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The premise was simple. Model Madelyn Hayes found out that her accountant had embezzled her fortune and run off with it. Her only remaining assets were a series of losing businesses maintained as tax write-offs. The worst of the lot was the City Of Angels Detective Agency. Maddie, with no prospects and not the first idea of how to run a detective agency, decided to close it down to pay off quickly rising debts. Visiting the agency to deliver the pink slips introduced her to the quirky Agnes DiPesto, who answered the phone in rhyme, and the zany, wisecracking David Addison, who wasn't ready to let the agency go without a fight, even renaming it the Blue Moon Detective Agency in order to connect it to the most prominent role of her modeling career - the "Blue Moon Shampoo Girl". Despite his oil-and-water chemistry with her, he was able to persuade Maddie to continue operating the agency, insisting that it could be profitable if it was permitted to be; however, Maddie insisted on working in the agency directly.
But what really made the show stand out was its penchant for Breaking the Fourth Wall, where on occasion the characters would talk to the audience or otherwise show knowledge that they were characters in a television show ("Don't go much lower. They'll take us off the air."). This progressed in later seasons to become a pure No Fourth Wall series.
It's perhaps best known for being the classic example of how a show can fall apart when Unresolved Sexual Tension is resolved, or how a hit show collapses due to a perfect storm of behind the scenes chaos. When the fifth season was shortened due to a TV Strikes, ABC put the show down.
(Not to be confused with Moonlight, a 2007 Vampire Detective Series.)
- Alternate Reality Episode / Deliberately Monochrome / Rashomon Style: "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice". Dave and Maddie hear of an old murder case (inspired by the notorious Ruth Snyder case) in which a wife and her lover kill the husband, and then blame each other after they're caught. The latter two-thirds of the episode, shot in black-and-white, consists of Dave and Maddie dreaming of the case from the perspective of (respectively) the man and woman involved. The episode featured a short introduction by Orson Welles, in his very last job, as he died of a heart attack only a couple of days later.
- Amateur Sleuth: Maddie. Dave actually is a licensed private investigator.
- Animated Actors: Whenever they break the fourth wall, David and Maddie always refer to themselves as "David" and "Maddie," never Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd. At the end of one episode, they walk off the set and into the studio parking lot, but are still in character, meaning that they are fictional characters playing themselves in a show called Moonlighting.
- Aw, Look — They Really Do Love Each Other: Several instances between not only Dave and Maddie, but also Agnes and Herbert in later seasons.
- Beauty Is Bad: In "The Bride Of Tupperman," a man looking for a bride asks David and Maddie for help; they each pick one (David's is much hotter than Maddie's) and he winds up picking both... only for one to die in an accident. It's the hot one, and it turns out to be a BIG aversion, because the plain one is just as bad as... Tupperman himself.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Dave and Maddie took this Up to Eleven.
- Beta Couple: Agnes and Herbert.
- Chivalrous Pervert: David, especially towards Maddie. See Aw, Look — They Really Do Love Each Other.
- Clip Show: "The Straight Poop", a No Fourth Wall episode (although David and Maddie never broke character) dealing with the production delays that were widely reported in the media at the time. In the end David and Maddie promised the viewers a new episode next week and bloopers kept interrupting the credits, implying that all available footage had been used for this episode.
- Convenient Miscarriage: The Dave-Maddie baby is lost through miscarriage.
- Costumer: The Film Noir pastiche "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice"; the send-up of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew: "Atomic Shakespeare"
- Creative Differences: This was the first time Cybill Shepherd feuded with a showrunner (creator Glenn Gordon Caron) and eventually had him fired. It would not be the last.
- Destructo-Nookie: the last five minutes of the episode in which Dave and Maddie finally resolve their sexual tension.
- Dream Sequence
- End of Series Awareness: The last episode is interrupted by news that the series has been cancelled. Suddenly the characters have to deal with their reality falling apart, as sets are being dismantled all around them.
- Executive Meddling: Subverted and played straight with "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice"; ABC at first threatened to veto the episode due the fact that it switched to black and white for half the episode and even threatened to air the entire episode in color, against the wishes of the creative team. To get around this, they shot the dream sequences on black and white film rather than color film which would then be turned black and white to keep the suits from undoing the conversion process. However, the network forced them to do a disclaimer at the start of the episode, which led series creator Glenn Gordon Caron to hire Orson Welles to do an introduction where he praised the show for doing the flashback sequences in black and white.
- Expy: Remington Steele, albeit a lot more edgy and willing to break status quo, which is why ironically Pierce Brosnan liked it better than the show he was doing.
