but is expected to be released in 2019.

Shepherd and Willis Had a Strained Relationship

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Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis allegedly had quite a strained relationship during production. This relationship not only was apparent just on set but could be seen bleeding into the show as well. before beginning the show, it was understood that Shepard would be the star, however, Willis ended up stealing the hearts of the audience, becoming the unofficial star of the show. After his overnight stardom when Die Hard premiered in 1988, Willis reportedly took umbrage at being the second-billed actor on a TV show and Shepherd was rumored to be jealous of his success. By the end of the show, the two barely spoke and filmed their scenes separately as often as possible.

Background Story

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The Die Hard movie debuted in 1988, while Moonlighting was still on the air. Willis was still starring on the show when the film was released on VHS. Willis managed to sneak in a little free advertising (and a dig on Shepherd) when one of Moonlighting’s final episodes. In the show, his character David Addison and his girlfriend are walking past a video rental outlet. Here an employee rips a Die Hard movie poster from the store’s front window. This did not sit well with Sheperd, considering that she was already jealous of Wilis’ success from Die Hard which Willis’ knew. Yet, because the two were not on good terms, Wilis put it in any way.

Advertising Made Light of the Stars’ Tension

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Sponsors and producers never lost their sense of humor despite the behind-the-scenes problems. The show had so many delayed episodes in each season that one TV ad featured an actor, posing as a network employee, impatiently waiting for the next episode to be delivered to the set. And the delays continued…This was actually strategic on the advertiser’s part to use the delays to their advantage because it just adds more drama to both the show and in real life. The audience is more likely to watch the show if they know they two actors really aren’t getting along.

Time And Again

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One hour shows are typically shot in seven days; Moonlighting episodes took 12 to 14 days. The dialogue was frequently written hours before shooting began and scenes shot only days before broadcasts. These setbacks resulted in only 66 episodes produced from 1985-89 instead of the customary 26 episodes per season. This was one of the serious strains felt by Beasley who said all of the actors felt unprepared and flustered before most scenes because they were acting when the end of the scene had not even been written yet.

Injury and Pregnancy Hindered Production

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During filming, Bruce Willis broke his shoulder skiing, and Cybill Shepherd was pregnant with twins. Both of these circumstances only further added extra stress to the actors as well as hindered production. One episode, in the third season, the show started with a mock newsreel reporting on the real-life behind-the-scenes problems. Filler episodes that had nothing to do with the storylines were often inserted in the middle of seasons which the audience found to be unnecessary and confusing. These filler episodes included a Christmas story, a Shakespeare spoof, and an episode with Agnes DiPesto as the star.

Breaking the Fourth Wall

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In modern theatre and film, there is a tactic referred to as “breaking the fourth wall”. This is done when the character or actor addressed the audience directly by looking direly at the camera. This is an unconventional type of narrative, yet, Moonlighting used this tactic at various times throughout its run. Different actors would look right into the camera and speak to the audience about the producers, director, writers, and/or scripts. In the season two finale of Moonlighting, the characters all exited the set and scampered around the studio.

Some Viewers Had a Foot Fetish

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Viewers were mesmerized by the many shots of Maddie’s feet deftly stepping out of the elevator and walking to her office. Creator/producer/writer Glenn Gordon Caron confessed that the shots were a tool to give him time to complete the current script. The setup and filming of the foot shots bought him time to keep writing. Certainly, an interesting way to stall and buy some time, but it looks like it worked out in the favor of all the weirdos out there that were desperate for a few extra seconds of Sheperd’s feet.

Walking Away

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Sometimes that greener grass that lured you away can quickly turn brown and die. Glenn Gordon Caron has lured away from writing the show Remington Steele, another detective series, in order to create and produce Moonlighting. After the third season ended, he walked away, citing a frenzied production environment and disputes with Shepherd. As it turns out, Caron probably should have stayed as a writer for Remington Stele, considering the amount of stress he would experience having to deal with Willis and Sheperd, along with all of the production delays.

