'Moonlighting' First Episode: THR's 1985 Review

Courtesy of Everett Collection

In spring 1985, ABC debuted an hourlong comedy series, Moonlighting, during the 10 p.m. hour in March. The Hollywood Reporter's original take, published in a TeleVisions column, is below. 

Passing in Review: Moonlighting (Tuesday, 10-11 p.m., ABC). Every so often, a new series debuts on television and seems to mold itself around the unique talents of its star. All in the Family did it with Carroll O’Connor. Magnum, P.I. and Tom Selleck formed an epoxy bond. So did Gimme a Break and Nell Carter, and Larry Hagman with Dallas. Stars so essential to the very foundation of the shows’ successes that their departure would be a fatal blow.

And so it is with Moonlighting, a new hourlong romantic comedy/adventure series from ABC Circle Films and Picturemaker Prods. Inc. It follows the antics of an offbeat private eye named David Addison, played to perfection by comedian Bruce Willis. He runs a company that’s more a tax-writeoff for a top fashion model than a serious detective agency, or at least it used to be before she lost her money to a crooked manager and decided to liquidate her assets. Now he’s been forced to actually take some cases (gasp!); and, worse still, teach his sophisticated boss how to be less of a clothes horse and more of a snoop. As Addison, Willis is as much conman as detective, and alternates between wearing “X-Ray Glasses” and singing old Manfred Mann songs like “Do Wah Diddy” in assorted alleys around town. He’s a cross between Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd with a touch of Roseanne Roseannadanna thrown in. And is the reason Moonlighting works and works well.

Cybill Shepherd stars with Willis as the once-rich fashion mannequin who’s as out of her element as a private eye as her Givenchy threads are in a skid row bar. Unfortunately, as Maddie Hayes, Shepherd lacks the necessary air of upper-class superiority and detachment, which would make her fall to earth believable. Instead, she plays the part like a pizza waitress who’s dressed up for a Sunday afternoon blind date. It doesn’t give Willis much to play against, but he hardly seems to notice. Such are the rewards of being in your own world. In the premiere hour episode, written by Michael Petryni and directed by Peter Werner, the pair take on their first client — a dying man (Pat Corley) who hired them to find his long-lost son (Gary Graham). As things turn out, the old guy is a professional hit man who’s out to knock off the top challenger in the field, with a climactic shootout in a deserted junkyard as savage as any in the Old West. Intermixed is Willis’ bizarre banter, giving Moonlighting a decided Saturday Night Live flavor and ABC potential ratings grabber it so desperately needs on Tuesday night.

Executive producer-creator Glenn Gordon Caron, who last worked on Remington Steele (Moonlighting’s competition on NBC), has developed his characters with a fine eye toward detail in the silk-hung-on-plywood arena. Series co-star Allyce Beasley, as the agency’s receptionist, is given little to do other than play the part in cookie-cutter fashion, a situation which will be rectified, no doubt, as the series becomes more established. Lee Holdridge gets the credit for some upbeat music and a delicious title tune performance by Al Jarreau, singing his own lyrics.

Tallied together, Moonlighting is a welcome addition to primetime TV, offering a satisfying blend of comedy, romance and action — which in itself is unique. Add to the recipe, the special talents of Willis, and you’ve got the stuff from which hits are made. – Richard Hack

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