Moonlighting (1985)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Bruce Willis, Cybill Shepherd
Extras: Audio commentary, Screen tests

While there are several television programs that I enjoy, there haven’t been that many that I would like to have on DVD, so that I could always have a pristine copy of the show. Sure, like a lot of people I’m hoping Fox will release “The Simpsons” on DVD, and there are a few episodes of “ALF” that I would love to have a digital copy of (!), but it doesn’t go much farther than that.
However, one show from the 80s which never failed to entertain me was “Moonlighting”, and now that Anchor Bay has released the show’s pilot episode on DVD, I’m rethinking my list of shows that I would like to have on DVD. Now, the DVD serves as a great reminder of how good network television can be.

“Moonlighting” ran on ABC from 1985 until 1989. The show starred Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis as constantly bickering private detectives. The show brought Shepherd, who had been in several big movies in the 70s, back into the limelight and it introduced the world to Bruce Willis. The show garnered 16 Emmy Awards during its four-season run, and changed the way that one-hour dramedies were made. The show’s mixture of action, drama, high-comedy, and sexual tension made it a must see for both men and women, and at it’s pinnacle, was the finest show on TV.

The newly released DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment contains the two-hour (93 minutes without commercials) pilot for the show. As with most any pilot, a great deal of time is spent setting up the situation, introducing us to the characters, and explaining their motivations. We meet Madeline “Maddy” Hayes (Cybill Shepherd), a model who made her fortune being the spokesperson for Blue Moon Shampoo. Maddy’s accountants have double-crossed her and taken all of her liquid assets. Her attorney (played by “Return of the Living Dead”“s James Karen), informs her that she has invested in several small businesses and that she should liquidate them in order to get some capital.

One of these businesses happens to be the City of Angels Detective Agency (trivia buffs note that the business didn’t become the Blue Moon Agency until the first hour-long episode). This agency is run by David Addison (Bruce Willis), a fast-talking, free-spirited man who doesn’t seem to take anything or anyone seriously. When Maddy informs David that she’s going to close the agency, he begs for a second chance. They immediately begin to argue and the sparks begin to fly.

Despite the fact that Maddy is determined to close City of Angels, a coincidence lands her and David right in the middle of a mystery. A man is murdered and as he is dying, he gives Maddy a watch. The watch is apparently a hot property, as being as willing to kill or be killed to have it. Dave and Maddy are plunged head-first into the mystery of why the watch is so important. They must learn to overcome their own differences in order to solve the case.

I mentioned in my introduction that the “Moonlighting” DVD wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped for or expected. One reason is that the pilot isn’t a good indicator of how excellent the show would become. While the pilot is entertaining and serves as a great introduction to the series, it isn’t until the last 15 minutes that things really begin to cook and we are reminded of why the show worked so well. Granted, I realize that pilots are all about exposition, but already being familiar with the characters, I found myself a little bored at times. Also, there is a whole lot of plot in the pilot, and, at times, this gets in the way of exploring the relationship with David and Maddy, and, let’s face it, that’s what this show is all about. “Moonlighting” re-defined television sexual tension, and set the standard for shows as diverse as “The X-Files” and “The Nanny.”

In the <$commentary,audio commentary>, Bruce Willis explains that it took about four episodes for him to get Addison’s personality. Some of this is obvious in the pilot, as the bickering between Maddy and David is very tame (although he does call her a “cold bitch”, I guess that’s not that tame!), compared to the later episodes. Keep in mind that these observations are coming from someone who was a huge fan of the show (my sister named her cat “Addison”), so it’s understandable that I would make these observations. If you aren’t as familiar with the show, the pilot is a great place to start to learn more about it — trust me, things get even better from there.

The pilot was directed by Robert Butler, who has had an amazing career in television, directing episodes of “Gunsmoke”, “Batman”, and “Hill Street Blues”. I was surprised to learn that he also directed my favorite dumb teen comedy from the 80s, “Up the Creek.” He handles the pilot with skill (apparently it was shot rather quickly) and creates some of the show’s trademark shots, such as Maddy storming down the office hallway to confront David. And while the characterization isn’t up to par when compared with the rest of the series, the acting in the pilot is quite good, with Shepherd showing her flare for being angry/confused/determined all at the same time, and Willis sporting more hair than we’ve ever seen him with.

The Anchor Bay DVD of the “Moonlighting” pilot offers a very nice transfer of the show. The picture is presented <$ps,full-frame> and for the most part, is very clear. Keep in mind, this was shot fifteen years ago, so it doesn’t offer the high-end crispness of today’s TV shows. The image appears a bit dark and diffused at times, but not to the point where the action is not discernable. There are few minor defects visible in the source print.
The audio on the DVD is a <$DD,Dolby Digital> Mono. After all, these were the days before the little “Dolby Surround Where Available” logo came up at the beginning of shows. The sound is clear and the dialogue is audible, but there is no surround sound involved. The familiar musical theme to the show, performed by Al Jarreau, does sound especially nice.

Interestingly, the extras found on this release turned out quite differently than what I had expected, namely the audio commentary and screen tests. The <$commentary,audio commentary> features Bruce Willis and series creator/writer Glenn Gordon Caron. It’s very obvious that Willis and Caron have remained friends and feel very comfortable talking about the show. Caron talks more than Willis does, but Bruce is more engaging than he was on the “Armageddon” commentary. However, there are problems with the commentary. At times, it appears to be scene specific, with the pair addressing a particular scene, but at other times there discussion has nothing to do with the on-screen action. Surprisingly, the commentary abruptly ends at the 58:45 mark, with Willis only making one small comment during the finale. So, there is basically no commentary for the last 34 minutes of the movie! However, we do learn some interesting things from the short commentary, such as the fact that Caron begged Willis not to make “Die Hard”, because it would ruin Willis” career. (!!)

Contrary to what Mary Hart reported on “Entertainmnet Tonight” on January 17, the Bruce Willis screen tests did make it onto the DVD. If you ask me, they only talked about the DVD on “ET” so that they could mention that Mary Hart has a cameo in the film. I had expected these tests’ to show the mythical Bruce Willis who shocked the producers of the show with his bizarre attire and wild attitude. Instead, we see a polished Willis looking basically the same way that he does in the show. Interestingly, in the test’s, Willis isn’t acting opposite Shepherd as Maddy. The actress standing in as Maddy is Mary-Margaret Humes, who plays Dawson’s mom on “Dawson’s Creek.” We are also treated to another screen test of the David Addison role featuring an actor named Harley Venton. It is interesting to see another actor take a crack at the role that is so associated with Bruce Willis.

It’s great to get the chance to see the “Moonlighting” pilot again despite its flaws. Reruns of the show on television are already scheduled, and what’s even better, Anchor Bay is also working on releasing episodes from the show on DVD later in the year, including episodes such as “Womb with A View”, and “Atomic Shakespeare.” This disc is a nice introduction to the show for novices and a great nostalgia piece for the show’s fans. The transfer is nice, and the extras are interesting. Perhaps Anchor Bay will have the opportunity to make this an ongoing series that will eventually contain all episodes.