Throwing Money Around

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When a network owns a show, they make considerably more money on it than if it’s owned by an independent production company. Since ABC owned Moonlighting, they were very loose with the budget. Moonlighting was named the most expensive series on TV in the mid to late ’80s, costing an average of $1.6 million per episode to produce. The production of one episode was described as having the same budget for a small movie. One would think with a budget like that everyone on set would be happy with one another no matter what the reason for money was not an issue.

First, Cybill Shepherd Was a Supermodel

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Cybill Shepherd was a world-famous model who’d graced the cover of every major magazine before she made her first movie. As a young girl, she was named a Miss Teenage Memphis, yet made an unsuccessful bid at Miss Teenage America. In 1966, she was named model of the year while living in New York. She then went on to attend New York University. You’d think that background would make her confident in her looks, yet, during the filming of Moonlighting, she was often shot with image-softening diffusion disks, popular with female screen stars in the 1940s.

Long Scripts Made for Mixups

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With Moonlighting script lengths and revisions often rivaling the federal tax code (74,608 pages!), it’s no wonder there weren’t more inconsistencies in the script. For example, David mentions a person named McGillicuddy in the second episode of the series. However, the recurring character of McGillicuddy wasn’t introduced until the third season. However, with a show like this being already unconventional with the breaking of the fourth wall and it’s incredibly fast dialogue, most of these mix-ups most likely went over the audience’s heads.

Maddie Was Created for Cybill Shepherd

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While the part of David was difficult to cast, the role of Maddie was written exclusively for Cybill Shepherd. Wielding her star power, Shepherd strongly recommended that the actors and producers of Moonlighting watch three old classic movies from the ’30s and ’40s, Twentieth Century, Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday. to prepare for the pilot and its unique angle. She was looking to imitate what she called “Hawksian” comedy with the fast and witty dialogue in her Haye’s character. each of those films perfectly helped give the director and producers an idea of what she was talking about.

Willis Was Unheard of Before the Show

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Although the ABC network and Cybill Shepherd initially wanted Canadian actor Harley Venton to play David Addison Jr. on Moonlighting, creator and writer Glenn Gordon Caron instead chose the then unheard of Willis for the leading male role. Before Bruce Willis got the role in Moonlighting, he was working as a security guard at Salem Nuclear Powerplant where he transported crews at the DuPont Chambers Work factory in Deepwater, New Jersey. He then went on to work as a private investigator, the role he would later go on to play in Moonlighting. He then turned to acting. The other contenders for the show were…

Around 3,000 Actors Tried out For David Addison, Jr.

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In the midst of all the, 3,000 or so actors vying for the role of David Addison, Jr., veteran actor Robert Blake and multi-talented entertainer Rick Dees were under consideration. Comedian Maurice LaMarche came kind of close with three callbacks for the part, but he was cut from the list of contenders before the screen-test phase was reached. In the end, however, Willis turned out to be a no-brainer for the part. Lucky for him, because we might be living in a world without Bruce Willis if they had decided to go with someone else.

Funny Foreshadowing

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A whole decade before Moonlighting premiered, a scene in the epic thriller/mystery movie 3 Days of the Condor starring Robert Redford features a Mr. D. Addison. With Addison’s proclivity for getting himself involved in sticky situations with the law on Moonlighting, it was appropriate that the Condor character was in the office of the CIA. Maybe there was a little inspiration for the film in the creation of Willis’ character to make him as smooth and suave as Redford’s character in the film.

Name Dropping Is Considered an Honor

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When characters on TV shows mention another show in their scripts, it’s considered an honor. Moonlighting was mentioned on dozens of shows, sometimes in multiple episodes. Classic programs that referenced Moonlighting include Growing Pains, Full House, The Golden Girls, Murphy Brown, Saturday Night Live, NCIS, Hart to Hart, and 30 Rock. The many times that the show was mentioned in these all relatively successful shows demonstrates that it was very well received by the public, regardless of the hiccups that it encountered throughout its filming.

