Bruce Willis has been in the news quite a lot lately for some heartbreaking reasons. Earlier this year, he announced he was retiring from acting due to effects of aphasia. He’s spent decades performing in film and television, making a name for himself as a gruff and gritty action hero with surprising depth and nuance in dramatic roles. It didn’t start out that way though.
His first major acting credit was in the 1985 comedy-mystery series “Moonlighting.” For five seasons, Willis, alongside co-star Cybil Shepherd, created headlines of their own with on-set controversy that has in some ways outlived the show itself. But thanks to a meeting of minds between Disney and the show’s creator, it may be coming to streaming soon.
Throughout the show’s run, Willis and Shepherd played the roles of David Addison and Madolyn Hayes. The former is a private detective who runs the Blue Moon Detective agency while the latter is an ex-model who owns the agency and ends up working for it after an embezzling scheme leaves her bankrupt. There are several reasons why you may have easily heard of “Moonlighting” but never actually seen an episode of the series. It doesn’t help matters that reruns of it have historically been rare, it only had one DVD print run (all of which are rare to find now) and it has never been on streaming platforms. The latter of these issues is something show creator Glenn Gordon Caron is hoping to remedy. Admittedly, there are some hurdles that need to be crossed in the meantime, but Caron is hoping to get the show onto a streaming platform soon.
“Moonlighting” has a complicated history with making its way onto air, which is kind of funny in how it has struggled to make its way to streaming. Some of its issues stem from how despite being on the air for five seasons, it only produced 67 episodes. This was an oddity for network television at the time where anywhere from 22 to 30 episodes was common. When shows are picked up for syndication and reruns, the magic number of episodes that networks like to see is 100. With that many episodes a show can be aired daily without too much repetition setting. Sure enough, reruns of “Moonlighting” were few and far between.
Why were there so few episodes produced? A lot of people like to lay the blame on the hostility between Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd. The often referenced story is that Shepherd was jealous of Bruce’s popularity in how he became the show’s breakout star, winning an Emmy and capturing the eye of Hollywood, leading to appearing in a little known movie called “Die Hard.” While the hostility did play a role in things, most of the delays came from Caron’s quality standards for the program. Costs for “Moonlighting” episodes were very high due to the extensive scripts, attention to detail, and last minute dialogue changes. It didn’t help either that as the show went on, they had to shoot around Willis’ burgeoning film career and Shepherd’s pregnancy with twins.
“Moonlighting” was also very big on the use of licensed music, something that would by all means affect the show appearing on DVD and streaming. Given Caron’s dedication to his program it’s likely he’d be a bit more reluctant to replace music as much as like, “Cheers” did when it hit DVD and streaming or the massive amount of changes made to “Scrubs” on streaming platforms. So when Caron says that, “the business of getting all 5 seasons of “Moonlighting” starring Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd ready for streaming has begun!” He could easily be referring to getting the music rights in order.
ABC originally aired “Moonlighting” and their logo is also located on the spine of each of the DVD boxsets. At the time of the original airing, ABC wasn’t owned by Disney, but it certainly is now! So perhaps we’ll see “Moonlighting” on either Hulu or Disney+? Well, you’d think that but surprisingly Caron didn’t indicated that would be the case. Instead, he says there’s “No word yet on where or when you’ll be seeing it.” We can only hope that sooner rather than later we’ll know the answer to one or both of those questions.
Despite being drenched in 80s style, “Moonlighting” has a timeless strength of writing that’s heavily on dialogue, non-sequitur fourth wall breaks, wordplay, and some absurdist style episodes that were not like anything else on television at the time. As we look back on Bruce Willis’ career, it’s important to go back to this oddly amazing program that started it all for him. We hop Caron is able to find a home for “Moonlighting” soon so more people can enjoy its zany wonders.