- Filler: In season four and five, with ABC demanding new episodes on schedule and Sheppard and Willis off-set due to pregnancy and injury/filming movies, the show's producers were forced to film filler episodes that focused solely on supporting cast members Allyce Beasley and Curtis Armstrong's characters Agnes and Herbert.
- Framing Device / Separate Scene Storytelling: "Atomic Shakespeare", an Affectionate Parody of The Taming of the Shrew.
- Gaussian Girl: When they showed Maddie in a solo close-up it was often very fuzzy in a 40's movie style. It can be very jarring when they switch between close-ups of Maddie (fuzzy) and close-ups of David (clear).
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: In "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice", David/Zach tells Maddie/Rita that they go together like "Astaire and Rogers, bagels and lox, hot dogs and donuts..."
- When Maddie starts insulting Dave's various body parts: "Don't go much lower. They'll take us off the air."
- Gratuitous Iambic Pentameter: Dave would randomly launch into a sort of Dave-only jivetalk, but in one episode, he had an entire conversation with a maître d'hôtel in rhyme invoking Dr. Seuss.
- Hot and Cold: Subverted with Maddie, who's just hot without the cold.
- Keep Circulating the Tapes: For ages, the show was unavailable on video and was withheld from syndication due to the low episode count (barely 60 some episodes). Anchor Bay released the pilot in the late 90s but it wasn't until 2007 that the series FINALLY got a DVD release as all five season came out.
- Love Hurts: Dave, who admitted his feelings and denied them in turns (usually more than Maddie did; she could distract herself with her numerous suitors).
- Love Makes You Crazy: The entire Blue Moon crew at one point or another.
- Love Triangle: Towards the end of the show's run, the writers decided to introduce a love triangle plotline to try and recapture the romantic tension between David and Maddie via having Maddie marry a stranger on a train.
- Mystery of the Week
- No Fourth Wall: Dave for the most part
Guard: You can't burst in here like that!
- Noir Episode: "The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice"
- No OSHA Compliance: In one episode Agnes ends up in an industrial laundry with large bags of laundry swinging around suspended from the ceiling. At some point she ends up inside on of the bags and is taken on a Conveyor Belt O' Doom ride where she gets lowered into first a tank of cold soapy water then almost lowered into a tank of boiling water when she is saved by her Temporary Love Interest who Cut the Juice after the villain throws the Big Red Button out of reach.
- Noodle Incident / Running Gag: The mysterious Anselmo case, often mentioned (many times by David as an excuse for not being where he was supposed to be), but never explained. The final episode ended with the following message: "Blue Moon Investigations ceased operations on May 14, 1989. The Anselmo Case was never solved… and remains a mystery to this day."
- Pie in the Face
- Pretty in Mink: Maddie owned a handful of fur coats, like a lynx coat, a crystal fox coat, and a white fox coat.
- "Previously On...": Spoofed in season three, when (due to production delays) the third season suffered major gaps between new episodes, resulting in the show having to run a disclaimer at the start of one episode to remind viewers of what happened in previous episodes.
- Reality Subtext: Allegedly (much like their characters), Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd did not like each other, despite their in-show romantic involvement.
- Actually Bruce Willis notes that immediately prior to doing a screentest for the show, he flirted with Cybill in the elevator, which for him was the real audition. Cybill Shepherd supports this in her autobiography by claiming that they almost had 'a thing' but chose to keep it non-sexual. YMMV on whether or not any of this is true, because she claimed in the same autobiogrpahy to have turned down Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, among others.
- School Play: "Atomic Shakespeare"
- Sibling Rivalry: While they aren't siblings, the same principle applies...
- Slap Slap Kiss: It immediately follows the most intense of the Dave-Maddy snarkfest and precedes definitively answering yes to Will They or Won't They?.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: An episode focused on an unborn child being prepared for birth by his guardian angel. When asked why he should ever leave the womb for the big scary outside, the angel shows him a completely straight "Wonderful World" montage of all the good things to expect in life.
- Theme Tune:
Some walk by night
- They Fight Crime: She's a model! He's a smart aleck! They fight crime!
- UST: Dave and Maddie. For a while, anyway.
- We Help the Helpless
- Will They or Won't They?: Dave and Maddie are possibly the Trope Codifier. Despite not waiting as many seasons as other couples that fall into this trope, they did this in droves, to the point where Willis and Shepherd appeared on the cover of the February 1987 issue of US Magazine, with the headline reading, "DO IT ALREADY!".
- Wonderful Life
- Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: Played for Laughs in "Atomic Shakespeare"
- In fact, it was more like "Belligerent Everything Tension".
- which Moonlighting creator Glenn Gordon Caron had been a writer for
- ...and constantly argue every step of the way