The Cost of Creativity

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One of the many unique aspects of Moonlighting’s production was its distinctive shooting of scenes that featured two or more of the show’s characters chattering on for a minute or more, all at the same time. This necessitated unusually lengthy scripts, often two to three times longer than typical hour-long TV drama shows. It is noted that typical scripts for an average one-hour long television show are typically around 60 pages. However, in the case of Moonlighting, the scripts were usually 120 to 180 pages. This also added to the shows common delays in production, since the writers had a hard time keeping up. The show also had a lot of attention to detail which added a lot of time as well.

Intentional Stubble

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The character of Herbert Viola was played by actor Curtis Armstrong. In the show, his character always had a certain amount of noticeable stubble, so the creators of the show decided to have some fun with it. In the episode “Shirts and Skins”, Herbert is clean-shaven when he is caught making out with Agnes in the closet by his male co-workers, as well as when he is being lectured for doing so. However, when David enters the room, Herbert turns to him and has his usual stubble back once again. This was done intentionally as a joke because the show creators used to always joke about how fast his beard would grow.

Swept Under the Rug

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In the episodes “The Straight Poop” and “It’s a Wonderful Job” both end in kiss scenes. In both episodes, Maddie and David end up kissing each other, however, it is never mentioned again. Neither event is ever recognized by the show or either character, with their relationship making no reference to either kiss. However, one explanation was that neither kiss was ever meant to be seen as “real”, and that they were all just part of a dream made up of the characters desired. It’s either that or the creators just got lazy.

Easter Egg

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The creators of the show were always having fun dropping little easter eggs for the viewers to catch every once in a while. One particularly funny one happened in the Season 3 episode “Yours, Very Deadly”. In the episode, Maddie falls out of the mail cart onto the scale in the Post Office. The man standing next to the scale makes a remark regarding her size and how many stamps it’s going to cost her. However, he’s also reading a tabloid which says on the front “Moonlighting’s Cybil Says Bruce is a Fox”. That may have been the handiwork of Cybil but we caught it!

The Show Was Based On The Taming of the Shrew

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One of the biggest influences of the show was the Shakespearian play The Taming of the Shrew. Show creator Glenn Gordon Caron said that the play was “the emotional inspiration” behind the television show. His wife had been in a production of it in college so he says that he has seen it eight times, so it’s not surprising that it was an inspiration. Carron even admitted that he tried to keep it a secret because it’s a little bit of a rip-off, but they even directly parodied the play in the episode “Atomic Shakespeare”.

Was Originally Supposed to Be A Serious Detective Show

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Originally, the show was in a three-pilot commitment with ABC. However, the network president told Glenn Gordon Caron that they wanted him to make a full-blown, serious detective series. Carron recalls that he rolled his eyes at the idea and thought that the last thing America needs is another detective/crime show. So, the next time he met with the network, he pitched the idea of a romantic comedy series that was set in a detective setting. The idea worked and Moonlighting was made how we know it today.

The Show Influenced Billy Joel

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Believe it or not, Billy Joel came out and announced that he wrote the song “Big Man on Mulberry Street” with the show in mind. After Caron had heard it, he decided that he wanted to figure out a way to work it into the show and successfully did. He had always wanted to work with dancing on the set, so he hired the famous Stanley Donen to work the camera during the choreographed scene to the song. The scene appeared in the song after it was released on Billy Joel’s album The Bridge in 1986.

Orson Welles Was On The Show

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The episode “The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice” was shot in black and white, however, the creators were afraid that they would confuse the audience so they came up with an idea. They asked Orson Welles if he could come on the show and introduce the episode, which he happily obliged. The introduction was shot on October 3, 1985, and he, unfortunately, passed away a week later. It was his last appearance on television. Apparently, he nailed it on the first take but still insisted that they film it a few more times anyway.

Creators Didn’t Want Willis To Do Die Hard

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After Bruce Willis told the shows creator Glenn Gordon Caron that he was offered the role for the anticipated film Die Hard, Caron strongly advised him not to take it. It wasn’t about it possibly interfering with the show, but because he thought that the movie didn’t fit Bruce Willis at all. He said that “It was going to be like a Shwartzeneggar movie and that he was going to be laughed off the stage and his reputation tarnished.” Yet, Willis took the role anyway and a smart thing he did, because the movie skyrocketed his career and turned him into the star he is now.

The Character Agnes Didn’t Help Ratings

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As it turns out, the episodes that featured Agnes DiPesto, played by Allyce Beasley got lower ratings than most. Although she originally started out as the detective agency’s receptionist, she eventually found herself working on actual cases. This meant that she started having more screen time which meant less screen time for Willis and Shepherd. Eventually, the cast and crew began to notice that episodes that were more focused on Agnes got lower ratings and higher drop offs because the audience knew that the episode wasn’t going to be all about the main characters.

Shepard Didn’t Approve of Her Character’s Marriage

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In the show, Cybill Shepherd’s character makes the impulsive decision to get married to someone that her character met on a train. She spoke out against this decision, arguing that the character of Maddie would never do such a thing. However, in her autobiography, she wrote that the producers essentially told her to shut up and that she wasn’t a producer of the show. So, they went with their original idea, and Shepherd begrudgingly went along with it too, since she didn’t have much choice. It all worked out in the end, but it sounds like Shepherd never quite got over it.

Moonlighting in 3D?

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Since Moonlighting was such a smash success and was setting the bar for television in numerous different ways, Coca-Cola thought that it would be a good idea to hop on board. They decided to do a 3D episode sponsored by Coca-Cola, but the idea backfired. The writers for the show basically thought that the idea was blasphemous and went on strike in order to prevent it from happening. Coca-Cola had already gone on to produce 40 million pairs of 3D glasses but canceled the episode. They ended up handing out 20 million of them at the 1989 Superbowl halftime show.

The Western Episode

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Once again, since the show was doing so well financially and popularity wise, the creators, as well as the actors, had a little bit of wiggle room. They were free to play around with concepts and ideas more than most shows as seen by their black and white episode and dancing routine. So, with this freedom, Caron and Willis decided that they wanted to make a Western-themed episode. Although it would have been a risky move, there wasn’t much that they could have done to tarnish the reputation of the show. Unfortunately, they just never got around to making it.

Shepherd Is Open To A Movie

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In 2013, Cybill Shepherd announced that she would be open to maybe doing a Moonlighting movie. However, as previously discussed, her and Willis had problems getting along, yet Willis remained opened to the idea as well. Willis had a condition regarding the movie, which was that Caron, the original show creator, had to be involved. But of course, Caron had already been fired from the show during the fifth season which was expected to be due to Shepherd’s instance. So, maybe there’s less of a chance of a Moonlighting movie than it looks like.

Why Caron Left The Show

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According to Caron, he was let go from the show after the 44th episode. He said that it was really hard to leave while the show continued to go on and he admits that he’s still never watched the last 20 episodes. He definitely didn’t leave by choice and also mentions that Shepherd played a role in him being let go because of several confrontations they had. Shepherd believed that the scripts were getting increasingly heavy and that the storylines were making for extra hard work. He admits that things were getting crazy, but that it was all part of the success of the show.

Re-Runs

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Unsurprisingly, Moonlighting was one of the first television shows ever to really start relying on re-runs. This is so, usually because the shows were rarely ready on time with their incredibly high production value and lengthy scripts. So, it wasn’t so much about the show trying to expose itself as much as possible, but it was more of a last resort than anything. However, it didn’t seem to annoy the audience all that much because it was such a successful show. Glenn Gordon Caron even mentioned to Willis that if the show was still being played when their kids were in college, they would have done their job.

The End of Moonlighting

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It was no secret when Moonlighting finally ended. Caron had been fired, Shepherd and Willis couldn’t stand each other, and the show seemed to be running out of material and getting desperate. In addition, Willis was a big action star at that point and lost interest in doing a weekly show. The final straw was when Shepherd’s character ended up randomly marrying another man. At that point, even the audience knew that the show’s time was up and it was time to end before it crashed and burned entirely.